thanksgiving dinner is a really big deal for the lady sparkler’s family.

everybody contributes a dish (or two) and each of the recipes are suitable for the pages of bon appetite or gourmet — wild rice with dried cranberries and chick peas, mexican Chayote with garlic, green beans with lemon zest and hand roasted pine nuts, a spiced pumpkin souffle.

for the first time since “i” became “we,” i joined the thanksgiving culinary arms race this year — with macaroni and cheese.

granted, it’s an adult version of mac and cheese — it uses gruyer and fontina instead of just cheddar, and uses both a tablespoon of mustard and a bit of red pepper to add a little kick.

i’m pleased to say that i held my own.

(i’ve tweaked the recipe each of the last four times i’ve made it, but it was originally based on alton brown’s baked macaroni and cheese.)

full recipe after the jump.

main ingredients

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (or red pepper, or chili powder)
  • 12 to 16 ounces of good cheese (i used equal parts gruyer, fontina and a mild white cheddar)

topping ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (panko or italian work fine)

baking instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large pot, boil salted water and cook the pasta to al dente.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate large pot (big enough to hold the macaroni, milk and cheese) melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes.
  4. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes (mixture will noticeably thicken) and remove the bay leaf.

at this point, you have two options: you can stop, mix in the cheese, wait for it to melt, and then serve immediately, or you can soldier on with the formal baked casserole:

  1. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart glass casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  2. In a separate saute pan, melt butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.
  3. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes (you’re just warming it up — everything is cooked). Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.