Macaroni and cheese is hands down one of my favourite things to eat. Actually I'm going to go all out here and say it is my single favourite main course. Usually I make it the way my mom taught me (which oddly seems to be different than how she makes it now, so I guess something got lost along the way for one of us) but in any case it's delicious and easy. However that is not the mac and cheese I am posting about right now! Though I should definitely post about that one too at some point. I read awhile ago about a macaroni and cheese showdown and was extremely jealous. I want to have a macaroni and cheese party. Or cellentani and cheese party (cellentani is a straight tube of pasta that has been twisted into a little spiral - I've also seen it called scoobydoo pasta).
Anyway, this mac and cheese recipe comes from my beloved Rebar cookbook, and is one of the best I've had. It's the use of aged white cheddar (drool), lots of herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley), onions, and an awesomely delicious topping (fresh bread crumbs, pine nuts, more herbs, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese) that makes this macaroni and cheese so great. It's certainly more time consuming and complicated to make than regular macaroni and cheese, but so very worth it. The first time I made it, I thought fresh bread crumbs were the same as the dried fine breadcrumbs you can buy at the store. The fine breadcrumbs soaked up all the tasty sauce, so don't make my mistake! I just rip up pieces of bread for the fresh breadcrumbs now and it works really well. This recipe makes a huge amount of mac and cheese, so unless you're wanting to feed at least 6+ people and have leftovers, try halving it. And no I did not actually use macaroni this time because I didn't have any, so I used whole wheat penne (one of my least favourite pasta shapes to use for mac and cheese).
Audrey's Deluxe Mac & Cheese (with Crispy Pine Nut-Herb Crust)
(Adapted from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook)
5 cups dry pasta shapes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 tsp salt
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup chopped oregano**
2 tbsp chopped thyme**
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup unbleached flour
4 cups (about 330 g) grated aged white cheddar
4 cups slices of whole grain bread, torn into small pieces
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts
**Fresh herbs are best of course but dried works fine too.
1. Cook pasta in boiling water until just done. strain and toss with a light coating of olive oil. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a small skillet and sauté onion for 5 minutes. add half of the minced garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and sauté until the garlic turns golden. transfer to a small bowl and stir in half of the chopped herbs. Set aside.
3. Next, make a roux for the cheese sauce. Gently heat the milk and keep it warm. Set a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle in flour and whisk constantly as the flour and butter turn golden. Gradually add the warm milk and 1 tsp salt and whisk thoroughly. heat until the sauce thickens (about 10 minutes). Add the sautéed onion/herb mix, grated cheese and stir until the cheese melts. Season to taste.
4. Finally, make the topping. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining garlic, herbs, Parmesan, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp salt, lots of cracked pepper and the remaining 3 tbsp (45ml) olive oil. Mix together thoroughly.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F. to assemble, combine the noodles and cheese sauce in a large bowl and mix well. pour into an 8" x 12" dish. Scatter the topping over the entire surface, working some of it into the noodles. Bake uncovered until golden and bubbly (about 45 minutes). Serve piping hot.