June 4, 2010

Smoky Mac and Cheese

Growing up, I pretty much ate all kinds of food no matter how exotic or weird they seemed, sometimes I even added gummy bears to my mix ins at Coldstone creamery...don't ask. However, there were always things that I never liked, and even refused to eat, such as eggs, mushrooms, mayonnaise, and of course; melted cheese. I would make our homemade pizzas on Friday nights without the core ingredient, pick the cheese off of any dish no matter where I was, and my mom would even leave a corner of her homestyle lasagna without cheese for me so I could eat with the family. What can I say, I didn't like cheese!

This year though, melted cheese began to grow on me once I started eating at the local pizzeria in Charlottesville, Mellow Mushroom, and I had my first real pizza with cheese there on my birthday- quite a feat. After that instance, I had been craving mac and cheese, but was wary to try one in a restaurant until I had made my own, just in case. While I still don't think I can do melted ricotta like in lasagna (I've never liked ricotta in the first place), this mac and cheese was simply to die for.

Maybe it's the fact that smoked Gouda is one of my favorite types of cheese, or the love I have for a panko encrusted top on anything baked, or how the saltiness of the Canadian bacon adds another dimension to the dish and accents the Gouda, bringing out even more of the smoky intense flavor; or maybe it's a culmination of all these different aspects of this dish that might is absolutely delightful, melt in your mouth good. One thing for sure though, I love it.

Smoky Mac and Cheese
1 pound cooked noodles such as Penne or Macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups 2% milk
1 1/2 cups Smoked Gouda cheese
1/4 cup cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Canadian bacon, chopped
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tomato, diced

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onions to cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the flour as a thickening agent until the onions are coated. Slowly stir in the milk and mix until smooth and no visible lumps. Cook for five minutes stirring constantly- the sauce should begin to bubble and thicken towards the end.

Remove the sauce from the heat, season with salt and pepper and add the Gouda and cheddar cheese and mix until the sauce is creamy, not stringy which can happen when using certain cheeses. Fold in the Canadian bacon then add the cooked pasta. Stir until all combined.

Pour the mac and cheese into a large baking dish. Sprinkle with the Panko bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and distribute the diced tomato evenly over the top. Also, you can add some extra butter slabs to make the top even more crispy *I always do this, it makes it even more decadent and fabulous.

Bake in a oven, preheated, at 375F for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling!

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