It’s safe to say the northern hemisphere is firmly entrenched in the cold of winter, so we’re starting a new series this week of Hearty Winter Comfort Foods. Let’s kick it off with the single best recipe for mac and cheese you’ll ever eat!
I grew up on the blue box of macaroni and cheese, and occasionally, the frozen orange box. I enjoyed them enough that I never really understood why people would say homemade is better…until I made Ina Garten’s Grown-Up Mac and Cheese. Once I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding some additional herbs here and there, I knew there was no going back. Not only is this the single best mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted – homemade, restaurant, or otherwise – but it’s surprisingly easy for such incredible flavor!
Generally, mac and cheese is pretty simple, made up of a basic béchamel sauce (white roux and milk) to which you add cheese and pasta. Variations include types of cheese, types of pasta, and added herbs or flavor components. I’ve seen simple recipes of just macaroni, cheddar, and milk. I’ve also seen complicated recipes that use cream cheese and even using eggs to make it more of a casserole.
Our signature recipe uses not one, not two, but three delicious cheeses: sharp cheddar, woody Gruyere, and tangy blue. The combination is perfection, especially against the sage, basil, and chives that enhance the flavors. Finally, chunks of bacon are folded in, making this my absolute favorite mac and cheese ever. Next time you’re feeling gluttonous, want to celebrate, or need to impress, give this one a try; it never disappoints!
Tip: don’t be afraid to let the corners get brown and crusty; that’s my favorite part!
Grown Up Mac and Cheese
(Original recipe: Ina Garten)
6 oz your favorite bacon
2 C elbow macaroni
1-1/2 C milk, warmed (I use the microwave)
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP all purpose flour
4 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
3 oz extra sharp Cheddar, grated
2 oz blue cheese (such as Roquefort), crumbled
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp fresh chives, chopped
A pinch of dry sage
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the bacon into chunks and fry until cooked. Drain and set aside.
Cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the warm milk. Continue whisking for 1-2 more minutes, until thickened and smooth.
Off the heat, add the cheeses, sage, chives, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
Fold in the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon. Combine well.
Pour the mixture into a 9×9 baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.