Mushroom, sage mac and cheese. Creamy, really creamy and gooey cheese sauce with a meaty bite from mushrooms, earthy flavor from fresh sage (for an essence of Fall) and a crunchy panko breadcrumb topping. It’s comfort food taken to the next level.
When you think of comfort food, what comes to mind? Most people will say mac and cheese or anything with cheese, like a grilled cheese or pizza. Wouldn’t that point towards cheese being the most popular comfort food? Anyway, I digress. Reeling myself back in there’s a couple of tips to really great mac and cheese. There’s no room for low fat cheese or milk here. If you’re eating mac and cheese you need to just go for it; full fat and all. That’s where the secret to the creaminess lies!
The key to any great mac and cheese is the cheese and the cheese sauce, of which there needs to be a lot because there’s nothing worse than a mac and cheese with more pasta than cheese sauce. As far as the cheeses go, I like a nice sharp white cheddar (white purely for aesthetics) but I also like a Swiss gruyère for it’s creaminess and nuttiness, so I use both. Now, what’s a great mac and cheese if it doesn’t have strings that stretch to the ceiling? And the only way to get the stretchy gooey is from adding mozzarella.
You may not think the shape matters, but it does. I know because I’ve made the mistake before of using a flat bowtie pasta and it just gets weighed down by the heavy cheese sauce. Asturdy pasta like elbows, shells or cavatappi are perfect for this. Plus, all these pastas have crevices and holes for the cheese sauce to hide in so there’s extra cheese in every bite.
Yes this is important too! Why? Well, because it needs to be either broiled, browned and bubbly, or even better is a crunchy breadcrumb topping. Even for presentation it just looks better than as if you just made it from a box or a frozen.
To make this a meal, I added mushrooms, if you are not a fan you can leave them out as well as the sage. This mac and cheese will be just as delish without them, but it’s even better with them.
So these are my tips for perfect mac and cheese. I like to make it the best it can be because we all want it to look like this…
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage finely chopped
- 12 ounces dried pasta
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 8 ounces mushrooms sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 cups sharp white cheddar grated
- 2 cups gruyère cheese grated
- 2 cups mozzarella grated
Add the panko, Parmesan and chopped sage to a bowl and mix, set aside.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Bring a large pan of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Undercook by 2 minutes. * see note
To a large saucepan over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon butter and vegetable oil.
Add the mushrooms and cook until browned, about 8 minutes.
Stir in the sage and cook for 1 minute.
Remove the mushrooms and sage from pan and set aside.
To a same saucepan, add the 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
Once butter is melted, whisk in the flour to form a paste and cook for about 2 minutes until it smells nutty and starts to turn brown.
Slowly pour in the milk, cream while whisking and starts to thicken.
Stir in the salt and nutmeg.
Once thickened and there are no lumps remove from the heat.
Stir in the cheddar, gruyère and mozzarella, in small batches allowing it to melt in between additions. If the cheese stops melting, heat over low heat then remove from heat as soon as all the cheese is melted.
Add the mushrooms and pasta and stir until well mixed
Transfer to a 8 x 8 baking dish or individual baking dishes and top with the panko breadcrumbs.
Put the the mac and cheese onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until the top is golden brown.