1. Classic Baked Mac and Cheese:
- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces fusilli or other short pasta
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk, heated
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, 2 minutes, then whisk in the milk. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thick, 8 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in 2 cups cheddar and the gruyere. Stir in the pasta and the reserved cooking water to make a loose sauce. Butter a 2-quart baking dish; add the pasta mixture and top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar. Bake 15 minutes.
2. Butternut–Blue Cheese: Peel and cube 1 small butternut squash; roast at 425 degrees F until tender, about 20 minutes. Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, using 2 1/2 cups cheddar in the sauce and replacing the gruyere with 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese; add the squash. Top with 1/4 cup each cheddar and blue cheese and broil until melted. (Do not bake.)
3. Italian: Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, replacing the cheddar in the sauce and on top with fontina. Top with 1/4 cup each panko and grated Parmesan before baking.
4. Beer and Brat: Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, replacing 1 cup of the milk with pilsner beer. Add 3 browned sliced bratwurst; increase the cheddar on top to 1 cup.
5. Kielbasa Make: Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, replacing the cheddar in the sauce and on top with horseradish cheddar. Add 12 ounces browned diced kielbasa; top with 1 cup crushed pretzels before baking.
6. Truffle: Sauté 1 pound sliced mushrooms in olive oil until browned. Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, replacing the cheddar in the sauce with 2 cups grated truffle cheese. Add the mushrooms; top with 1/4 cup gruyere instead of the cheddar.
7. Onion Lovers’: Cook 2 sliced large onions in butter until golden brown, 15 minutes. Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, adding the onions and 1 bunch chopped scallions. Bake, then sprinkle with canned fried onions.
8. Lobster: Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, using all cheddar; add 12 ounces chopped cooked lobster. Top with the cheese and a mix of 1/2 cup panko, 1/4 cup chopped chives and 1 tablespoon melted butter; broil until golden. (Do not bake.)
9. Smoked Mozzarella: Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, adding 1/2 cup each sliced roasted red peppers and diced smoked mozzarella. Top with the cheddar and broil until melted. (Do not bake.)
10. Bacon: Make Classic Baked Mac and Cheese; add 8 slices crumbled cooked bacon before baking.