1lb shells, macaroni, or similar shape
3 tablespoons better than bouillon, divided, optional
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup ap flour
3 ½ cups whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon paprika
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 sprig thyme, optional
1 sprig rosemary, optional
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup heavy cream
24oz or 1½ lbs. cheese (I used a mix of baby swiss, fontal, & cheddar)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Heat a large, oven safe, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven with water over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of better than bouillon to the water. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Drain through a colander and set aside. Reserve the pot.
- In the meantime, grate your cheese on the large holes of a box grater.
- In the same pot, make the bechamel. Melt the butter on medium heat and add the flour. Whisk to form a thick paste. Cook for about 3 minutes to cook the flour. Add 1/2 cup of the whole milk at a time and whisk between each addition. Season with black pepper, and add 1 tablespoons of the better than bullion, 2 smashed garlic cloves, and one sprig of time and rosemary, chili flakes, paprika, dijon mustard, and honey. Bring to a light simmer until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and transfer to a work surface.
- Carefully remove the thyme and rosemary and add the cheeses and heavy cream. Stir until they’re mostly melted into the sauce. Taste for salt and adjust to your preference. Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat. Add 3/4 cup of water, and stir.
- Transfer the entire pot to the oven and bake for 25 minutes. If your pot is not oven safe, transfer the pasta to a large 9×13” baking dish.
- In the meantime, prepare the panko topping by mixing the bread crumbs with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and black pepper and one tablespoon of olive oil.
- Remove the pot from the oven, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs, and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have browned.
- Let cool on the counter for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with more black pepper.