Lucy's Ultimate Mac & Cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 quart milk

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon powdered mustard

1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic

Generous pinch cayenne pepper

12 ounces, or more, shredded sharp cheddar

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Combine the macaroni, milk, butter, mustard, granulated garlic, cayenne, and 3 cups of water in a medium, heavy pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly and adding more water as necessary any time the macaroni looks dry, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the macaroni is just tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

 

Serves 4 to 6. The trick to this recipe's seductive creaminess is constant stirring from the time the pot is put on the heat and making sure there's enough water in the pot. There will be plenty of liquid in the beginning. When the mixture comes to a boil, the starch from the pasta will make it thicken, creating a creamy sauce. The sauce will reduce and continue to thicken as it simmers and as the pasta absorbs water. Adjust the heat so that it cooks at a lively bubble. Too slow, and the pasta will take forever to cook. Boil it too fast, and it'll be hard to monitor the level of the liquid. Toward the end of the cooking time, there should still be enough sauce in the pot to just cover the macaroni—if not, or if you like it creamier still, add more water a little at a time, keeping in mind that the cheese will thicken the sauce considerably. It's best to incorporate the cheese off the heat. Do not boil the mixture once the cheddar has been added, or it will have a grainy texture. And speaking of cheddar, why stop at 12 ounces when you can add a whole pound? Or mix it up—consider substituting a portion of the cheddar with provolone, mozzarella, and/or Parmegiano for a different flavor and some stringy action. Top with toasted buttered breadcrumbs or some such crunchy thing if you must, but I prefer to appreciate the creaminess unspoiled.

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