Thomas Jefferson served a variation of this modern recipe at a White House dinner in 1802, making this then exotic dish popular in America. His relative, Mary Randolph, includes a recipe for macaroni and cheese in the 1845 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife.
1 pound elbow pasta
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups Gruyere, grated
3 cups cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, preferably Maille brand (Jefferson’s favorite)
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until not quite al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
3. Mix the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and set aside.
4. In a saucepan heat the milk with the bay leaf, but don’t boil it! Remove the bay leaf.
5. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until smooth. Whisk in the warm milk and cook, continuing to whisk often, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the cheese, one cup at a time and whisk until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Whisk in the mustard, pinch of nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Remove pan from heat and stir in the reserved pasta. Pour into a baking dish and sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and breadcrumb mixture.
8. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 6 to 8