This quintessential recipe from Martha Stewart is one that I started using about 10 years ago. A couple of kids I know would happily tell you it's the best they've ever tasted. I like her concept of using bread crumbs on top of the casserole--it adds a layer of crunchy texture to the dish. Martha uses a blend of 2 cheeses and her combination certainly works, but you can vary the variety here. French Gruyere has the perfect nutty, melty ooze, while sharp cheddar (with the emphasis on sharp) lends a tang and bite to the sauce. However, feel free to experiment: mildy, melty fontina, parmesan or romano with an extra bite, and even creamy gorgonzola would each lend their own special character.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3 quart casserole dish and set aside. As I always say, your dish is only as good as the quality of the ingredients that you put into it. Get a good quality country bread, cut 5 or 6 thick slices, and remove the crust. Cut the slices into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons melted butter.
In a 2 quart saucepan, heat 5 1/2 cups milk over medium low heat. I use whole milk, but you could substitute 2%, if you're so inclined. Be careful not to boil.
Stir in 3 cups grated cheddar cheese and 1 1/2 cups grated gruyere and set sauce aside.
You could use elbow macaroni in this dish, but why be predictable? I prefer a squiggly variety called celentani, which has great shape and holds the sauce well. Bring a large pasta pot 2/3 filled with salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta 2 or 3 minutes less than suggested on the box so that it's seriously al dente. Drain and rinse macaroni with cold water. Add to the cheese sauce in the skillet and toss well. Pour all into the buttered casserole.
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter,
plus more for buttering dish
5 to 6 thick slices of country bread
5 1/2 cups milk, preferably whole
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups grated gruyere
1 pound celentani macaroni