CAUTION: You are about to consume an ultra-cheezy post…
There is a famous slogan out there…Porsche, there is no substitute. Well, I believe it could be altered to read Mac & Cheese, there is no substitute! I don’t mean out of the box, orange powder mix mac and cheese. I’m talking about a fresh, gourmet dish. Once you make your noodles and your cheese sauce (mind you the cheese sauce is made with freshly grated robust cheese), you can add a huge variety of “mix-ins” to create a very grown-up version of mac and cheese. I recently brought crispy bacon, sautéed leeks and garlic Mac & Cheese to a pot luck dinner. A few nights later my kids wanted me to make mac and cheese for dinner and I kept it vegetarian by adding a sautéed mixture of peas, wild mushrooms and scallions combined with a medley of fresh herbs. I even drizzled a little truffle oil over my serving though my youngest daughter thought that was too rich for her liking…kids!! The variety of mix ins are endless — let your imagination and taste buds guide your way! In any event, you need to give mac and cheese another try. Hey, you loved it as a kid, why can’t you enjoy it as an adult?
Begin by cooking the pasta according to package’s directions. While the pasta is cooking, grate both the cheddar and gruyere cheeses and set aside.
In a medium-sized pot, melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Quickly whisk in 2 tbsp flour and heat for 1 minute. Next, add 2 cups of milk. Whisking often, heat the sauce until the mixture thickens, roughly 10-15 minutes.
Once thickened, remove the sauce from the heat and blend in the shredded cheese until thoroughly melted. Season with 1 tsp of sea salt and 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper.
Your basic cheese sauce is now ready. Here comes the fun part…what are you going to mix in to make your mac and cheese “grown-up”? Perhaps sautéed shallots, garlic, fresh tomatoes and chopped spinach? Oh, but fresh peas, scallions and ham sound delicious too. You can always keep it simple and make it a four cheese sauce. However, if you really want to make your mac and cheese all grown up, simply mix in chunks of fresh lobster meat…makes for an amazingly exotic dish!! Like I said before, the ideas are endless and totally up to you.
Once you have made whatever it is you are going to mix in to your mac and cheese, it’s time to assemble the dish. Begin with adding the noodles to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Next, stir in the cheese sauce and mix to coat the noodles. Now add your mix ins and stir to evenly mix all the ingredients. Top the noodles with a sprinkling of paprika, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and finally a few pinches of parsley. Cover with tin foil and put in a 375º pre-heated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove the tin foil for the last 10 minutes of baking so the topping gets nice and browned. Let sit for a few minutes before digging in…if you can!!
Package of noodles (penne, elbows or the like)
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I use skim milk)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
Your ‘mix in” ingredients
For topping: 2 tsp paprika, ½ cup bread crumbs, ¾ cup parmesan and 2 tsp parsley.