Mac and Cheese is the epitome of American comfort food.
For the Londoner in me, I have fond reminiscences of languid family dinners constellating on this dish at Automat – an American-style diner that was once a bastion of our neighbourhood. For R.R.M., mac & cheese evokes memories of his boarding school days where that was the only thing he knew how to cook in chilly New England, albeit with a short-cut of using powdered cheese and Kraft-brand macaroni! For him moving up to the creamy, liquidy, extra-cheesey Velveeta brand was a big step-up in his culinary skills, cooked with the only two things he had in his dorm – a microwave oven (to be shared with 14 other boys!) and a tupperware container.
So when R.R.M. recently voiced his cravings for a good old fashioned mac and cheese (brought on in no small part by the surprise cyclone that hit our shores last weekend), I thought of elevating an American classic with three varieties of cheese – mozzarella, parmesan and cheddar! Not to mention, the golden layer of panko breadcrumbs which foils the creaminess of this dish with a crunchy flair. A dash of Cholula (or your favourite hot-sauce) on top comes highly recommended too!
Tips For Making This Three Cheese Mac and Cheese
- Use the recommended combination of sharp cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella, for a three cheese sauce which is sharp yet creamy with just that right dash of stringiness from the mozzarella! However, this recipe is adaptable and subject to a pantry raid. Use the cheeses you have and adjust the quantity depending on how rich you would like the sauce. Remember you can always like a splash of milk to thin it down if you’ve added too much cheese! (I sourced all my cheeses from Foodhall India & Big Basket).
- Add a layer of panko breadcrumbs (cooked in melted butter) to the macaroni and cheese and broil in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and the top is golden brown! This is an entirely optional step, but one that is recommended for the crisp crunch it adds to balance the creaminess of the sauce.
Three Cheese Mac and Cheese
- 120 gm macaroni/ pasta of choice
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- hefty pinch of sea salt
- few grinds of black pepper
- 1 cup milk + more as required
- ½ – ⅔ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- ⅓ – ½ cup parmesan, grated
- 2 – 4 tbsp mozzarella, diced
For the breadcrumb layer (optional)
- 1 tbsp butter
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs (panko breadcrumbs is preferable)
- Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until just shy of al dente (firm to the bite). Drain and set aside the cooked pasta
Prepare breadcrumb toppings
- Melt a tbsp of butter in a skillet and add the breadcrumbs, stirring until the crumbs are evenly coated and cooked but not yet golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make the sauce
- Melt 2 tbsp of butter (you can use the same skillet in which you cooked the bread crumb mixture). Sauté garlic in the melted butter until fragrant.
- Add the flour, salt and pepper, stirring continuously for a few minutes until the flour is cooked through and the mixture smoothens (at least 3-4 minutes).
- Slowly add the milk to this butter-flour mixture (on low heat), continuously whisking it in so that the sauce comes together with a smooth consistency. Keep stirring (another few minutes) until the sauce starts to thicken and is bubbling.
- Switch off the heat. Now add in the different types cheeses one by one. First stir in the shredded cheddar until it melts into the sauce. Then, stir in the parmesan and finally, the mozzarella. Ensure that you keep stirring after each addition so that each of the cheeses completely melts and emulsifies into the sauce.
- Toss in the macaroni and fold it into the sauce until it is totally coated with the cheese sauce.
Bake the mac and cheese
- As an optional step: pour the mac and cheese out into an oven-proof dish. Top with the panko bread crumb mixture and bake/ broil in a pre-heated oven until the top is golden brown and you can see the cheese bubbling.
- Alternatively if you do not wish to broil the mac and cheese, cook the panko bread crumb mixture until the bread crumbs are golden brown. Then simply scatter the bread crumbs over the pasta before serving.
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