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Mac 'n' Cheese - the Ultimate Comfort Food Recipe

Mac 'n' Cheese is one of those dishes that pleases any time of year, but when fall rolls around and the temperatures drop, there's something especially comforting about a really delicious cheese-y version like this one that uses three different cheeses. Enjoy this recipe from our #FeelGoodFoodCookbook, which you can get right here on our website.

Mary Anne Erickson

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October 23, 2018

Mac ’n’ cheese, the quintessential American comfort food, is actually English in origin. Cheddar cheese is a must, and I add Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, or Gruyère for extra depth of flavor. Feel free to use any bits of cheese you might have kicking around your fridge, or add a pricy truffle cheese and you have something to accompany a prime rib roast. When we serve this on the kid’s buffet at parties, we always make extra, as the adults inevitably poach the line! Let’s face it, everyone loves mac ’n’ cheese.

Mac ’n’ Cheese au Gratin
Serves 10

1 lb macaroni or egg noodles
2 recipes for Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
1 lb cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 oz)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan (about 2 oz)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Panko Topping (recipe below)
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add macaroni, cooking according to package instructions. Drain and, without rinsing, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Combine with béchamel sauce, mustard, 3 cups cheddar (reserving 1 cup for topping), Gruyère, and pecorino cheese. Season generously with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Stir together and take a moment to size it all up if before it goes into your baking dish (a 9" x 13" baking dish works well) and oven. Does it look soupy? Is it thick and sticky? How does it taste? Is there enough cheese, salt, and pepper? Now is the time to fix it. Your mixture should have the consistency of lumpy oatmeal. Remember it’s going to dry out a bit in the oven, and the noodles will continue to absorb more liquid, so the mixture should be fairly soft and creamy, but not soupy!

Rub the bottom your baking dish with oil and garlic and then pour in the mixture, sprinkling with the reserved 1 cup cheddar cheese. Crumble panko topping over everything, which gives a finished look and a crunchy counterpoint to the creamy casserole dish. It also will absorb some of the fat from the cheeses as it rises up and make a tasty, attractive finish to the dish.

Bake 30 minutes or so, until the casserole is bubbling at the edges and the topping is golden and crisp.

Panko Topping

1 tablespoon minced garlic
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
salt
pepper

Mix topping ingredients together and scatter evenly over casserole.

Béchamel Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

My mother called this a white sauce, which indeed it is. The basic procedure and technique used to make it are fundamental building blocks for many other dishes. The ratio below will make a sauce of medium consistency. For a thicker sauce, increase the ratio of flour and butter to milk (known as a “roux”), and for a thinner sauce simply add more milk.

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups cold milk
grated nutmeg
salt

Slowly melt butter in a medium saucepan and add flour all at once, stirring until smooth. Cook 2–3 minutes, until mixture just starts to turn a light golden color but do not let it brown. Add milk, a bit at a time, whisking constantly until all the milk is added. Add a good pinch salt and a few grates of nutmeg and keep whisking until bubbles start to appear. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring 2–3 more minutes. If you are using later, remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap, wax paper, or a few dots of butter, to prevent a skin from forming. Use the sauce within an hour of making it, or refrigerate for a longer period.

For a really fabulous appetizer, make your mac 'n' cheese as per the instructions above and after it's cooled, use a melon baller to scoop out balls, then roll them in panko bread crumbs, and deep fry them. Serve them warm and your guests will go crazy!