I grew up eating Kraft macaroni and cheese. I know its wrong, but I loved the stuff. I didn’t even really know there was homemade mac n cheese until I was much older. But at the time, that blue box was the quintessential mac n cheese for me.
During my time working at Mas, I’ve had the opportunity to make mac n cheese several times for our daily 5 pm staff meal. My recipe has gotten a little more complex than a basic mac n cheese but still remains true to the classic dish.
This Sunday I cooked for Jon and my friend Andrew’s superbowl party. Me and Jon braised half a pork shoulder and smoked the other half. I made barbecue sauce, coleslaw and collard greens. I also made the mac n cheese that’s become my favorite family meal dish, both at home and at work. My favorite thing about making this meal is that basically everyone identifies with it, and when it’s really good and homemade, people are just as impressed as they would be had you made something intricate and fancy. You know you’ve succeeded when the casserole comes out gooey and cheesy inside with a crusty top. There is something so satisfying about making a meal that you know people associate with comforting childhood food and memories.
To turn the mac n cheese into a bite, I used a mini muffin tin and packed the cheesy pasta into each buttered cup. Cheese and apples have always been a snack that I eat together, despite how strange that may sound. I thought a little piece of tangy fruit would cut the creamy richness of the pasta nicely. I hope you’ll try my few personal additions to this undeniably wonderful dish.
(Serves 6-8 as a side dish or 4 as a main)
2 boxes elbow pasta (you can use shells or whatever you want)
1 quart whole milk
1 small bunch thyme
Few sprigs of sage
1 sprig rosemary
3 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb gruyere cheese, grated
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ lb parmesan cheese, grated
1 ½ cups homemade breadcrumbs
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
3 chives, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped chives
½ cup chopped parsley
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
- Set a pot of water to boil. In the meantime, start making the cheese sauce. Something I like to do to give the mac n cheese more flavor is to infuse the milk for the cheese sauce with herbs and garlic. Put the milk, thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaves, crushed garlic cloves and black peppercorns in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the milk has reduced a little and smells like the herbs and garlic. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and keep warm.
- While the milk is reducing, grate the cheese, and prepare the onions and shallots. In a sauté pan, cook the onions and shallots together in a little oil and butter. Season them well with salt and pepper and cook until translucent and slightly browned. Set aside.
- When water comes to a boil, cook the pasta to al dente and drain well. Mix onions and shallots into pasta and set aside.
- Once the milk has infused with the herbs, you can start the cheese sauce. The butter and flour will be used to make a roux. Make sure to have a whisk ready to go, as the flour cooks quickly and you want to keep it moving to avoid browning / burning. In a pot over medium heat, melt the butter without browning it at all. As soon as it is melted, add the flour while whisking to avoid getting a lumpy sauce.
- Cook the roux over a low heat, whisking constantly. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the raw flavor of the flour is gone.
- Slowly whisk in herb milk. The mixture will immediately clump up and look very thick and dough-like. Keep adding milk in a slow, steady stream while whisking over low heat. Eventually the roux with thicken the milk so that it coats the back of a spoon.
- Allow the milk to cool for a few minutes off heat, then whisk in cheddar and gruyere cheese.
- In a large bowl, combine cheese sauce and pasta. Season as needed with salt, pepper and Dijon mustard.
- Spoon mac n cheese into a 9×13 casserole dish. Top with parmesan, breadcrumbs, and chopped chives. Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes until breadcrumbs are toasty and cheese is sizzling.
- To make the bite, place mac n cheese in muffin cups and bake until crusty. Serve on top of sliced apples.