We’re mixing it up a little here on lace and lemons, and we’re moving our mocha break to Friday. I wanted to get this recipe up and ready for you guys because it is not only delicious (so delicious), but it’s filling and meatless, so a good option for your Good Friday dinner.
Let’s talk about Macaroni and Cheese for a minute. I am obsessed with Mac and Cheese, because it pretty much is the perfect food. While I will gleefully devour a box of the processed, dehydrated, amusingly shaped Kraft variety, I definitely prefer the decadent, excessive, home-baked variety when I have the time to make it. I’m on spring break and was looking for something indecent to bring to the fast-becoming-weekly Mad Men family dinner on Sunday. Mac and Cheese (or more specifically, 5 Cheese baked Mac and Cheese) seemed like the perfect option.
When I make homemade mac and cheese, a lot of times I’ll just sort of wing it, but for big portions, sometimes it’s nice to look up a recipe just to get a sense of proportions for ingredients and such. I found a 4 cheese recipe here, which was a perfect starting point. But, dear readers, Mac and Cheese is so great partly because it’s endlessly adaptable. Feel free to substitute cheeses (blue cheese or feta make very interesting additions to mac and cheese, because they don’t melt in quite the same way as some of these other cheeses), or spices (mustard, onion, or garlic powder have been favorites of mine in the past). Mess with the crumb topping or use a different shape of pasta. Add ground beef or tuna, veggies or crab meat if you want to be fancy about it. The world is your macaroni and cheese casserole.
Decadent Macaroni and Cheese.
1 lb Elbow Macaroni
3/4 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I ended up using slightly more than that)
1/2 lb gruyere cheese, shredded
1/2 cup asiago cheese, shredded (I definitely used more than that there)
1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded (ditto)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 cups 2% mik
2 or 3 tsp. Tsardust memories seasoning mix (Penzy’s)
2 tsp. California Seasoned Pepper (Penzy’s)
1/2 cup (or so) shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (or so) breadcrumbs
*a note about the spices.
I know a lot of you may not have those specific spices (though, you know what? Why haven’t you bought the California Seasoned Pepper?? We’ve talked about this!) The Tsardust Memories is so great because it adds some sweetness, which I think is invaluable in a cheese dish. The ingredients are listed as salt, garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and marjoram if you’re interested in attempting to create that flavor yourself.
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil your pasta according to package directions. When it’s finished, you can dump the pasta (drained of course) directly into the 3 qt dish you’ll use for baking, and use that pot for the sauce. This leads to one pot mac and cheese!
2. While your pasta is boiling, you’ll want to shred up your cheeses. You can buy pre-shredded cheddar (though it tends to be a bit more pricey), but I doubt you’ll have luck finding fontina, asiago or gruyere pre shredded. This is literally the hardest part of the recipe, but it’s not so bad. I have a rotary grater that I got as a christmas present (thanks mom and dad!) so that made pretty short work of everything.
You’ll want to toss the cheeses together so they’re nicely blended.
3. In your pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and slightly bubbly. This is making a roux, and here’s my tip for those of you who tend to mess this up (like me!) If it seems a smidge too thick, just add more butter!
4. Slowly whisk in your milk. Once it’s pretty well stirred, add your seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce and let simmer for about 3 minutes. Congratulations, you have white sauce!
5. Whisk in 2.5 cups of the cheese mixture. Convince yourself not to just go at that with a spoon (it will be difficult.)
6. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and mix well. You want it to be evenly distributed.
7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese mixture, the parmesan, and the bread crumbs over the top. This will be your bubbly, crispy, awesome crust.
A note: at this point, you can totes refrigerate this and bake it later. This is especially a good option if you’re bringing it to someone else’s house. I find baking it and then baking it again to reheat it kind of dries it out, so stopping here and finishing at your destination is a good way to avoid that.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until the crust is bubbly and amazing.
This was potentially the best mac and cheese I’ve ever made. The cheeses blended really well together and the sharpness was nicely contrasted by the sweetness of the seasoning blend. I think this is a perfectly good meal on it’s own, but if you want more balance, we had it with oven fried chicken (with a cornflake crust!) and roasted broccoli, and not only was it Americana-tastic, it was super delicious and satisfying.