i haven’t made mac and cheese in over a year! 😦 i used to make it allll the time – it’s one of my favorite foods. last december, i made it for my 2 neighbor friends. we went to the grocery store down the street, and its kind of run down, but it’s the closest store that carried fontina. we bought all the cheeses and the milk and butter and everything from that store. came back, started making the mac and cheese. my friend smelled the fontina and said “this doesnt smell good.” and i told him “fontina is a stinky cheese, its supp to stink.” but little did we know, that cheese was, um, not good. 2 of us got wicked bad food poisoning and he swore off mac and cheese forever. i still ate it, but i was afraid to make it for a while. until now 🙂 the return of my favorite mac and cheese!!
one of my best friends was in town for the night and i asked her what she wants to do for dinner, and she told me “i’ve been craving mac and cheese.” so it was the perfect opportunity to tackle my fear! i knew the food poisoning wasn’t my fault (it was the cheese’s!!) but its just hard when your friend KEEPS ON talking about “that time that i got really sick off of your mac and cheese”. =/
i make my mac and cheese with at least 3 cheeses. i’ve actually made it with up to 5, but never 7 like delilah’s (no disrepect, but VELVEETA? come on!). if you happen to have some random cheeses in your fridge, you can just use them up/finish them off by making some mac and cheese. ideally, you need about 20 ounces of cheese for a pound of pasta. i’ve used the below in mac and cheese before:
- cheddar (sharp, mild, white, yellow…)
- pepper jack
the sky is the limit! as long as the cheese melts well, it’ll work. try to balance what flavors you use together – i try not to mix anything too strong with something else too strong. for example, spicy pepper jack and a gorgonzola – not really a good idea. if you’re not sure what goes with what, use my recipe as a guideline 🙂
i made my cheese choices based off of my absolute favorite place to get grilled cheese, the bouchon bakery in the time warner center. their grilled cheese is made with gruyere and fontina cheeses. i used those as my main 2 cheeses, and then just added some cheddar for the top crust and a little bit to the béchamel to add a bit of a familiar flavor throughout the rest of the dish. i used young fontina bc its a lot softer than mature fontina, thus quicker-melting. but also, it was a lot cheaper. 🙂
this mac and cheese uses no eggs, as i personally think its kind of weird to make mac and cheese with eggs. especially with one based off of white cheeses. this one is made with a roux, then into a béchamel, melt in the cheeses, toss with pasta and then bake it off with a panko and cheddar crust. a little bit of cajun spice throughout for just the slightest hint of spice.
start off by boiling your pasta. i figured it’s a fancy mac and cheese, so a fancy pasta cut will be more fitting. i got casarecci. casarecci means simple and homemade, and is a 2-inch pasta cut that’s shaped widthwise into an “S” shape. close enough to macaroni. you should always salt your pasta water so that it would taste like sea water, so salt heavily!
some say to undercook the pasta a bit since it will be baking in the oven, but i prefer to cook it to the normal al dente that you would eat it at. i don’t like eating my macaroni and cheese al dente, i like it just a bit softer.
you can start the pasta and then start your béchamel if you need to, keeping an eye on the pasta as you cook the sauce. i was waiting on my dishwasher to finish so that i could pull out my cheese grater, so i was wasting time and made the pasta first. whatever you like 🙂
oh yeah, also, grate your cheeses before you start on the béchamel. the sauce comes together quickly and you have to pay constant attention to it, so its best to have the grating done beforehand.
bring a saucepan over medium heat, and heat 3 cups of milk with a couple of smashed garlic cloves. you want to thoroughly heat the milk, but not boil it.
while the garlic-infusing milk heats up, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large not-nonstick skillet. try not to use nonstick because most likely your whisk is metal. and metal + nonstick = bad news. you could also use a pot or saucepan for this, but a large skillet is the quickest way to make the béchamel.
once the butter is melted and starts to get a little mad (aka sizzle) sprinkle in 3 tablespoons flour.
you want to then whisk this, pretty vigorously over medium or medium high heat, to make sure all the butter is absorbed by the flour and the raw flavor cooks out. continue whisking until it looks like this. the pan should be hot enough that there are little bubbles throughout.
then, strain in your hot milk, leaving the crushed garlic cloves out. you want to keep whisking as you slowly pour it in to prevent any burning and ensure that there are no clumps of flour/butter anywhere. get a friend to help on this part if you need to 🙂 salt and pepper the béchamel. if you have nutmeg, put it in. i didn’t have any 😦
dont stop whisking! keep whisking vigorously over medium high heat until the béchamel thickens. if you are using a large saucepan like i did, please be sure not to neglect any portion of the pan – whisk all over.
you know its ready when the béchamel is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. i find this the best test. eventually, you’ll be able to tell when its thick enough without a spoon test, but if this is your first time making a béchamel, this is a great way to check.
now, throw in all the cheese! stir it up with a spatula. you can also throw in any additional spice at this point. i added some cajun spice in there… to “kick it up a notch”! all my cheeses were mild, so i figured a small hint of spice is ok 🙂
toss in the cooked pasta, stir the whoooole thing up!
pour into a buttered (yes, more butter) dish
for the crust, you can either have a breadcrumb crust or a cheese crust. i did a bit of both 🙂 i grated a bit more of the cheddar, like 2 handfuls, and spread that on top. then i melted about a knob of butter (yes, more) and then poured in some panko bread crumbs. just enough so that the melted butter hit every flake. added some of the cajun spice to this, and spread it all over the top.
slide it into a 350 oven until its nice and bubbly. if the top doesn’t brown, hit it with the broiler for a min or 2 (watch it!) to crisp up the top nicely.
take it out…
take a mental (or real picture)… and then devour.
and continue to devour!
my favorite mac and cheese
1 pound pasta – any short cut will do.
20 ounces of cheese, grated (approx). i used about 7 oz fontina, 6 oz gruyere, 7 oz mild cheddar
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter, plus 1.5 tablespoon melted
3 tablespoons flour
2 dashes ground nutmeg (if you have it, if not its ok)
2 tablespoons cajun seasoning (if desired)
1/4-1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- grate the cheeses, set aside. keep in seperate piles.
- cook the pasta to al dente in heavily salted water. set aside.
- heat the milk and smashed garlic cloves in a saucepan. do not let it get to a boil.
- in a seperate, large metal skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter.
- once the butter is almost foaming, sprinkle in the flour. whisk vigoriously and continuously until the flour and butter are absorbed and the raw taste is cooked out. there should be small bubbles.
- slowly strain in the hot milk, leaving out the garlic, whisking continously.
- season with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and 2 dashes nutmeg (optional).
- continue to whisk the entire contents until the béchamel thickens. it should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
- remove from the heat.
- put the béchamel into the now empty pasta pot (allowing space for the béchamel, cheeses and pasta).
- quickly, trying not to lose any heat, stir in the grated cheeses and 1.5 tablespoons of the cajun seasoning. i put in all of the fontina, all of the gruyere, and about a handful or 2 of the cheddar.
- toss in the pasta, making sure everything is evenly coated.
- pour the pasta and cheese sauce into a buttered dish large enough to hold everything.
- sprinkle 2 handfuls of cheddar (should be the rest of it) over the pasta
- in a small bowl, mix the melted 1.5 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup panko. if it looks dry, add more melted butter. too wet, more panko. should be a lightly wet sand consistency. add the remaining 1/2 tablspoon cajun seasoning to this and sprinkle it on top of the pasta.
- bake at 350 for 15-20 min or until bubbly. if the top hasn’t browned, turn on the broiler for a few minutes, watching along the way, until it is browned to your liking.
- remove from the oven, wait until the sizzling stops (about 5 min), then serve and enjoy 🙂
it is return of the mac 🙂