Mac And Cheese, macaroni and cheese, or macaroni cheese, what ever you choose to call it, it is the ultimate comfort food right? It is a seemingly simple dish that combines macaroni shaped pasta in a cheese sauce, usually using a cheddar.
Everyone declares their Mac And Cheese to be the bomb. They have a special twist, special recipe, a process that has been perfected over the many generations by grandmothers hovering over the stove perfecting their béchamel sauce in a beautiful laced apron.
Me on the other hand, well I got this recipe that was a copycat recipe from a little joint here in Clarkston, Michigan known as The Union. It is famous for its Mac And Cheese, and I raised my kids eating it and enjoying every bite, with or without the bites of ham you can elect to have included when ordering.
The thing that makes this version of Mac And Cheese so amazing, is the layers of cheese that is in the dish beyond just the cheesy sauce. It uses penne instead of macaroni, so the sauce sits in the grooves of the pasta carrying the flavor with every chew. Another thing I love is that the top of the mac and cheese becomes a crispy coating of melted cheese and bread crumbs that adds a crunch to the first layer of bites. This crunch offers a contrast to the warm, cheesy inside and provides simply the best comfort bite in the world!
So, back to this restaurant called The Union. It was so famous for it’s Mac And Cheese that it was showcased on Triple D’s, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show. You know the one, with the famous chef Guy Ferrari ? Anyway, they demonstrated how to make the recipe and I morphed this recipe from that episode.
This recipe is one of my most requested. This recipe is pretty damn close, according to my family, and is a fantastic dish to make for a side dish or add in bits of ham for a hearty main dish. This dish is good for a holiday, and usually graces our Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner.
Check it out! You will not be disappointed!
Mac And Cheese Ingredients
- 1 lb Box Penne Rigate Pasta
- 2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
- 2 Cups 2% Milk
- 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 Tbsp Butter
- 4 Tbsp Flour
- 3-4 cloves garlic , crushed in a garlic press
- 1 small to medium onion, diced very fine
- 16 oz pinconning cheese, block
- 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 cups shredded white (pictured above) or yellow sharp cheddar, block
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs.
Let’s Talk Cheese
This recipe is not cheap. The reason is that you get out what you put in. Yep, it really is that simple. You will be using three different types of cheese for this recipe and all of them should be top quality.
Parmesan cheese– Use shredded, not grated parmesan. You can find a great quality option in the cheese section of your grocery store. Do not use the green grated options that is likely in the shelf in your refrigerator. I really like the Sartori Brand that is available in a shredded version.
Sharp Cheddar– White version is the best. Tillamook has a nice white cheddar, but have also used a Vermont Extra Sharp White and it tastes great. Keep in mind you could also substitute a traditional Sharp Cheddar Yellow here if you can not find a white.
Pinconning Cheese – honestly this is the “key” to unlocking the flavor in this dish. The item, I truly believe makes it unique. Pinconning cheese is actually a semi-hard whole cow’s milk, colby style cheese named for a small town in Michigan, Piconning. It is about two hours north of Detroit, and they say is the cheese capital of Michigan. Anyway, the cheese is aged something like 120 months, and it gives it a special savory flavor that is die for. You many have to hunt around to find, it but it will be worth the effort trust me!
How To Make Mac And Cheese
Let’s get to making this mac and cheese! I cannot wait to eat it!! Start by boiling the pasta until it is al dente. Be sure not to overcook the pasta because it will bake more in the oven and no one wants mushy pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, then drain it and set it aside to cool. I usually coat with a couple of tablespoons of oil, not too much.
Now add the chopped onions, crushed garlic and butter to a pan. On medium heat, we are going to sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 3-5 minutes. To this you are going to add the flour, a bit at a time, consistently stirring to make a Roux. A roux in the simplest terms is equal parts of fat and flour that when cooked together creates a thickening agent for saucy recipes, like mac and cheese. Once you add the flour in you are going to cook this flour based roux until it is the color of peanut butter. Be patient here, I said peanut butter color folks.
While the roux is cooking, in a separate pan add in the the two cups of milk, one cup of cream and the nutmeg, salt and pepper. You are going to heat this on medium heat , stirring often until warm.
With the roux now ready add in the warm milk/cream mixture stirring until the mixture starts to simmer and thickens up. To this we are going to add in our parmesan cheese. Let this mixture cool.
After some time, in a large bowl, using your hands, bring together the pasta and the roux, milk/cream mixture until well combined. If you are having difficulty, you can add in some of the remaining cup of heavy cream to help thin out the roux milk mixture a bit to get everything together,
In a layering fashion, we are going to add in the first half of the pasta roux mixture in a baking dish. On top of that layer you going to add in the pinconning cheese. Now layer the remaining amount of the pasta mixture and top it with the shredded white cheddar. Lastly, sprinkle a generous layer of panko crumbs on the top.
Oven ready, you are going to pop the mac and cheese into the oven at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes. You want the cheese to be completely melted and the top to be crispy so it is crunchy and nicely browned.
How To Reheat Mac And Cheese
Reheating Mac And Cheese is really tough, because in a day the dish can become a blob. To re-serve the dish and not an individual serving, the best way to to reheat Mac And Cheese is in the oven hands down.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the Mac And Cheese and mix some milk into the leftovers to add some creaminess. Place the Mac And Cheese in a glass dish, and cover it with aluminum foil. You are going to want to bake this for about 20 minutes. Then uncover and add some fresh panko on top of the dish and bake for 10 minutes.
Tips & Tricks For The Best Mac And Cheese
Only Use Freshly grated cheese – don’t use pre shredded. They have anti caking agents that can make the sauce grainy.
No bloated overcooked pasta – only cook your pasta to al dente. You will be cooking the pasta more when it bakes. You do not want mush pasta.
Be patient– you want to be sure that your panko crumbs are nice and crispy as it is important contrast to the cheesiness of the pasta.
Use a disposable pan-Fair warning that cleaning a pan that Mac And Cheese was made in can be a nightmare. To help save time I often purchase these tin throw away pans because even I need a break once in a while!
Storing Mac And Cheese: This Macaroni Cheese recipe is good for 3 to 5 days in the fridge.
Freezing? You can, but I personally do not think that pasta does well after defrosting. The texture is just not the same.
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