Cheese, like all beautiful things in the world, has lots of friends; macaroni is one of them. Macaroni and cheese are like Forrest Gump and Jenny or peas and carrots – they just work together.
Macaroni and cheese has (finally) received recognition on menus across the country as a quality and sophisticated adult dish, instead of the orange, processed noodles served to children who refuse to eat what mom is cooking that night. Thank goodness! Children love it because it is delicious, but there is no need to take a wholesome, quality ingredient meal and make it processed for convenience’s sake.
Although mac-n-cheese seems to have been invented by Kraft as a quick American budget-friendly meal, the dish actually has roots in French technique. God love the French! Typically, their cheese sauce is a variation of a béchamel (which is really just a roux made with milk) and then adding cheese. It is very common to see a macaroni and cheese dish – baked with bread crumbs on top – at some of the best little French bistros.
I promise you, in the same amount of time that it takes you to boil pasta in the blue box and open the packet of powdered “cheese,” you can make homemade macaroni and cheese – with real cheese – that will surprise and delight your picky eaters, as well as your discerning gourmets.
As you probably already know, I encourage kitchen experimentation. So, while I share a recipe with you below, please feel free to try different cheeses and other ingredients. For example, Blue Cheese is a marvelous addition with lots of flavor. Bacon is (duh!) also a great addition to a classic mac-n-cheese. And, lobster or crab makes the dish a little more sophisticated, not to mention incredibly tasty!
Here is my go-to recipe from my first cookbook, Tasia’s Table.
Mac and Two Cheeses with Caramelized Shallots
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for baking dish
3 cups (about 6) large shallots, sliced
8 ounces small elbow macaroni (2 cups) uncooked
1 ¼ cups half and half
2 ½ teaspoons of hot sauce
2 cups (packed) cheddar, extra sharp, freshly grated
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Butter an 11 x 7 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, covered, until shallots are deep brown, stirring often, about 6 mins. Meanwhile, cook macaroni in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm. Stir occasionally; drain well. Reserve pan. Bring half-and-half and hot sauce to simmer in same saucepan over medium heat. Toss cheddar and flour in medium bowl to coat; add to half-and-half mixture. Whisk until sauce is smooth and just returns to a simmer, about 2 mins. Mix in pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Spread pasta mixture in prepared dish. Top with shallots, then goat cheese. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes.