The King of Casseroles: Mac and Cheese

The King of Casseroles: Mac and Cheese

Can there be a more beloved dish than creamy, hot macaroni and cheese? Purists insist only cheese and pasta can be used in the recipe. But for the rest of us, a few embellishments vault this dish into pure eating nirvana. Following are a few ideas to catapult this delectable dish into the realm of the ultimate casserole.

Mix in: al dente broccoli; sautéed red peppers and spinach; Italian artichoke hearts; tender asparagus; cherry tomato halves or chopped vine-ripe tomatoes; sundried tomato bits; cooked squash and bacon; fresh steamed peas; roasted red pepper; hot peppers and avocado.

Add protein: ground beef, pancetta, pepperoni, bacon, ham, scallops (see recipe p. 35), shrimp, lobster, tuna, salmon, chicken, smoked turkey, gourmet sausage, chorizo.

Combine cheeses: Cheddar and American; mixed cheddars (mild and extra sharp); Gorgonzola, Fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan; Gruyere and Fontina; sharp white cheddar and Gruyere; Cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Stir up a secret sauce: Crème fraiche and milk; heavy cream and milk; evaporated milk only; cottage cheese, evaporated milk and egg whites or liquid egg; cottage cheese and whole milk. Spice up the base with a pinch of nutmeg, cayenne, sweet paprika or dry mustard, or stir in minced garlic and/or onion.

Incorporate different pastas/grains: Instead of elbow macaroni use farfalle (bowties), fussilli, penne, shells, wheels, gemelli, campanelle (ruffle-edge), orecchiette (ears), spaetzle, or gnocchi. Grains: try barley or Israeli couscous (see recipe, p. 40).

Top off: For added crunch: use Panko bread crumbs, Italian seasoned bread crumbs, challah bread crumbs, corn flakes crumbs, or herb croutons.

For added flavor: Greek olive and tomato salsa; sautéed apples, toasted walnuts and sage; smoked cheddar, crunchy bacon bits and toasted almonds.

Photo: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board