Baked Piquant Macaroni and Cheese
Prep time
Cook time
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Cheesy and creamy with a hint of the fresh crunch and taste of Serrano peppers, this mac n cheese will delight the palate!
Author: Natalie
Recipe type: click to find out more Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6 servings
  • 4 cups (1 quart) whole milk or (2¼ cups 2% and ¾ cup half and half)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 pinches nutmeg
  • 8 ounces shredded 2-year aged sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 cups)
  • 3 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 1-2 Serrano peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves whole (for the pasta water)
  • 1 pound cavatappi (cooked al dente, drained)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1½ cups panko bread crumbs or coarse bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter
  • paprika
  1. If you are going to bake the macaroni and cheese, then combine the bread crumbs with the melted butter in a medium bowl and set aside. If you are not baking the macaroni and cheese then skip this step.
  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water with garlic cloves to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it’s almost al dente (just on the edge of being underdone). (If you plan to top the mac ‘n’ cheese with panko and bake it, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.)
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it just comes to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside. Or heat milk in a microwave safe measuring cup in the microwave until hot and set aside.
  4. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the minced garlic if using.
  5. Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. you will be able to smell a heavenly caramel scent. Remove from the heat.
  6. While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
  7. Return the saucepan to medium heat and while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1½ teaspoons of salt, taste, and add more salt if desired. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  8. Place the reserved saucepan of béchamel over medium heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth.
  9. At this point your pasta should be done cooking, drain and add the pasta and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately or, if baking, transfer to a 5-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the panko, and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!
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