Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Recipe: The Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

A few years ago, when the Hubs and I first moved in together, I was still in college.  I remember our first Christmas season as a couple. Really, it's one night in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was right after Thanksgiving and I was studying for finals.  We didn't have many left overs left, a ham bone with bits of ham still on it, some pasta, milk, and cheese. That is when the Hubs decided to make the most decadent macaroni and cheese we have ever had. It is the ultimate.

1 onion thinly sliced
2 cups cubed ham
Olive oil
Kosher salt
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried mustard
Dash of tumeric
3 cups ham stock
1 cup half and half
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz shredded provolone
Pank bread crumbs
16 oz elbow macaroni

If you have a left over ham bone, carve as much meat away from the bone as you can. Throw it in a pot of water and make it boil - this is your ham stock. You can buy ham stock if you have no bone to boil.

Cube your  ham that you have carved, or dice it. Whatever size you cut is really a personal preference.

Preheat your pan over medium heat on the stove. Thinly slice your onions.  My mandolin made quick work of this, with few tears. Mandolins come in handy, but knifes work just as well. Mince some garlic too.

Add olive oil to coat the pan, and then add the onions and garlic.

Caramelize, caramelize, caramelize! Keep an eye on the heat and the onions. They can easily burn. You can add sugar to help it come along faster, but this is where I usually sprinkle kosher salt on the onions to help them sweat more.  Once caramelized, remove the onions and garlic from the pan and set aside. Sear diced ham until edges are a little brown (you may need more olive oil for this). 

Add 4 tablespoons of butter, and 4 tablespoons of flour.  Add your spices. Whisk to form the rue.  Let the rue cook a couple of minutes, careful not to burn it. It will darken a bit more (it's hard to tell with the spices but it will). A rue is the base of a bechamel sauce. We are making a cheesy bechamel.

Add 3 cups of warm ham stock and whisk, whisk, whisk. You are looking to beat any flour lumps into submission. Add the half and half (it's okay if it's cold, the temperature is up from the warm ham stock), and keep whisking. Reduce to a low heat setting and shred your cheese.

Shred the cheddar cheese.

Shred the provolone.

Whisk the cheeses into the warm bechamel.

At this point, if your ham stock is at a roaring boil, go ahead and add your pasta and cook it. If you want your ham stock to cook longer, turn the cheese sauce down low. Once the pasta is ready, drain, and add to the cheese sauce, with the onions and seared ham.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Mix to combine.

Behold the cheesy, creamy goodness.

Oil a baking dish and spread the macaroni, cheese & ham mixture evenly into it.

Coat with Panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, covered with aluminum foil. Remove foil, and cook an additional 10 minutes until the crust has browned.

Remove from the oven and enjoy!

Mushrooms are a fantastic addition if you have them. The cheeses are also more of a preference.  I love cheddar, and I love how provolone melts. But cream cheese works just as well if you have it. And Gouda is flat out amazing.

Happy Eating!

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