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In my mind, homemade mac and cheese is a baked affair, covered with a distinct layer of crunchy, cheesy breadcrumbs. Sure, you can make equally good saucy macs (and we will, later this week), but a recipe like Herbed Mac and Cheese is what I crave when the temperature dips below 60 degrees. Ellen Brown's adaptation of La Laiterie's casserole in her Mac & Cheese is classic mac and cheese at its best: rich and soothing, but with a deeper complexity from the woody herbs and funky brie. It's not exactly fast to make, but each step is simple and intuitive. As with all of the baked recipes in the book, this Herbed Mac can be assembled (minus the topping) up to a couple days in advance, so you won't need to schelp for hours right before dinner.
Why I picked this recipe: For my first mac and cheese, I wanted to stick with the basics: bechamel, cheese, pasta, and breadcrumbs. A little extra herbs never hurt, either.
What worked: Everything came together without a hitch.
What didn't: I'm nitpicking here, but I would have liked a little more sage and thyme (perhaps a teaspoon of each) and a little more breadcrumbs (next time I'd them up to a whole cup).
Suggested tweaks: This mac and cheese is practically a blank canvas for tweaking, but it'd be best to keep things simple. Changing the balance of cheese (more melty Gruyere and Brie would make the whole thing creamier) or stirring in smaller vegetables like peas would work well here.