Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Classic Mac and Cheese

Awhile back, I wandered past the fancy cheese section at Kroger (the one I avoid unless looking for something specific because my deep love for cheese would blow our budget if I were tempted) and they had a ton of cheeses on clearance. I'm talking 90% off - amazing prices. So, I did what any sane person would do and bought about 10 pounds of cheese (threw most of it in the freezer).

This week, while working on a grocery list and menu, I decided that I needed to use up that about-to-spoil cheese that I didn't freeze. And what better way than an ooey, gooey, mac and cheese? Yes, traditionally a cool weather dish (and it's certainly not cool here!) but we both had no issues eating it when it was 102 outside.

You can use any pasta shape and cheese you want (I am including the suggested cheeses; I ended up using 4 different kinds that I found in my fridge). Also, you absolutely have to shred your own cheese or it will be gritty. Preshredded cheese is coated in a substance to keep it from sticking together in the package and it doesn't melt down as well.

It will seem like WAY too much cheese sauce but it's really not - I promise. You just barely start to cook the pasta before throwing it in the huge pot of cheese sauce and letting it bake so the pasta finishes cooking within the cheese. It's creamy and delicious and exactly what a classic mac and cheese should be.

You may notice in my picture that there is something else mixed into my pasta... Jason is convinced that it's not a meal if there is not meat present so I threw in some diced honey ham that I still had frozen from Easter. Since I used some pretty strong cheeses, the sweet ham really was a nice addition. But don't tell him that.

I found this recipe on Annie's Eats.

Classic Mac and Cheese
For the bread crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried parsley
Salt and pepper

For the pasta:
1 lb. pasta shapes
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3½ cups milk
1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Ground black pepper

To make the bread crumb topping, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add in the panko and cook, stirring frequently, until the bread crumbs are a light golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta to the water and cook just until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and leave in the colander.

Return the pot to the heat. Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne, cooking just until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheeses, whisking until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumb topping.* Bake 30-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.

*At this point, you can wrap the dish tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, bake covered at 400˚ F until the filling is hot throughout, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the breadcrumbs are crisp, 15-20 minutes more.

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