I feel like I am on a lifelong search for THE macaroni and cheese recipe. The one to stop the searches. And on that journey, I’ve tried a number of recipes that, while good, haven’t been the one. Nick, on the other hand, is strictly a blue box kid and has zero interest in my lifelong quest and the all versions the journey entails trying. I am really trying to find a match for a macaroni and cheese that my sister and I grew up eating from a local restaurant. Wait. That sounds like our mom never cooked us dinner. She did. All the time. You know what I mean.
That mac and cheese that I long to replicate was your very traditional kind with the nice crust on top. Nothing fancy, just downhome comfort food. This version I’m going to introduce you to is a kicked-up adult version if you will. They are not interchangeable. They each serve their own purpose.
I’m a big fan of Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown, where home cooks like you and me compete with their original recipe to win the top prize of $25,000. Besides a nice hunk of cha-ching, the winning recipe also appears on T.G.I Friday’s menus very soon after their win.
When I saw the episode on comfort dishes, I was rapt with attention. Especially when I saw a recipe for a mac and cheese. The end result looked so good that win or lose, I was going to make it. Rick Massa, the creator of the recipe, was quite a fun guy. A former LAPD SWAT team member, once he retired, he started cooking. While he was making the dish, the judges worried about all the cheeses, particularly the strong Maytag Blue that he used. Rick himself worried about finishing up a little early during the competition (you can catch a little video from the episode here). Well, it turns out that nobody needed to worry, as Rick’s dish took top honors.
Weeks later, I headed down to T.G.I Friday’s to try it out and it was love at first bite. When the restaurant gets ahold of the winning recipe, they sometimes do a little tweaking, and their version includes a grilled chicken breast. For $5.99. The entire dish for $5.99. Such a great little bargain. I order that, I give Madeline half of the chicken for her dinner, and the remaining chicken and pasta is enough for my dinner and lunch the next day. All for under $6!
So I’ve fallen into a rut and every time we go to T.G.I. Friday’s, I order the pasta. But this past weekend, I finally got the chance to actually make it myself and it did not disappoint. Just pulling it out of the oven and seeing all the little bubbles of cheesy goodness was enough to let you know you’re in for a good time. Now after tasting both versions, I think the restaurant’s rendition is also a touch creamier and might have a little more blue cheese than the original version, but both are good. You just might moan at first bite. Creamy from all the cheese, with sharp pockets of bite when you hit the blue cheese, this is comfort food at its best.
Whether you go have it at the restaurant, or in your very own kitchen, you won’t be disappointed. A wonderful adult version of mac and cheese.
Cheese Lovers 5 Cheese Mac and Cheese
Recipe courtesy of Rick Massa, Ultimate Recipe Showdown
- Kosher salt
- 1 (16-ounce) package macaroni (cellentani or other curly noodle)
- 1/4 pound bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to butter baking dish
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups grated fontina
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 3/4 cup grated Gruyere
- 3/4 cup grated white Cheddar (Australian)
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Saute the onion in the bacon drippings until soft. Add the 5 tablespoons butter to the onion mixture and melt the butter stirring with a wooden spoon.
Using a whisk, add the flour, and stir constantly until well mixed with the fat making a roux. Whisk in the mustard. Gradually add the milk and cream whisking constantly.
Add the thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Let come to a simmer and stir frequently for 15 minutes.
Strain the hot milk mixture into a metal bowl and discard the solids. Working quickly, mix in 1 cup fontina, blue cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere, 1/2 cup white Cheddar, 1/2 cup Parmesan, the reserved bacon, and parsley. Continue to stir until all cheese is melted.
Add the cooked noodles to the cheese mixture to coat. Add the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish. Mix the remaining cheese and bread crumbs together and sprinkle on top of the noodles. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown. Remove from oven when done and rest for 5 minutes.