Holiday Side Dishes Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a quintessential comfort food that becomes the favored choice of side dishes to accompany holiday hams and roasts. From the simplest style of elbow macaroni coated with an American cheddar sauce, this culinary classic has evolved into exciting variations that are studded with luxurious edibles, such as lobster or truffles, or that embrace the world of cheese varieties to create complex and sumptuous sauces.
The sauce for macaroni and cheese begins with a roux, which is made simply by cooking equal proportions of butter and flour on the stove until they combine to form a paste. The roux is the thickener for the sauce, and it also facilitates even melting of the cheeses when they are added to the saucepan. Once the roux stage is complete, cream or milk is gradually stirred into the roux to make a béchamel sauce. Once this step is complete, then the cheeses are added to complete the sauce.
Macaroni and cheese is a versatile dish to create, allowing for a wide range of choices when it comes to selecting the cheese, creating the topping or deciding if an additional ingredient in desired for stirring into the cooked pasta. Macaroni and cheese may be prepared with a single cheese, such as aged white cheddar, or with a combination of desired cheeses. Consider a trio of cheeses that includes cheddar, a Swiss cheese such as Comte or Gruyere and a blue cheese, such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Aged White Cheddar
- 1 pound dry pasta, any short cut shape of your choice
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups cream
- 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 16 ounces aged white cheddar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped herbs, such as rosemary, basil, parsley or other herbs of your choice
- 1 tablespoon crumbled cooked bacon
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray the inside surfaces of a casserole baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package instructions. While the pasta cooks, shred the cheeses with a cheese grater and set aside. Once cooked, drain the pasta and then transfer it to the prepared casserole dish.
In a saucepan set over medium-low heat, melt the butter, swirling the pot occasionally to prevent the butter from browning. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the butter and the flour are evenly combined and the result resembles a doughy paste.
Slowly add the cream, stirring as you add it so that it becomes incorporated with the roux. Once all of the cream is added, continue stirring until the mixture resembles a creamy sauce. Stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg and shallots. Taste the sauce, and add more seasonings if necessary. Add the cheeses to the sauce and stir the mixture as the cheeses melt until the cheeses and the sauce are incorporated. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the pasta.
Place the remaining ingredients into a food processor and use the pulse button to combine. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of the cheese sauce. Place the casserole dish into the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the topping is browned. This recipe yields four servings.
Make It Unique
Macaroni and cheese can be prepared with a host of chosen ingredient options to accommodate any menu, from Cajun or Mexican to French or Italian. Stirring cooked meat, seafood or poultry into the pasta will transform the side dish into a hearty meal. Some such options include cubed ham, chunks of Italian sausage, cooked shrimp or lobster, chorizo sausage, Andouille sausage or breaded chicken nuggets. Vegetable alternatives include diced bell peppers, diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, truffles, peas or chopped chili peppers. Choose cheeses and spices that compliment the ethnic theme of the meal. Chopped nuts add a nice crunch to the topping mixture. Other possible choices to mix into the topping include chopped olives or chopped scallions.
No matter what you plan to serve this holiday season, including a baked macaroni and cheese dish will ensure smiles around your table and no leftovers to deal with.