Skip a step when making mac and cheese by not precooking the pasta. Instead, mix the dried pasta with a thinner-than-usual bèchamel sauce, and it will bake perfectly in just 30 minutes.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
- 2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
- 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400°. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.