Kraft Dinner was the macaroni and cheese I hardly grew up with! What I mean is, that Kraft Dinner or Mac n Cheese as it is adoringly referred to here in the US, was a rare treat on the farm. Of course, I don’t refer to Kraft Dinner (Mac n Cheese) as a treat anymore, but the memories behind the dish are to be cherished – like a treat! Every once in a while, on a Sunday night while watching the Wonderful World of Disney and Anne of Green Gables (Great Canadian Series), my brother and I would crawl under the coffee table and quietly enjoy our bowls of macaroni and cheese. I don’t know what it was about hanging out under the coffee table, but it was great – as it was basically a fort we didn’t have to build!
Back to the recipe. I will say that I have always been intrigued by macaroni and cheese being on menus in restaurants. I thought to myself, I need to make this because I have to find out how good it is if it’s homemade. I’ve made a variety of sauces so I figured how difficult would it be to make a great cheese sauce for pasta? Well, I’m happy to share with you this creation. I enjoy hot foods so I added fresh Serrano peppers to the mix. Of course you can omit them and you’ll still enjoy the satisfying cheesiness of this recipe. This macaroni and cheese is simply to die to for. The Mornay Sauce is rich and creamy and the spices bring out the best in the sharp white cheddar and pecorino romano cheeses. This recipe is also very easy and it doesn’t take much time at all! Serve this dish as a main! Cheers!
I tend to add garlic to a number of savory dishes, not only for its health benefits but for the flavor as well….I feel the same way about Serrano peppers oh and Sriracha sauce.
Making a smooth Bechamel sauce is easy – just whisk away like your life depends on it. Just kidding – kind of. If you take the time to whisk the butter and flour together into a smooth paste, you’ll have no problem with lumps, I promise.
When you stir in the cheese you’ll see lumps, I’m not going to lie. However, as the sauce warms up and the cheese begins to melt, you’ll see the two mediums come together to form a beautiful Mornay Sauce, and after about 5 minutes or so you’ll want to do a quality check – you know, to check for taste and texture!
Add the al dente pasta to the delightful and I’m going to say it, sinful Mornay sauce and stir until the luscious sauce coats each and every cavatappi.
Oh the glory. Go ahead, serve it now…it looks so goooooood….or bake it for a bit.
Crispy, creamy, rich and a hint of heat from the Serrano peppers, your Baked Piquant Macaroni and Cheese is ready to be enjoyed!
- 4 cups (1 quart) whole milk or (2¼ cups 2% and ¾ cup half and half)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 pinches nutmeg
- 8 ounces shredded 2-year aged sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 cups)
- 3 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 cup)
- 1-2 Serrano peppers, seeded and minced
- 1-2 garlic cloves whole (for the pasta water)
- 1 pound cavatappi (cooked al dente, drained)
- freshly ground pepper
- 1½ cups panko bread crumbs or coarse bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons melted butter
- If you are going to bake the macaroni and cheese, then combine the bread crumbs with the melted butter in a medium bowl and set aside. If you are not baking the macaroni and cheese then skip this step.
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water with garlic cloves to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it’s almost al dente (just on the edge of being underdone). (If you plan to top the mac ‘n’ cheese with panko and bake it, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.)
- Meanwhile, heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it just comes to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside. Or heat milk in a microwave safe measuring cup in the microwave until hot and set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the minced garlic if using.
- Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. you will be able to smell a heavenly caramel scent. Remove from the heat.
- While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
- Return the saucepan to medium heat and while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1½ teaspoons of salt, taste, and add more salt if desired. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Place the reserved saucepan of béchamel over medium heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth.
- At this point your pasta should be done cooking, drain and add the pasta and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately or, if baking, transfer to a 5-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the panko, and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!