Macaroni, make way for tater tots. Baked until crispy, smothered in cheese sauce, and then broiled until bubbly and colorful, this sheet-pan-style casserole was made to be served alongside a mustard-dressed salad. A cold beer wouldn't hurt, either. —Emma Laperruque
Heat the oven to 450° F. Add the tots to a rimmed sheet tray. Bake for about 25 minutes until very colorful and crisp.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a medium pot. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add a splash of milk. Whisk until smooth. Another splash. Whisk. Repeat this until you’ve added all the milk. Continue to cook—whisking constantly but slowly—until the béchamel is thick enough to coat a spoon and the whisk leaves a trail. Add half the grated cheese, plus the salt and mustard. Whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary (just remember, the tots are salty!).
When the tots are done, remove from the oven. Turn on the broiler. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the tots and use a rubber spatula to smooth out. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Slider under the broiler. Depending on your oven, you may need to rotate the sheet pan to encourage evenness—the goal is bubbly and browned.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.