There are few foods more notoriously comforting than mac and cheese. Whole cook books, restaurants, and blogs exist dedicated to it. It's also one of those things that everyone thinks they have the best of. You know, your grandma's mac and cheese, your mother's mac and cheese, Aunt Nellie's mac and cheese...whatever the case may be everyone's super secret recipe is the best (and it's always "famous")!
So this is mine, and it's not super secret. In fact I basically took both a bunch of mac and cheese recipes and kept the parts I liked and discarded the parts that I didn't. So here's my "famous" mac and cheese. It's cheesy (duh), creamy, textured, with a little twist.
I love to serve this dish along side pulled pork sandwiches or a lobster bake in the summer, wings during football season, and with a good pot roast or chili the winter. It has truffle oil which elevates it enough to bring to a party, but is well liked by children as well!
You will need:
1 box of Cavatappi pasta
8 tablespoons of butter
Drizzle of White Truffle Oil
2 ish cups of milk
16 oz Extra Sharp (or just Sharp if kiddos are eating) cheddar*
8 oz Swiss Cheese*
Salt and Pepper to Taste
A splash of sherry
Bread Crumbs (Panko or crushed up Ritz crackers work best)
*feel free to use additional cheeses, though I would recommend always using a majority cheddar
The key to the whole thing is to start with a very thick roux. In fact it's all about the roux. You mess that up, it's all over (no pressure). To start the roux I place a stick (yes a whole stick... you're making mac and cheese...the gig is up...it's not healthy) of butter in the bottom of a large skillet or sauce pan over medium heat. Drizzle over a little white truffle oil and slowly melt the butter by swirling it around the pan. The oil gives you the same flavor and richness as truffle butter for a fraction of the price (it's also yummy drizzled over popcorn if you really want to get bougie). You can get it at most grocery stores, or online. At the same time heat up the milk in a small sauce pan. You don't want the milk to boil, it should just get very hot.
After the butter has melted add in flour 1/4 cup at a time and stir, stir, stir. Make sure the flour is fully incorporated before you add another scoop, otherwise you will be able to taste the flour in the final product. If you do it right you will end up with a really thick paste. To that paste slowly add the milk. Add a little, stir. Add a little more, stir. Better to add a little and incorporate it fully, than to add it all and ruin the roux. You will roux the day! (Sorry, I had to). You will know the consistency is right when you have a thick but smooth sauce.
To that sauce add your salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir in completely. Off of the heat add your cheese. You can play around with different cheese, but I suggest using sharp cheddar as your primary cheese. If I'm making this for adults I use an extra sharp cheddar and you get an elegant white mac and cheese with a strong flavor. If kids will be consuming it, I use sharp cheddar and opt for the orange color cheese as it's more familiar to kiddos. The bagged shredded cheese is perfect to make this a quick meal. Ideally if you have the time, shred your own from a block of high quality cheese. It does make a difference! Gruyere and Assiago also make great mix ins in addition to the cheddar. You want softer cheeses known for mixing well. If you really want to get fancy add in some Brie or Camembert!
Once your cheese has fully melted, add a splash of Sherry and give it a final stir. Add in cooked Cavatappi noodles (one box) and combine with the sauce. The noodles should be just barely al dente. You want a good bite as they will be going into the oven. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs or crushed crackers. I actually like to add some crumbs and give a toss, then add some on the top.
If you want a golden brown crust, you can add little pats of butter on the top. I didn't do that this time, but it gives a lovely brown finish.
Set your oven to 350 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes until everything is combined and melted, and the bread crumbs are crusty.
If I'm serving this at a party I like to set up a mac and cheese bar with chopped bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, pulled pork, or different mix ins for people to make their own combination!
Do you have a secret family mac and cheese?