Dinner, One-Dish Dinners, Pasta

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

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This mac and cheese recipe is a delicious carb overload that brought back some of the best memories of childhood. I ate mac and cheese more as a kid than I generally do as an adult, but this recipe makes me want to enjoy it over and over again. It’s classy enough that you can bring it to a get-together, and easy enough to throw together in one pan from the skillet to the oven. Even my oldest child absolutely loved this, and he’s usually not too crazy about cheesy dishes. I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet for this recipe., but if you don’t have one it can be transferred to a baking dish instead last minute.

Why Use a Cast Iron Skillet?

A properly cared for cast iron skillet will provide the nonstick coating you’ll want for the cheese and pasta within this recipe, and transfers from the stovetop to the oven like a breeze. It also heats up quickly and evenly when creating the cheese sauce, and will stay warm longer when you remove it from the oven to serve. There is also the added benefit of no chemicals leeching into food as is common with nonstick pans. Most people don’t recommend washing cast iron with soap and water to clean, but I generally use a small amount of soap with running water, dry immediately and season with oil in the oven after.

Gather the ingredients, and boil salted water for the cavatappi. Mince the garlic if using whole garlic cloves, and finely chop the rosemary, and thyme. Only boil the paste for about five minutes before draining and rinsing with cold water. Let it cool while working on the next steps.

Next, slice the green onions and basil. Shred the Cabot sharp cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and mozzarella. I recommend buying the blocks of cheese and shredding by hand as it’s both the freshest method and most economical. I usually do this step when the pasta water is heating to a boil. Once these are shredded, set aside to prepare the half and half sauce.

Heat the butter in your favorite cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one on hand, an oven-safe nonstick will work fine. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk until it’s smoothed out, about 30 seconds to one minute.

Pour the half and half into the skillet one cup at a time, spacing about 30 seconds between each pour while blending. Once all three cups have been thoroughly mixed in, add the thyme, rosemary, minced garlic, garlic salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Continuously stir over medium-high heat until it’s thickened enough to cover the back of a spoon.

Remove the skillet from the stovetop heat. Stir the fresh shredded sharp cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano into the half and half mixture immediately until smooth, then fold in the cooled pasta. The cavatappi should be fully coated with sauce to spare.

After adding in the pasta, carefully fold the mozzarella, sliced green onions, and sliced basil into the skillet, scraping the sides to incorporate the ingredients. Top with the bacon bits and bread crumbs, and bake the skillet at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. The cast iron will keep the mac and cheese warm longer while serving once pulled from the oven. Enjoy!


Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

Course: DinnerCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

45

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb dried cavatappi pasta

  • 3 Tbsp butter

  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups half & half

  • 4 tsp minced garlic

  • 1 tsp thinly sliced fresh rosemary

  • 1 tsp thinly sliced fresh thyme

  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt

  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

  • 2 cups shredded cabot sharp cheddar

  • 1 cup shredded whole mozzarella

  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  • 2 tsp thinly sliced fresh basil

  • 1 1/2-2 Tbsp sliced green onion

  • 1/2 Cup Bacon bits

  • 3 Tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot, boil salted water for the cavatappi pasta. While the water is heating, shred the sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano and set aside.
  • Add the pasta and boil for 5 minutes until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water, then set aside to cool.
  • Melt butter on medium heat in cast iron skillet over stovetop. Add flour and quickly whisk until smooth, stirring about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Gradually add the half and half one cup at a time, stirring continuously until smooth, about 30 seconds between each cup. Add in the minced garlic, rosemary, thyme, garlic salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg and stir to combine.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and and continuously stir until mixture reaches a simmer. Once it has thickened enough to coat a spoon, about 5-7 minutes, remove from heat. Add in the sharp cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir until smooth.
  • Fold cooled pasta into the cheese sauce until fully coated. Carefully combine the shredded mozzarella, basil, and sliced green onions into the skillet. Sprinkle bacon bits and breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned on top and cheese is bubbling on edges and serve.

Notes

  • After baking, mac and cheese can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days, but is best enjoyed within two.
  • If you don’t have a cast iron, prepare the dish in an oven-safe nonstick skillet, or transfer from a skillet to a greased oven-safe dish when baking.

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