Ahh, one of the best comfort foods known to mankind, the righteous mac n’ cheese…creamy, hearty, and satisfying. Usually I follow a simple recipe of just the cheese mixture, with butter, flour, milk, and the cheese; however, I decided to give this fancier version of mac n’ cheese a try. What could it hurt to dress up a great dish?
Mac N' Cheese
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 325
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 5g
Monounsaturated Fat 12g
Total Carbohydrates 68g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
- 6 cups dry pasta shapes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, minced
- 2 tsp salt
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped oregano
- 2 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 cup unbleached flour
- 4 cups grated aged white cheddar
- 4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Strain and toss with a light coating of olive oil. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a small skillet. Saute onion for 5 minute or until softened. Add half of the minced garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and saute 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in half of the chopped herbs. Set aside.
- Make the cheese sauce. Gently heat the milk and keep it warm. Set a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle in flour and whisk constantly. Gradually add the warm milk and 1 tsp salt, stirring constantly. Heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the sauteed onion/herb mix, grated cheese and stir until the cheese melts. Season to taste.
- Make the topping. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining garlic, herbs, Parmesan, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp salt, plenty of cracked pepper and the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To assemble, combine the noodles and cheese sauce in a large bowl and mix well. Pour into a greased 8"x12" baking dish. Scatter the topping over the entire surface, working some of it into the noodles. Bake uncovered until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.
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**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Since the people I cook for are serious meat-eaters, I pumped up this mac n’ cheese with ham, mushrooms, and broccoli. If you want to add additional ingredients, make sure to cook any raw produce. The broccoli was blanched in salted hot water and shocked in ice water immediately after. The mushrooms were quartered , sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Since the ham was already cooked, I just cut up the meat into a medium dice; however, if you would like to add bacon, cut it up and cook it on the stove top.
In step 3, the roux is referring to the butter and flour mixture. It is a thickener and is commonly used for sauces and soups. Depending on how long you cook the roux, the color will darken from golden to brown to almost black, giving your sauce or stock a deeper hue. In this case, we don’t need to achieve a dark color, so only cook the roux until golden. Make sure to stir occasionally since it will splatter; the consistency will resemble wet sand.
The combination of the milk with the roux is called a bechamel and is one of the 5 Mother sauces. It is commonly used as a base for another sauce; in this instance, it is the base for the cheese sauce! Although white cheddar would have been delicious, I stuck with a blend of sharp and mild cheddar. I had to add a good amount of salt and pepper to the bechamel since it was on the bland side but still slightly under-seasoned the mix. Remember that you’re adding ham which is quite salty already so no need to over-salt!
When preparing the breadcrumbs, keep in mind that one day old bread is always better. I used an Italian loaf; one loaf yields approximately 4 cups of breadcrumbs. Cut up the bread and if you have a food processor, process until you get small chunks of bread. Mix it together with the other ingredients and you have your topping.
Mix together the ham, broccoli and mushrooms with the pasta and cheese sauce. Top with the breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown on top.
People were lining up quickly to get a taste of today’s lunch! And many came back for seconds, which is always a good sign. The breadcrumbs really made this dish different from other basic mac n’ cheeses; you get a crunch from the topping while the inside is still creamy. I did omit the pine nuts since we do have some nut allergies but feel free to add those in! For more variations, try different cheeses such as fontina and mozzarella or Asiago and Monterey Jack. Creamy, but not too heavy with the added vegetables, comforting, and overall delicious!
Tagged: broccoli, cheese, comfort food, ham, macaroni, parmesan, pasta bake