One of the most enduring recipes in my arsenal is my macaroni and cheese. I’ve made it many time for many people. New babies, visiting relatives, bible study….it just works in almost any situation. I began making the pioneer woman’s “Fancy Mac and Cheese” recipe and then slowly my “tweaking” became worthy of it’s own recipe (in my humble opinion.) Mostly, whenever I make this dish, I think of it as my excuse to find new and even more wonderful cheeses : ) There are so many. I love them. Yum.
But seriously, this is a very “tweakable” recipe. Add, substract, multiple or divide – you can pretty much make it however you want once you have the basics down. If you can learn to make a good roux then really, the sky is the limit.
This recipe will feed 12-15 adults easily. Add grilled chicken and a salad and you have the perfect meal.
It is totally do-able to make all this at once (and in a tiny kitchen). This photo is proof. From left to right you see cheese having just been grated, water starting to boil, (bacon cooking in the oven – though not pictured), cheese sauce slowly warming and onions happily sauteing.
You can finish the assembly at the table and have two pans all set to either serve immediately or pop into the fridge for later! Easy peasy : )
NOTE: I just made this again and realized 1/2 cup of flour is too much. Reduce to a 1/3! Or increase your butter by 2 tbsps :)
- 2 boxes of your choice of pasta (I've used Penne, Small Shells, Macaroni, and Cavatappi)
- 8 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4-5 cups of whole milk
- 2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups of grated Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 lb of White American Cheese
- 10 oz Goat Cheese (two small logs)
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 4 cups panko bread crumbs
- (Optional) 1 sweet onion
- (Optional) 1 package of bacon
- (Optional) 2 cup diced grape tomatoes
- (Optional) 1 cup julienned fresh basil
- I intentionally gave you the recipe in its large format. This will make A LOT of food. If you are only feeding 6 people or if you don’t have giant pots (and you need a giant pot for the cheese sauce) then split it in half : )
- Begin by deciding what, if any, of your optional add-ins that you are going to add.
- Grate your cheese. Now don't worry if you can't find these specific cheeses. For this recipe you need three good melting cheeses, one of which should have a strong flavor. Sometimes I use Smoked Gouda instead of Gruyere, sometimes Fontina or Piave Oro Del Tempo (an amazing little cheese) instead of Parmesan and sometimes I toss caution to the wind and make it with Cheddar, White American and Smoked Mozzarella. The point is, try new things and decide what you like best : )
- Pop your bacon in the oven so that it can cook while you're doing other things. Set the bacon in a cold oven and turn the oven to 400. After 20 minutes you should have lovely, crispy bacon : )
- Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set them somewhere to cool. Eventually you will take a chef’s knife and chop them into bits to sprinkle in your Mac and Cheese.
- Chop your onion into whatever size onion pieces that you'd like in your dish. While chopping, place 1 tbps of butter (or olive oil) to a frying pan and turn it to medium heat so that the pan warms up. Add the onion and turn the heat down to just above medium. Turn the onion frequently and let it SLOWLY cook for about 10 minutes until caramelized (brown, but not burnt or crispy.) When done, transfer to a dish to cool down.
- Now, while your onions are basking in their butter (which you can add more of if you need too), get your giant pot of water boiling. Don't add the pasta until your cheese sauce is done though!! I've made this mistake and ended up with sticky pasta by the time the sauce was ready. Yuck.
- On to the cheese sauce. Begin by putting 5 tbsps of butter into your LARGE pot and turn heat to medium. Once melted and bubbling, add your flour and whisk while the two ingredients simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Then turn your heat down to medium-low and add your milk and heavy cream. (Now I like my mac and cheese extra creamy – hence all the milk. If you want it less creamy, reduce by ½ a cup.) Whisk some more and let cook for about five minutes until the milk is very warm. Then add all your grated cheeses into the pot!! It's so fun!! Add your pepper and fresh thyme. The wonderful smells will make your heart happy.
- NOW, this is when you taste test. If the mixture isn't cheesy enough for you, add some more. Not liquid enough? Add some milk. DON'T ADD SALT (remember, you made lots of bacon!!!) but maybe you'd like more pepper. Once you like the taste, turn the heat to low.
- Add some salt to your pasta water (alot) and then dump in your pasta. Cook about two minutes less than the box instructs for al dente pasta. Remember, it will finish cooking in the oven.
- Ok, by this point your onions should be done, your bacon should be done, your sauce should be done and as soon as the pasta is cooked, strain it and separate it into two oven-safe dishes. Stand back and survey your accomplishments!
- This is when you'd also chop up and add your tomatoes or basil if you wanted. Personally, I've never done all four optional ingredients together, but hey, maybe you will and it will be awesome.
- Melt the final 2 tbsps of melted butter and panko together so that you have buttered breadcrumbs.
- Mix everything together and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top of the the mac and cheese.
- Bake for about 25 minutes (or until the sides are bubbling) in a 350 degree oven. Enjoy : )