My kitchen repertoire has a few love potions, but non are as deadly as my mac n’ cheese. I’ve snared many admirers over a piping hot plate of this comfort food. It’s one of the most basic dishes to make, but gives my guests warm bellies and happy hearts! My favorite story that involves Mac n’ Cheese was finding my dear friend and former roommate Blandine. I was in the market for a roomie and she was a friend of my BFF Adima, so we planned a dinner party at my place to meet. Adima was already in love with me and my mac, so it was a no brainer to offer that as the main attraction! (Besides me and my think pink apartment…)
I invited a few of the gals to party and welcome Blandine…little did I know it would just take my mac n’ cheese to win her over. In usual form, I welcomed Blandine into my home with a big hug and a heavenly smell wafting from the oven. The table was being set and I was putting the finishing touches on dinner; going through my head of how I was going to charm this little Parisian doll to be my housemate. However, before I even got a chance to sit down and chat with Blandine, she burst into the kitchen saying how she would love to live with me if I was always making food that smelled just as delicious!
And that was how our story began, which isn’t unlike many other stories of friendship in my life! I totally believe the way to a persons heart is through their stomach, and I use my love of cooking as my love potion. Even Cutie has been the victim of my irresistible mac; we’ve even made a few updates to this recipe together. The possibilities are endless when it comes to this comfort food, but the kickin’ part of this recipe are the roasted red pepper and pickled jalapenos hidden beneath the creamy blend of cheddar, aged gouda, and swiss cheese.
Let’s get kickin’!
Kickin' Mac n' Cheese
There are many secrets to this recipes, but the most important is the combination of cheese. You want to choose ones that melt easily, but also have a range of sharpness and flavor. This recipe is a guide...go where your heart takes you in the cheese section. I've gone with a sharp cheddar, and aged gouda, and a swiss for this recipe. If you have a parmesan block add some of that in there too!
- 6 cups of grated cheese (see note above)
- 6 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3-4 cups whole milk room temp
- 1 box of cavatappi pasta
- panko bread crumbs
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A jar of roasted red peppers
- Dash paprika
- Fresh rosemary
- Optional: a jar of pickled jalapenos.
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Get a large pot of water boiling for the pasta, and cook al dente while preparing the sauce. Set aside a few tablespoons of cheese for topping.
- Step 2 The secret to a creamy mac is making a bechamel sauce: Melt the butter in a large pot (6 qt size would make me comfortable) over medium heat and add flour. Whisk till thick and lighter in color for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the room temp milk until the sauce is thick
- Step 3 cook it a bit before each addition and keep whisking. Salt with caution since the cheese will add a salty taste, also add pepper and paprika to taste. The sauce should be slightly thicker than milk on its own.
- Step 4 Turn the heat all the way down. Using a spoon stir in the grated cheese in thirds until melted and creamy. Add the al dente pasta to the pot and stir to coat.
- Step 5 Pour the pasta into a greased 9×13 inch pan. Take about ½ cup worth of red peppers out of the jar and cut into thin stripes. Sprinkling the mac n’ cheese with the red peppers and push into the sauce with a fork. If you’re making a kickin’ version, add slices of pickled jalapenos as well.
- Step 6 Make the breadcrumb topping by combining the panko, garlic, rosemary, and a little olive oil. Spread across the top of the pasta and add a top layer of cheese. Dust with more Paprika and black pepper.
- Step 7 Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the top is browned. Serve hot!
I usually serve this as the main course, not a side dish. It’s great to take to potluck parties because you can prep everything up to baking it, store it in the fridge for a two days, and then cook it when you arrived to host’s house. If I’m cooking for just Cutie, I’ll place the cheesy pasta in a smaller baking dish for two and also divide the rest among smaller bakeware. Then I’ll only bake what I need that night…saving the rest to be baked fresh for dinner that week. Genius!