It never seems to fail. I’ll be at a foodie event, dinner party or a swanky shindig somewhere — we will all be nibbling on the finest cuisine and patting our lips so sophisticated-like with our linen napkins — and what does the conversation turn to? a lot of the time — macaroni and cheese. And it certainly becomes quite a lively topic at that!
Here’s how the conversation goes: “Oh, yes, homemade is the best, but Stoffer’s is still pretty good sometimes — I can’t believe I’m saying that at this table!” “My mom used to make it from scratch with loads of sharp Tillamook Cheddar, but I looooooove it made with Cougar Gold… Have you had the lobster mac and cheese at so and so’s?
In fact tried-and-true old mac and cheese has come into its own. Don’t feel, that when crafting this classic that taking a lot of creative liberties is shunned. You could use almost any kind of pasta shape — bows, shells, spirals, penne. Fancy or not cheeses – but a lot of them! Then there are the add ins: bacon, sausage, fresh herbs, crab, roasted garlic, artichokes… a drizzle of truffle oil… the possibilities are endless!
My recipe is for a 4-cheese mac — penne pasta bound with a garlic and Parmesan white sauce, then tossed with loads of cheese — Jack, Cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan. It’s covered with fresh, herby, seasoned bread crumbs that get all nice and crunchy.
It’s more classic style – but jacked up a bit… it’s ooey gooey and d’lish and may be just the little bit of comfort we could all use this time of year.
Copyright © 2010 by Kathy Casey
4 Cheese “Ultra-Mac” With Herb Bread Crumbs
Generously serves 6 to 8
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
4 1/2 Tbsp. flour
4 cups whole milk or half-and-half*
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated high-quality Parmesan cheese
1 pound dry Cavatappi or penne pasta
2 cups (1/2 lb.) grated four-cheese blend **
(available purchased or make your own blend up)
2 cups (1/2 lb.) grated cheddar cheese
Herb Bread Crumbs
3 cups packed, 1-inch French bread chunks
4 Tbsp. butter
Pinch of salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. dry basil leaves
1/2 tsp. dry thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 375°F.
To make bread crumbs: Place bread crumb ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until the bread becomes fine crumbs and is well mixed. Set aside.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for about 20 seconds; do not let garlic brown. Stir in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. While stirring vigorously with a whisk, add the milk. Whisk well. Bring to a simmer and whisk occasionally until sauce is thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper, sour cream and Parmesan cheese, and set aside. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta per package directions until done. Drain well. In a very large bowl, mix together the pasta and sauce, then fold in the grated cheeses until well combined. Place mixture into a lightly pan-sprayed or buttered, 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with Herb Bread Crumbs and bake in a 375°F oven for about 30 -35 minutes, or until pasta is heated through, sides are slightly bubbling and top is golden brown.
* For an even richer macaroni and cheese substitute half & half for the milk.
** Four-, five- and six-cheese blends are available in most grocers’ dairy sections. If you wish to make your own grated cheese blend, try using a mixture of any of the following: Jack, mozzarella, Gouda, Swiss, Havarti.
© 2010 Revised from Kathy Casey Favorites