It’s everywhere from backyard cookouts to upscale restaurants to Thanksgiving feasts – Mac and Cheese. It comes in all shapes and forms which makes it very versatile. This recipe is only one of the many versions I make and it’s my sons favorite, which is surprising as the Applewood Gruyere Cheese gives it a unique smokey taste. I recall the first time I made it for my son and some of his friends; their plates were cleaned and they were looking for seconds. Were they super hungry or they loved it? It turned out to be the latter.
I hope to share some of the other variations of Mac and Cheese from my repertoire with you all. Feel free to try this recipe as is and then you can further tweak it to fit your taste bud. I like to make this dish very cheesy – you can always adjust the cheese amounts without sacrificing the integrity of the recipe. I also love using penne pasta verses macaroni pasta as I find it to be sturdier and more hearty. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do. Happy Cooking!
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Smokey Mac & Cheese
This very hearty smokey mac and cheese is great as a side or main dish. It's easy to make.
- 5 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk (I used carnation evaporated) Whole milk also works.
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (can reduce to 1/4 teaspoon)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (adjust for your diatery requirement)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded applewood smoked Gruyere cheese (You can use up to 2 cups)
- 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
- water and salt for cooking the pasta
- 2 plum tomatoes chopped into 1 inch chunks/cubes
- 10 – 15 fresh basil leaves
- 8 ounces fresh mozzerella cheese ripped into several pieces.
- 15 ritz crackers crumbled into small crumbs
Preheat oven 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cook the pasta 4 minutes less than the al dente instructions. Drain and set aside.
Note: If you prefer your pasta softer feel free to cook it fully as per the instructions on the box.
Simultaneously make the cheese sauce.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy bottom pot using medium heat.
Note: do not allow the butter to burn
Whisk in the 1/4 cup flour. Cook 1 to 2 minutes stiring constantly.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir constantly until the milk is fully incorporated.
Add the crushed garlic, black pepper, salt and nutmeg.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sauce starts to thicken.
Whisk in the cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the smoked gruyere cheese. Stir until the cheeses are fully melted and the sauce is smooth. Turn off the stove.
Add the cooked pasta. Stir to thoroughly coat with the cheese sauce.
In a frying pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
Add the tomato chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly wilted.
Add the basil leaves, stir until the basil starts to wilt and becomes bright green. Turn off the stove and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter.
In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs with the melted butter. Mix to coat the crackers.
Assemble the mac and cheese:
Place a 4 quart bowl on top of a sheetpan.
Note: You can line the sheetpan with a silicone liner or parchment paper. I usually do this step to make clean up easier in the event the sauce spills over.
Pour 1/2 of the mac and cheese into the bowl. Spread it throughout the bottom of the bowl.
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded Gruyere cheese.
Note: If you don't want as much cheese, you can skip this step. Just dump the entire mac and cheese into the bowl and sprinkle the toppings.
Pour the remaining mac and cheese over the gruyere cheese. Spread it out Sprinkle the wilted tomatoes and basils on top of the cheesy pasta.
Note: Alternatively, you can just add fresh tomatoes slices and fresh basil leaves without wilting.
Sprinkle the mozzarella pieces on top of the tomatoes/basil.
Sprinkle the cracker crumbs all over the top.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes until nice and bubbly.
Allow to cool 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.
Plate and serve as a main course or as a side dish. Enjoy.
Depending on the appetite of your eaters and serving as a side dish or meal, the portions will vary. When I serve as a meal, it serves six. It’s pretty hearty so small portions fill you up.
The caprese style topping is optional and you can also choose not to wilt it. It adds more flavor in my opinion when its wilted. Have fun with making changes to this step.
You can use bread crumbs (panko style) instead of the ritz cracker crumbs.
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