I have a rather mixed history with mac 'n cheese. As a kid, I wouldn't touch it. Meanwhile my brother lived on the Kraft 'blue box' version for most of his childhood. Go figure.
Cut to several years later. And by several, I'm counting in decades. I found a recipe that sounded good and tweaked it back and forth until I got to where I really liked it. And this is what resulted:
Cast Iron Mac 'n Cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound of shredded cheese (I use a mix of regular and sharp cheddar, but go nuts and use what you like).
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard (I use Coleman's)
6 strips of bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small onion
8 oz of pasta (I prefer cavatappi, otherwise known as cellentani or spirals)
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano (grated)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, brown the bacon, then toss in the onion, diced. Cook until the bacon is rendered and the onion is browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the butter to the skillet with the remaining bacon fat. Add the flour, stir until combined, then add the milk slowly. (This is also known as a quick 'n dirty Bechamel sauce. Don't stress, it's not that hard.)
While doing this, boil some water to cook the pasta. You'll want to cook it for about 8 minutes, so it's almost but not quite done.
So, your Bechamel is bubbling at this point, so now you add the shredded cheese a bit at a time until it's melted and delish-looking. Also at this point you add the cayenne pepper and the dry mustard. Remove it from the heat while the pasta is finishing.
Drain the pasta, and throw it into the skillet with the cheese sauce. Mix until all the pasta is coated. Sprinkle the top of the whole mess with the breadcrumbs, parm regg, and the onion/bacon mixture that you set aside earlier. Pop the skillet into a 350 oven for about 20-25 minutes. You may want to put a cookie sheet under the skillet so any bubbling-over (and there will be some) doesn't hit the bottom of your oven.
When the skillet comes out of the oven, let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Then try not to inhale the whole thing.