Homestyle Mac & Cheese – better than the “cheesiest”

Hands-down one of my favorite meals to cook and eat – especially in Autumn – is homemade mac and cheese.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above eating the “cheesiest” variety that comes in that blue box, but when I’m really craving some pasta and cheesy goodness, I’m all about making it from scratch.

I’ve actually been perfecting this recipe for 30 years.  One of the first dinners my mom taught me how to make was homemade macaroni and cheese.  (I guess she figured it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to boil pasta and grate cheese.  And the chances that I would burn the house down were pretty slim, given the ingredients.)

So my first version was a combination of grated jack and cheddar cheeses, cooked macaroni, salt, pepper, milk and teeny tiny little chopped onions.  (Joel HATES onions)  I basically made this version for years but would always welcome feedback when I served it.

One night after eating a particularly mushy version, Joel suggested I cook the noodles very al dente since they were bound to continute cooking in the oven.  He was right, I cut the cooking time down on the noodles and it’s made a huge difference in the texture of the finished dish.

I also like to try different types of noodles.  I’ve used penne, spirali, rigatoni, farfella (bowtie), egg noodles and large and small elbow macaroni.  My favorites are still the small macaroni and spirali since they seem to capture enough cheese without overdoing it.

And I was always experimenting with cheeses.  I tried sharp cheddar (too rich), colby (too mild), parmesean (too weird).  I found the perfect combination when I discovered  Swiss Gruyere after making one of Ina Garten’s side dishes.  It added a richness to the dish that made it hard not to eat a second helping.  I also discovered that mixing the cheeses together with the onions, salt and pepper before sprinkling it into the casserole dish made a big difference in flavor.

However, one thing hasn’t changed.  I almost always serve the mac & Cheese with steamed broccoli and Kielbasa Sausage simmered in beer.  Somehow, the dishes compliment each other so perfectly that I rarely serve one without the other.

I wish I had a picture to share, but it’s always eaten so fast I never have a chance to snap a photo.

Heather’s (Current Version of) Homestyle Mac & Cheese, serves 8

2 cups grated Cheddar Cheese
2 cups grated Jack Cheese
1 cup grated Swiss Gruyere
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 lb cooked pasta
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss the grated cheeses with the onions and season liberally with salt and pepper to mix well.  Line the bottom of a 2qt casserole dish or baker with 1/3 of the cheese mixture.  Add a layer of noodles.  Alternate cheese and noodles again.  Top with cheese and pour about 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk over the top.  (The milk will run to the bottom of the dish – it shouldn’t be too liquidey.)  Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is slightly crispy.

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