There are few things that feel more comfy and cozy than a big ol’ bowl of mac and cheese. But the idea of mac n cheese has come a long way since the boxed variety was popular. Mac n Cheese Food Trucks can now be spotted, high end varieties such as Lobster Mac N Cheese adorn some classy restaurants and with the ease and accessibility of gourmet cheeses there is really no limit to the combinations that are created. And really, when its this easy why on earth would you ever eat something powdered out of a box?
The base for this dish is a classic bechamel sauce, one of the mother five mother sauces in French cuisine. Sounds fancy but its super easy. Just takes some attention and a whole lot of stirring. With this sauce the thickening happens when you combine a small amount of flour and butter and slowly combine in milk. The flour thickens the milk and creates a beautifully thick and luscious sauce. And since we’re using 1% milk it can also be done rather healthily. From there you’ll end up mixing in your cheese and get that great cheesy consistency you long for.
Once you’ve got the basics of how to make a bechamel you can begin experimenting with your own gourmet mac n cheese varieties. Just stick to the same proportions and you’ll be golden. Starting with this lightened up bechamel is also a really simple way to make a healthy version of an Alfredo Sauce (… which I plan on posting in the next few weeks).
Grown Up Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Mushrooms, Bacon and Spinach
- 2 c whole wheat elbow macaroni
- 2 slices bacon (uncooked), diced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 8 oz white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 c Spinach, coarsely chopped
- 2 T light butter
- 2 T flour
- 2 c 1% milk
- 2 oz Smoked Gouda, shredded
- 2 oz Smoked Mozzarella, shredded
- Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting any added oil of fat. Drain.
- In a nonstick skillet cook the diced bacon over medium heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Using a slotted spoon remove bacon to a few paper towels. Drain off all but 1 T of the bacon grease and return to the stove. Cook the shallots for 3 minutes, until softened.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic, tossing to coat in the remaining grease. Cook for 5-8minutes or until softened and browned. Add the spinach and toss until the spinach is thoroughly wilted. Taste for salt and season if necessary. Set aside.
- To make the sauce, in a small pot (I usually use the one I cooked the macaroni in) add the butter and flour together over medium heat. As the butter melts mash it into the flour making a paste. Cook for 1 minute. Add 1/4 c of the milk and mash it all together with with flour/butter. Once combined add another 1/4 c of milk and repeat. It should be smooth. Add the remaining milk and whisk until smooth again. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Add the cheeses and stir until melted.
- Toss in the macaroni, bacon and veggies. Once thoroughly combined you are ready to eat!