This is probably the best mac & cheese I've tried to date. It's creamy, gooey, savory, and cheesy. Basically, everything that makes the perfect mac & cheese.
8 oz. (1/2 pound or about 1 3/4 cups) macaroni or other medium tubular pasta (like penne or conchiglie)*
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika plus more for sprinkling on top
2 1/2 cups 2% milk
3 cups grated medium cheddar cheese*
1. Boil the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and return to the pan you boiled it in. Set aside. (Mix in a little butter to keep the noodles from sticking if it's going to be awhile before you make the sauce)
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour, salt, dry mustard, pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika. With a wooden spoon or whisk, stir constantly for three minutes.
4. Add the milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens, about 10-12 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and add 2 cups of the cheese, stirring until melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and toss gently until all of the pasta is coated.
6. Add half the pasta to a two-quart casserole dish (I like a tall 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish). Sprinkle on half the cheese. Add the rest of the pasta. Sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, then dust lightly with the smoked paprika.
7. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the mac and cheese starts getting a slightly dry and a tiny bit brown on top. Serve, topping individual servings with cooked, chopped bacon if desired.