Very few people don’t like Mac and Cheese, and yet, it’s sad to see so many people still consider the commercial version an option!
Homemade Mac and Cheese is actually quite easy to make and the result will always be so much better than any commercial type.
In the version I have here for this classic dish, I’ve made a few changes and added some flavorful additions. The first is the use of Tri-Color Rotini pasta, instead of the traditional elbow pasta, both for a more colorful result and for it’s ability to hold the sauce better. Other additions are whole grain mustard, nutmeg and cayenne in the sauce, and prosciutto and homemade oven-dried cherry tomatoes in the mix. All add their unique flavors and textures to the dish. You can add other flavorings, or omit them altogether, as long as you remember that the dish is only as good as the cheeses you put in it.
Use this recipe as is, or as a base for creating your own version, and enjoy.
* I highly recommend buying the cheese in a block and grate it, or chop it finely in a food processor before using. (Adding a bit of flour when chopping, prevents the cheese from sticking together.) The result will always be better than when using store bought pre-grated cheese.
* Other recommended cheeses for the dish are: aged Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, or, for a bit of spiciness, Pepper Jack, or a mix of them.
* Good quality store bought sun-dried tomatoes can be used instead of the oven dried ones shown here. However, it’s good to remember that making oven-dried cherry tomatoes is really effortless, and by making it at home you can use different types of cherry tomatoes, which is always fun.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
1 package (12oz, 340 grams) Tri-Color Rotini pasta
For the pan
2 Tbs butter, soft
2 Tbs breadcrumbs
For the cheese sauce
½ stick (55 grams) butter
¼ cup flour
3 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1 Tbs whole grain Dijon mustard
3 cups coarsely grated cheeses (I used Gruyere, Parmesan and Pecorino)
1 cup oven-dried cherry tomatoes (or sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped)
3 oz (90 grams) Prosciutto, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water, until it is cooked through, about 8 minutes or as directed on the package. Drain and keep on the side.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Butter the pan and sprinkle the bottom with 1 Tbs of the breadcrumbs.
3. Prepare the cheese sauce: melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Add the milk, while whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the cheeses, salt, pepper and mustard and mix well. Cook for 2 minutes, mixing gently, to melt the cheese.
4. Turn off the heat and add the dried tomatoes and prosciutto. Mix gently and add the drained cooked pasta, nutmeg and cayenne . Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the rest of the breadcrumbs on top.
5. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden and crisp. Let rest for 2-3 minutes before serving.
Oven-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
The process is very simple: preheat the oven to 200F (100C), cut the tomatoes in half and arrange them in one layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and place in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until the tomatoes are dried but are still a bit moist. Keep in a loosely covered container and use within 7-10 days. Since Cherry tomatoes are available year round, I don’t see the point in making a huge amount. However, if you end up with more than you can use in a short time, place the dried tomatoes in a jar, add olive oil to cover and cover tightly. Keep in a cool dark place for 1-2 months.