The Dish: My Favorite Mac N Cheese

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Whether it’s a small family gathering, or a huge get together, everyone ALWAYS asks me about my Mac N Cheese. I have searched high and low for a good quality recipe that wasn’t extremely difficult. THIS IS IT!!! (Courtesy of Barefoot Contessa). It’s just the right amount of gourmet to make you look like you know what you are doing and just easy enough for the novice chef to make.

Instead of just giving you the recipe with no explanation, I thought I’d walk you thru the steps and share some of my own tips and tricks that I have learned along the way (by making the mistakes myself, ha ha!).

Alright, so let’s dive in!

Ingredients
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions ( * = My tip)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
* Don’t overcook the noodles and just let them boil forever (like some of my girlfriends do!). You need them al dente so they can absorb the cheese nicely.

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3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it.
* This is VERY important. The hot milk allows you to combine the flour butter mixture nicely creating a “roux”(a smooth and thick base for the mac and cheese). You need it to be hot… But don’t boil it!!!

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4. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
* You want to whisk this so you can get rid of that flour smell/taste, and you want to use a non-coated pan so the whisk doesn’t damage the bottom. Also, don’t use expired flour! Yes, flour goes bad. You can usually do the smell test and tell. Trust me, it makes a difference!!! You’d hate to go through all this work and end up having it taste bad because of old flour. So when in doubt, just buy new flour. I like the baking kind, because it’s extra fine.

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5. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.
* Do this in two phases, that way you’re not combining ALL the milk at once. Pour a little in, whisk, let it thicken and smooth out, then pour the rest and continue whisking.

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6. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
* I add the spices first to make sure they’re evenly spread out in the roux. Remember, Kosher salt. If the recipe calls for it, USE IT! I always pre-measure because this part of the process moves fast, and you don’t want to burn your roux or let it cool too much because you were measuring!

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* Then add the cheese. (I like to have it freshly shredded using my food processor.) I add one kind at a time to really get the melting action. Make sure to stir well. The roux will melt the cheese giving you your CHEESE SAUCE!!! And it’s soooo much better than velveeta!

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7. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
* I always need Nick’s help with this part. He holds the pot while I scoop it into the pan.

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** Also, this is a great stopping point if you want to make it ahead and put it in the fridge! I do this ALL the time! Then I don’t have to worry about it the next day, just take it out, add toppings, and pop it in the oven! Super easy!  If you do that, you’ll have to bake it for 40-50mins… until the cheese is bubbly and macaroni is browned on top.

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8. Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh breadcrumbs, and sprinkle on the top.
* I use the food processor to make my breadcrumbs using crust-less bread slices. It’s a PERFECT consistency! And slice the tomatoes then put them in the fridge. This allows me to complete ALL the prep work so that, on party day, I’m just putting on the top and putting in the oven! 5 mins prep! (If that!)

9. (If not preparing ahead of time) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
* Remember, though, you’ll have to cook it for about 10 minutes longer if you refrigerated it.

Now, your last direction is simply to… ENJOY!  Everyone you cook for will adore this Mac n Cheese recipe… I guarantee it!

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Do you have a favorite Mac N Cheese recipe? What do you think the secret is to amazing Mac N Cheese?  Make sure to tell me about them or share a link to them in the comments section below!

Xx,
Vanessa

 

Source: Barefoot Contessa

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