Gourmet Roasted Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Mac & CheeseSaturday, December 20, 2014
Disclosure: I was provided with a product sample featured in this post. The text and opinions are all mine.
I have been overwhelmed with anticipation for sharing this recipe. I don't say this lightly when I tell you that it is one of the best mac & cheese dishes I've ever had. Seriously guys, I'm almost too excited to type the recipe out. I'm talking succulent roasted mushrooms, sweet caramelized onions and a blend of gourmet cheeses. This, coming from the girl who thought nothing extra needed to be added to mac & cheese. Almost a year later, here I am loading one up with mushrooms and onions and truffle buttered bread crumbs. Did I mention the truffle butter?! No, this is not the mac & cheese you make for the kids. Stick to the classic version for that. This is the mac & cheese you make for your adult friends who appreciate nice things. This is your upscale, special occasion, shop like Barefoot Contessa at the cheese counter mac & cheese. I'm hyping this up because I really want you to create the scene in your head before we proceed, okay?
I'm in my early 30's so I haven't done a terrible amount of fancy entertaining at home yet. I actually don't even have a circle of friends who are really into the dinner party scene (clearly I need new friends.) Nope, nothing glamorous about my life right now. I'm chasing an 8 month old baby all day, counting down the minutes until my 11 year old gets home so I can use the bathroom in peace. That scene in Sex & the City when Charlotte hides from her kids to cry in the pantry? Me, by the end of the week. Whether it's babies or jobs or school, I'm sure many of you can relate. Sometimes you have to take control and carve out a special night for yourself. With adults. Just saying.
So that's precisely what I did on a rainy Saturday. Mind you, this idea for the mac & cheese was on my mind all week and by the time I got home from the grocery store that day with the ingredients, I could no longer contain myself. There are moments when I have so much clarity as to what I'm about to cook that I have no doubts in my mind it's going to be perfect. For that reason alone I knew I wanted to share it with my friends. I had plenty of time to make this mac & cheese and bake a nice fall-inspired butternut squash pie - more on that pie in a future post. I also had a wonderful bottle of the 2012 Ferguson Crest Fergalicious sitting on my counter, a pairing that inspired this creation I was about to undertake. There was no way I wasn't going to make the most of this, so I texted a few of my friends and miraculously everybody was free to come over that night. It's hilarious when one of your friends is also a food blogger, because they understand the excitement. My message to Resha (the fabulous owner of Carnal Dish) was literally "I have a good bottle of wine, the butcher gave me a sample of duck liver mousse, and I'm testing a mushroom gourmet mac & cheese." I can't reprint the response, but she was there by 8. Some people just get it.
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 c. flour
5 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp worchestershire sauce
2 tsp finely chopped sage
8 oz gruyere, shredded
8 oz fontina, shredded
1/3 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley, optional garnish
Servings: 8 to 10
Cook Time: 30 min
Equipment Suggested: Heavy skillet, small saucepan or pot, large pot for boiling pasta, heavy casserole dish, heavy baking sheet
Okay I know what you're thinking - long list of ingredients. Take a deep breath. You can do this. In fact, if you've made any of my mac & cheese recipes, by now you know that good mac & cheese is a process - but it's orderly, and you'll be handsomely rewarded in the end. Compared to my classic mac & cheese recipe, there are 2 extra steps, both of which can be done in advance. If you break a big project down into smaller parts, it won't seem so daunting. Cooking is no different, and if you cook because you love to cook this is the kind of dish that makes being in the kitchen a lot of fun. As far as the steps to making this mac & cheese:
- Caramelize a ton of onions.
- Roast a pan of mushrooms in the oven.
- Boil some pasta.
- Prepare a cheese sauce.
- Butter the bread crumbs.
- Assemble and bake the mac & cheese.
This makes a huge casserole dish of mac & cheese. It also can be halved very easily and baked in a smaller dish, which I did the second time around for 4 entree servings.
Note - save half an onion (unsliced) to use for steeping your milk in a later step!
Boil your noodles in heavily salted water, slightly undercooking them because they will finish baking later. A couple minutes short of "al dente" tends to be about 6 minutes per package directions. Stir the pasta as it cooks to prevent sticking. Once cooked, drain and rinse in cool water.
To save on dishes, I just wipe out my large pot from boiling the pasta and use it to prepare my cheese sauce. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until it starts to sizzle a little bit. Whisk in the flour to make a roux.
After the seasonings have a couple minutes to meld and the mixture fully thickens, remove the pot from the heat. The bechamel sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Stir in all but 2 cups of the cheddar, Gruyere and Fontina cheese. I always buy my cheese for mac & cheese in blocks and shred it myself, by hand or using a food processor. You will save money this way and it's of much better quality (pre-shredded cheese is often coated with anti-caking powders that can change the way a sauce holds up.)
After the cheese has melted into the bechamel sauce, taste it once more just to make sure it's adequately salted. Then stir in the noodles and all but a half cup or so of the caramelized onions and roasted mushrooms.
The last element is completely optional but it really ties the whole dish together, and that's the truffle buttered breadcrumbs. If you're a bread crumb hater I hope I can convert you with this one. I really think a fine layer of crumbs add the perfect amount of texture to an otherwise really creamy dish. And who can be mad at truffle butter? It's a little easier to use than truffle oils and will add a rich (literally, ha) flavor that takes things over the top. You can find tubs of black truffle butter in the gourmet section of your grocery store and in comparison to let's say, shaved truffles - it's hardly the same splurge. If you really want to omit this step, that's fine, and alternatively you can also just use regular butter. I'll try not to be slightly disappointed.
Melt 2 tablespoons of truffle butter in a small skillet. Use the remaining tablespoon of truffle butter to grease your baking dish!
Then just stir in the Panko bread crumbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Please grate your own Parmesan too, it makes all the difference and you get a much lighter texture that melts easily. I used to buy the tubs of "freshly grated Parmesan" until realizing how much better and cost efficient it is to buy a block of cheese to grate myself as needed in my recipes. Those things last forever and you can save the rinds to season soups and stocks.
Now to assemble. Preheat your oven to 350 °F. In your truffle buttered casserole dish, layer half of the macaroni noodles.
Top the noodles with one cup of the reserved shredded cheese.
Then follow with the rest of the noodles, and the rest of the shredded cheese. For a pretty presentation, I topped it off with the mushrooms and onions set aside from earlier.
Finally, sprinkle a fine layer of the truffle buttered bread crumbs over everything.
If you wanted to prep the mac & cheese up to this point, it's okay to let it rest on the counter for a couple hours until you're ready to bake when your guests arrive. I never really make it much more in advance than that but if you have success refrigerating first, by all means please let me know.
I recommend cooking the mac & cheese on a heavy baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and bread crumbs are toasted; about 30 minutes at 350°F. Let it rest for ten minutes before digging in. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley for a little color, if you'd like!
I can't even begin to describe how good this mac & cheese was, so you'll just have to make it to believe me. The cheeses blend together perfectly and in just the right way to be creamy and stringy while holding the sauce together. The mushrooms are nice and meaty, the onions are soft and sweet, and the bread crumbs are just little crunchy bits of heaven. The truffle flavor isn't overly prominent, it just adds a little "something" that elevates the dish. You really taste each element with every bite, and that's what I love about it. When you cook this, you will understand why I didn't need to add any meat. I'm always particularly pleased when a vegetarian entree can stand alone, and this one certainly does.
And our little get together? It was awesome. We talked, drank, ate, and ate, and ate some more. I sent everybody home with the last bit of mac & cheese left and was still getting texts and tweets about the leftovers for the rest of the weekend!
If you'd like to try the 2012 Ferguson Crest Fergalicious, my readers have been given a special discount code - FERGIEBLOG2014 to take 10% off your online purchase! Thanks again to Ferguson Crest for inspiring me to share a "Fergalicious Holiday" with my friends.