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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.

Course Dinner, Entree, Lunch, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Easy, Hearty
Keyword Applewood Smoked Gruyere Cheese, Cheddar Cheese Recipe, Cheese Recipe, Easy Mac & Cheese, Mac and cheese cuisine, Pasta Cuisine, Penne Pasta, Quarantine Comfort Food
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 People
Calories 703 kcal
Author Yasmin Jackson


  • 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


  1. Preheat oven 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. 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.

  3. Simultaneously make the cheese sauce.

  4. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy bottom pot using medium heat.

    Note: do not allow the butter to burn

  5. Whisk in the 1/4 cup flour. Cook 1 to 2 minutes stiring constantly.

  6. Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir constantly until the milk is fully incorporated.

  7. Add the crushed garlic, black pepper, salt and nutmeg.

  8. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sauce starts to thicken.

  9. 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.

  10. Add the cooked pasta. Stir to thoroughly coat with the cheese sauce.

  11. In a frying pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter over medium heat.

  12. Add the tomato chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly wilted.

  13. Add the basil leaves, stir until the basil starts to wilt and becomes bright green. Turn off the stove and set aside.

  14. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter.

  15. In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs with the melted butter. Mix to coat the crackers.

  16. Assemble the mac and cheese:

  17. 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.

  18. Pour 1/2 of the mac and cheese into the bowl. Spread it throughout the bottom of the bowl.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Sprinkle the mozzarella pieces on top of the tomatoes/basil.

  22. Sprinkle the cracker crumbs all over the top.

  23. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until nice and bubbly.

  24. Allow to cool 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.

  25. Plate and serve as a main course or as a side dish. Enjoy.

Recipe Notes

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.

Nutrition Facts
Smokey Mac & Cheese
Amount Per Serving
Calories 703 Calories from Fat 369
% Daily Value*
Fat 41g63%
Saturated Fat 24g150%
Cholesterol 122mg41%
Sodium 952mg41%
Potassium 344mg10%
Carbohydrates 50g17%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 7g8%
Protein 33g66%
Vitamin A 1470IU29%
Vitamin C 3mg4%
Calcium 784mg78%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.