This crisp and creamy Mac & Cheese is the main course you need this summer

Ever wish you could turn a side dish into something more substantial? Wish no more!

Summer time means plenty of outdoor dining in the hot sun. If the traditional meats and veggies on the grill are becoming passé for you and your family, try taking a side dish and turn it into your main course.

Here is what you will need:

For the cheese base:

  • 1 lb. (or 4 cups shredded) Mild Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 lb. (or 2 cups shredded) Gruyere cheese
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 oz. bacon bits
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

For the pasta:

  • 1 box (16 oz) elbow macaroni or other pasta

For the crispy topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 4 tbsp butter melted
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1.5 oz bacon bits
  • Italian seasoning to taste

Instructions:

First, prepare the cheese and pasta:

  1. Shred 1 pound blocks of mild cheddar and 1/2 pound of Gruyere. Combine in a bowl, giving you 6 cups to work with. You can use pre-shredded cheese, but often times its coated with a non-stick polymer that makes it harder to melt. If you buy the cheese in blocks and shred it yourself, it’s usually more creamy and melts easier.
  2. Boil a medium to large pot of water and add elbow macaroni, or whatever pasta you have. Cook until it’s a minute short of al dente. It will continue to cook when it bakes in the oven.
  3. Drain the water and stir in 1 tbsp of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking together.

Second, prepare the cheese sauce:

  1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 6 tbsp. of butter and mix in 1/3 cup of all purpose flour, and stir for 1 minute.
  2. Add 3 cups of whole milk and 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and stir for 3-5 minutes or until mixture begins to bubble.
  3. Add 4 cups of cheese shreds in 1 cup intervals until melted and sauce thickens.
  4. Mix in pasta and stir until it’s coated in sauce.
  5. add 1.5 oz of bacon bits and stir. Remove from heat and let rest.

Third, prepare the crispy top:

  1. Combine 1 ½ cups of plain panko crumbs, 4 tablespoons of melted butter and a ½ cup of Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Mix it until it sticks together and set it aside.

Finally, layer elements in an oven-safe casserole dish.

  1. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and spread half of your mac & cheese along the bottom.
  2. Cover with the remaining 2 cups of cheese.
  3. Add the remaining mac and cheese.
  4. Top with the crunchy mixture, bacon bits and Italian or other seasonings to taste.
  5. Cook at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown
  6. Let sit for 5 minutes, refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

You can substitute bacon bits for anything you want, or forego the crunchy top altogether, because lets face it, we all like our mac & cheese differently. Let the discussion over disagreements or recipe modifications wait until after dinner. After all, it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.

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