There are plenty of recipes online for the crowd favorite Mac and Cheese. Determining which of these recipes is perfect takes a lot of work because just looking at the ingredients list or the steps to prepare it don’t give you any real clue as to what it’ll actually taste like. MY 5-Cheese Mac is a recipe I’ve carved out over the years. It is a culmination of boxed mac and cheese from my childhood, the ‘macaroni pie’ I’ve had in the homes of my West Indian friends, and the “mac and cheese” I savored in the homes of my Southern Fried friends. I’ve always wanted my recipe to have a distinct look and taste. I wanted it ooey, gooey, cheesy, and most importantly I want anyone who has it to like it enough for seconds. I didn’t take as many pictures of this batch for many reasons. The number one reason is that I was in a hurry when I made this. I had a friend in town and only had time to grab a bite to eat before heading directly to the airport and I wasn’t feeling my best with a fever. Here’s the rundown along with the few pics I managed. Do try the recipe and leave me your feedback and tell me what you added, changed, or took out altogether. I am a FIRM believer that it’s not your recipe without YOUR touch.
Before you go through the ingredient list don't burn your wallet trying to get "fancy" cheese. If you're in Atlanta just go to Your Dekalb Famers Market and get what you need. They have cheeses available in several sized containers at far better prices than your Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or Publix. Trust me on that one. Also for the nutmeg, I buy whole nutmeg as it stores much longer and grate it with a handheld cheese grater. I love the smell and knowing that it's super fresh with all my other fresh ingredients.
- 4 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4½ cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp dry mustard
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs (make your own!)
- 1 lb dried pasta (I prefer twisted shapes, I used Gigli)
- kosher salt (for the pasta water)
- 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- ½ cup pecorino-romano cheese
- 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded fontina cheese, plus 16 cubed pieces
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Grease your 9×13 baking dish and set to the side.
- Boil your pasta in water seasoned with plenty of salt (about a tablespoon) for about 4 to 5 minutes. You want it undercooked because it will continue cooking in the oven when you bake it. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the macaroni and quickly rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let it sit and drain while you make the cheese sauce. You may not need the reserved pasta water, but it’s good to have just in case your cheese mixture gets a little too thick and gloopy.
- In one heavy bottom pot or large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it starts to foam and bubble, add the flour and immediately whisk so that it forms a paste. Allow this to cook for about 1 minute to get the “raw” flour taste out, whisking frequently.
- SLOWLY add 2 cups of the milk while whisking constantly to remove any large lumps. Continue to whisk until smooth and thick, about 20 seconds. Add the remaining 2½ cups of milk and continue to whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high to allow the mixture to simmer and thicken, about 5 minutes. Season the mixture while it thickens and taste as you go.
- Once your mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, and gruyere cheese and remove from the heat. Taste it again, season if you need to.
- Toss the cheese sauce with the pasta. Don’t panic if there’s more sauce than pasta, you’re going to spoon it into the baking dish, so you’ll be able to control the cheese sauce/pasta ratio. As you’re layering, it’ll start to thicken up even more. On the flipside, if your mixture is too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to the sauce coated pasta to thin it out. Make sure you’re careful here, adding too much will make it too watery and less likely for it to stick to your pasta.
- Ladle a layer of the coated pasta into your prepared baking dish, then sprinkle a layer of the remaining cheeses and repeat until all of the pasta and cheese is used up — lasagna style.
- Run a spoon thru the entire mixture just to lightly mix in the cheese throughout the entire dish. Smooth the mixture with the back of a spoon just until its relatively even on top, and sprinkle a thin layer of seasoned bread crumbs on top.. The breadcrumb crust also acts as a barrier to keep the cheese from drying out by helping to keep it moist. This was the most common denominator in the Macaroni Pies and Mac and Cheeses of my 20’s.
- Bake on the center rack of your oven for about 20 to 35 minutes or until the center is bubbly and the entire dish is golden brown.
- Let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before you dive into it.
*You do not have to use ALL of your cheese. Too much cheese will make it oily and gross, you don’t want that. I tend to end up with a bit (half a cup) left over, and if I made my breadcrumbs myself I blend the excess cheese into the crumbs so that when it comes out of the over there’s that crusty cheese the teenager is so fond of.
**You can use whichever pasta you prefer, I tend to stick with twisted shapes like
so that my rue seeps in to be savored later. Any tubed shaped pasta would be great as well, I would avoid large width and length pasta not just for presentation but for holding the cheese sauce therefore impacting the taste.