Gourmet Mac ‘N’ Cheese
Mac ‘n’ cheese is hands down the ultimate comfort food; it will make this girl happy any day of the year. Back in college, the Kraft blue box could have substantiated its own pyramid level in my diet. Then, one day, I spread my wings and reached for Annie’s Homegrown brand: I honestly felt like I hit the lotto because it was SO much better than the blue box. I’m strangely proud to admit that there was a good solid year in my life when I ate Annie’s Mexican Macaroni and Cheese at least twice a week. Ahhhhh that was a good year.
These days I’m trying to at least somewhat watch my cheese intake, so when I splurge for the mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve come to the conclusion that the homemade variety is the most worth every cheesy, delicious calorie. There are so many recipes for this classic American dish. Below is a good one that I found in the April 2007 issue of Sacramento Magazine. I omitted the peas (I’m not a pea person) and it still turned out great, plus the panko crumbs add the perfect amount of crunch. Add a salad and you have a meal. Enjoy!
Gourmet Mac ‘N’ Cheese
Copyright, 2007, Sacramento Magazine, All Rights Reserved
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 leeks, white and light-green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups dried macaroni (about ¾ pound)
¼ pound prosciutto, finely chopped
1 cup frozen baby peas
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus butter to grease the baking dish
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups warm milk or half-and-half
2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup bread crumbs, preferably Japanese panko crumbs (found in the Asian foods section of the grocery store)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, or until soft and nicely caramelized. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain macaroni and add to bowl with leeks, along with prosciutto and peas. Mix well and set aside.
To make sauce, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk the flour into the melted butter and cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes or until the mixture is gently bubbling and golden. Gradually add warm milk or half-and-half, whisking constantly, and bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add Jack and cheddar and ¼ cup of Parmesan. Remove from heat and whisk constantly until cheese is completely melted. Stir in salt, white pepper and mustard. Taste for seasoning. Pour sauce over macaroni-leek mixture and mix to combine.
Butter a 9-by-11-inch baking dish and place on a baking sheet. Pour macaroni mixture into the dish. Combine bread crumbs and remaining ¼ cup of Parmesan in a small bowl and mix well. Sprinkle mixture over macaroni. Dot with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces, and bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes or until top is bubbling and golden brown. (Don’t let the bread crumbs burn.) Remove from oven and let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.