A Different take on Mac & Cheese
A good pasta and cheese dish made from scratch is essential to everyone’s dinner lineup. If you have another recipe, I would ask you to try this one and compare the two. While macaroni is the typical choice for pasta, I like to experiment with other shapes, such as Conchiglie (seashell pasta). Macaroni and penne tend to get overused, in my opinion. Using different types of pasta makes this dish more interesting, and with so many options out there, why not?
This recipe is based on a Swiss fondue technique to get a multi-layered flavored sauce. It’s mixed with the pasta of your choice, baked in the oven, and topped with bread crumbs. It is delicious with just about any protein you wish to serve. You will see that this version is miles above the blue box variety of traditional American Mac n’ Cheese.
Use this recipe to explore different ways of making your favorite versions. For example, you can substitute one or more of the cheeses, add bacon and top with fresh chives upon taking it out of the oven, or add roasted diced Sandia Hatch chilies and Oaxaca cheese in substitution for the Monterrey Jack. If there is a better recipe for, basically, macaroni and cheese out there, I haven’t had it.
Pairing from this Blog
Conchiglie Pasta and Cheese
- large pot for boiling water
- heat resistant spatula
- Plastic wrap
- aluminum foil
- measuring cups and spoons
- medium mixing bowls
- chef knife
- cutting board
- 1/4 cup garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 cup shallots, peeled, trimmed, and minced
- 4 tbsp butter, divided in half (2 tbs for sweating the shallots, garlic, and 2 tbsp for the roux)
- 1/4 cup oil, avocado, or vegetable
- 2 cups wine, white
- 2 cups cream, heavy
- 2 cups half & half
- 2 tsp chicken base, like More Than Gourmet
- 2 tsp Tabasco-style hot sauce
- 1 tsp pepper, black, freshly ground
- 4 tbsp flour, all-purpose (add remaining butter-heat and mix separately)
- 1/2 cup cheese, Parmesan, grated
- 1/2 cup cheese, Provolone, grated
- 1/2 cup cheese, Monterey Jack, grated
- 2/3 cup cheese, Cheddar, sharp, grated
- 2/3 lb Conchiglie, pasta, or Sea Shell Pasta
- To taste Salt, kosher
To make the topping:
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- ⅛ cup oil, olive, butter, melted, or truffle oil
- To taste salt and black pepper
Prep the Oven
- Preheat the oven to (350°F or 175°C). Set a rack in the center position in the range.
Prepare the Crumb Topping
- In a medium mixing bowl and the Panko bread crumbs; next, add ⅛ cup of olive oil or melted butter. Stir to incorporate. (If you like truffle oil, this is the point to add it instead of the olive oil or melted butter.) Reserve
Prepare the Baking Dish
- Next, prepare the baking dish by rubbing it down with a knob of butter. Reserve
Shredding the Cheese
- Shred each kind of cheese and mixed them in a medium bowl. Reserve
Make the Roux
- In another small saucepan, create a roux by melting the remaining two tablespoons of butter then whisking in flour. The roux will be a paste-like consistency. Whisk continually until very light blonde in color and cook briefly (approximately 1-3 minutes). Reserve
Making the Sauce and Pasta
- In a heavy bottom large pot over medium-high heat, sweat garlic and shallots in 2 tablespoons of butter and oil until translucent. Next, add two cups of white wine and reduce it by two-thirds. The wine reduction will take a little time, but this is where you get a lot of flavors.
- Next, add heavy cream, half-half, chicken base, freshly ground black pepper and Tabasco-style hot sauce. Bring back to a simmer.
- Next, add the roux mixture to the cream, shallot, cheese mixture. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes or slightly thickened.
- Begin adding the mixed cheese—three handfuls at a time to incorporate-whisking in between and bring sauce to a gentle simmer. Next, reduce the heat to low and prepare the pasta.
- Boil the pasta as to the directions given. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce immediately and stir to incorporate. Prepare to bake.
Prepare for Baking
- Add the pasta and cheese mixture to the prepared 1.5 Qt casserole dish. Cover the dish first with plastic wrap and then with aluminum. Bake at 350º for 50-60 minutes or until the pasta is bubbling and piping hot with an internal temp of at least (150°-160°F or 65°-70°C)
- Remove the foil, plastic wrap, and set the broiler high (around 500°F or 260°C). Next, add the seasoned reserved bread crumbs on top of the pasta. Broil uncovered to crisp up the bread crumbs. Browning will occur quickly (2-4 minutes), so stay on this task while performing. Promptly remove once the bread crumbs are golden brown.
- Let the casserole cool about 5-8 (minutes) on a wire cooling rack or heat resistant surface.
- Serve immediately or when desired. Keep warm in an oven if needed.