I wish I could make this a Pete’s Recipes, but I’ve made this multiple times and never come even close to keeping track of quantities. As an example, I checked out a few sites to see approximately how many pounds of cheese go into a normal mac and cheese since I guessed anywhere between 1/2 pound and 2 pounds for a pound of pasta. In related news, I might be getting worse at this whole blogging thing, and you’re all going down with the ship. Enjoy the ride!
I think the title of this one says it all, but I’ve found that the best mac and cheese usually involves several different flavorful cheeses in addition to the old mainstay, cheddar. What better way to make a mac & cheese with those ingredients than to use the leftovers from a good cheese plate. We’ve done this two ways; start a full day (football Sunday) party with a cheese plate and end the party with an awesome mac and cheese or just save the cheese rinds in the freezer for later use.
The idea is to use not just the cheese ends, but the wax rind too. The rind adds a funky mushroom-like flavor when used in a cheese sauce, which works really well in a mac and cheese.
Before we get into the mac process (there’s not much to it so I need to kill some time), lets gab about the other ingredients that make mac and cheese great. I have two go-tos, prosciutto/pancetta/bacon and peas OR mixed mushroom. I like to do the prosciutto and peas version when I can get my hands on a reasonably priced shank.
I know I say “write that down” a lot sarcastically here, but if you live in Boston you need to write down the name on that label. They cure a whole leg of prosciutto for 14 months, but they can’t sell the narrow area by the shank for the standard $20-25 a pound, so they price it for a reasonable $4. Again, write that North End address down, it makes a great ingredient in any meal.
Unlike the cheese, it’s good to cut away the fatty rind before cubing the prosciutto shank for use in your mac and cheese. You can also immediately see the extra fattiness that makes this perfect for a punch of extra flavor in a cheese sauce when browned in the roux pan.
With the meat and (possibly) vegetables prepped, it’s time to start boiling water for the macaroni. I generally do a pound of macaroni which I boil just over half the recommended length of time, then strain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Put that off to the side while you brown your salty pork product.
Once the meat and/or vegetables have browned, I use a slotted spoon to fish out the ingredients and leave the cooked off fat and liquids behind over medium/low heat. Add to the pot two tablespoons of butter then whisk in around three tablespoons of flour, and you have a solid roux base for the cheese sauce. I let that cook for 10 minutes stirring often to avoid overly browning or burning.
This is when it becomes a balancing act with milk and cheese (I don’t think the fat content of the milk matters, I’ve used skim and whole). I usually whisk milk in slowly until the sauce has a thin gravy consistency, then add in handfuls of the grated cheese, starting with the rinds, melting/blending completely before adding more. Season heavily with white pepper and salt plus some onion powder and ground mustard if you’re feeling a little wacky.
Once the rinds are blended in, I usually add in as much cheddar as necessary to make enough sauce, using milk along the way to match the consistency I am looking for. All told, I think I use 4-5 cups of shredded cheese or around a pound of cheese per pound of dry pasta. I have no basis for those general measurements, but they sound right.
With the cheese sauce ready to go, preheat the oven to 350F and put 3/4 of the partially cooked pasta in a bowl along with the reserved other ingredients. The goal is to avoid having too much or too little cheese sauce so I try to make sure there is enough cheese sauce before adding in the rest of the pasta.
Once the cheese sauce is fully stirred in and you have the pasta/cheese proportion right, I dump it all into a 9×13 baking dish and level it out.
The mac is ready for the oven like this, but if I have some panko breadcrumbs a good sprinkling over the top always make the meal a few percents better. Just one, maybe two percents better. Pandering to the Pumping Iron documentary fans with that spoof!
After about 20 minutes in the oven, the top is usually browned and the bottom is bubbling. Which means it’s ready for eating.
I’m not going to wrap up this blog the way I normally would by explaining how the mac tasted since I’m guessing you’ve all had homemade mac and cheese. On the other hand, I recommend that if you are using an aged and funky cheese rind, definitely consider complimenting with some mixed mushrooms and truffle salt. So freaking good, just a lot of earthy, umami-type flavors all mixing together and separating it from a normal mac.
But if you also have salty crispy browned prosciutto shank, you can push it into a whole new world of deliciousness. Mostly I’d just recommend trying anything, since it’s bound to at least be edible since you’re combining a bunch of good things.
Still don’t have my grill, it’s going to be a game changer whenever it arrives. I also need to figure out where to hang the meat that is curing in my fridge sometime in the next week and I have a sinking suspicion it’s going to be inside a cardboard box in my basement since I don’t know how to use real men tools. Food Blogger Problems!!!