Smoky Macaroni & Cheese
I must be on a comfort food kick. I'm craving my childhood favorites, it seems (see post on Snickerdoodles). It must be said that most Americans, and many others, absolutely love macaroni and cheese. I mean, what's not to love? It's cheesy and warm and we grew up eating it. Smoky Macaroni & Cheese is a far cry from that powdered boxed nonsense. This is a grown-up version of the pasta and cheese we adore.
My mom's favorite food was macaroni and cheese. And when asked which was her favorite mac 'n cheese? "Shannon's, of course." My mom was a fabulous cook and to take a spot in her top 10 is huge. My kids (all three of them!) love it. In fact, my super-picky 8-year old will turn her cute little nose up at other macaroni and cheese creations and remark how it's just "not mom's homemade mac 'n cheese."
Friends, be warned: Smoky Macaroni & Cheese is not low-fat. Nor is it light and refreshing. It is a full-bodied, rich and hearty mac 'n cheese. It is creamy and cheesy with a crunchy topping. The not-so-secret ingredient that gives this dish it's unique flavor is the smoked Gouda, so don't substitute it out if you want the "smoky" part of the recipe. Pair it with a salad and you have a full meal. Or skip the salad and eat Smoky Macaroni & Cheese until you need to loosen your belt buckle.
Smoky Macaroni & Cheese
1 lb. elbow pasta (or whatever shape you like)
5-1/2 c. milk
8 T. (1 stick) butter, divided
1/4 c. flour
10 oz. (2-1/2 c.) smoked Gouda, shredded
8 oz. (2 c.) sharp Cheddar, shredded
6 oz. (1-1/2 c.) Swiss, shredded
4 oz. (1 c.) Parmesan, shredded fine, divided
1 c. Panko bread crumbs
1/4 - 1/2 t. ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
s & p
Preheat oven to 350*. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish or individual crocks.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just soft. Drain in colander and set colander aside.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add cayenne and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Add Panko and stir well. Toast bread crumbs until light golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
Using the now-empty (no need to clean) pasta pot, melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking, for about 2 minutes as it bubbles and froths. Add 1 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and whisk. Pour some of the milk in, while whisking constantly. Continue whisking and adding the milk. Heat the milk to a near boil (around 200*), whisking often as to not burn the milk mixture. Off heat, add the cheeses in handfuls, stirring in a figure-8 pattern until all the cheese is incorporated. Don't worry if not every single bit of cheese has melted into the béchamel. Add the drained pasta and mix well. Pour into baking dish.
Stir remaining 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese into the cooled bread crumb mixture. Top pasta with mixture. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top.