Urbnspice Ultimate Recipe Series
Today is a special day. It is my only granddaughter’s eighth birthday! As well, it is Mac and Cheese Day because she insisted on having The Ultimate Mac and Cheese for her birthday dinner. There was a chorus from the entire family: “I wish it was her birthday every day!”
This particular comfort food recipe is one that I have developed over the years to include a flavour boost of finely diced sautéed onions and ham. These ingredients add a new dimension to the Mac and Cheese without changing the traditional Mac and Cheese we all have grown to love. You will also note that the ingredients in this recipe are easily obtained in grocery stores.
How to Make the Ultimate Mac and Cheese – a Gluten Free Adaptable recipe
CHEF TALK: While Mac and Cheese is considered a kid-friendly dish, it is the most requested meal by young and old in my family.
It is important to note that Old Cheddar or Extra Old Cheddar Cheese will provide the best flavour for your Mac and Cheese. As well, it may seem unusual to use prepared mustard in the sauce, but it lends a pleasant sharpness to the taste that I have not been able to duplicate using other ingredients. Note the tips for gluten-free options below.
- If your guests are gluten-free, use gluten-free macaroni, gluten-free flour for the roux, and gluten free panko crumbs for the topping.
- Please note that there are two separate additions of Cheddar Cheese: 2 cups of shredded Cheddar for the sauce and 1 cup of shredded Cheddar for the topping.
- As in all recipes, read the instructions first. To begin, you will be cooking the onion and ham together in the butter. The sauce benefits from having the prepared mustard cook in the fat for 30 seconds before the flour is added to create the roux. (see METHOD below)
How to Make the Ultimate Mac and Cheese
1 package macaroni elbows (340 g) (or gluten-free macaroni)
For the Sauce:
- ¼ cup salted butter
- ¼ cup cooking onion, finely diced (1/4 inch dice)
- ½ cup ham, finely diced (1/4 inch dice)
- 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
- 1 ½ cups Whole or 2 % milk
- 1 – 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of Tabasco sauce
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups Old Cheddar Cheese, shredded
For the Crumb Topping:
- ½ cup panko crumbs, gluten-free if required (or 1 cup fresh bread crumbs)
- 1 cup Old Cheddar Cheese or Extra Old Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350oF/325oF Convection)
- Cooking the Pasta: In a large pot, bring at least 6 litres of water to a boil. Add about 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt to the water. Bring back to a boil and then add the macaroni. Cook according to manufacturers recommendations to ‘al dente’ stage. (For example: I used gluten free macaroni, so I cooked my pasta for five minutes). Drain, but do not rinse the pasta. Place the pasta in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and stir the pasta to coat. Set the bowl aside while you make the sauce.
CHEF TIP: Cooking the pasta to ‘al dente’ stage is important. The pasta will reach the appropriate level of doneness during the baking stage.
CHEF TIP BONUS: MAKE-AHEAD: drizzle the pasta with olive oil after they are drained is a great make-ahead technique. This is a common practice in the professional kitchen. Freeze in a sealed bag in the portions that you will use for any future meals.
- Making the Sauce: Melt the butter over low to medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the diced onion and diced ham. Sauté until the onion starts to take on some colour.
- Add the prepared mustard to the saucepan and stir through the mixture for 30 seconds.
- Making the Roux: Add the flour to the saucepan containing the cooked diced onions & ham. Mix to thoroughly incorporate into the ingredients. Stir the mixture for a few minutes longer to ensure that the flour is cooked out sufficiently.
- Slowly add the milk to the saucepan while stirring (using a whisk makes this easier), and whisk to blend into a smooth sauce. Cook slowly for a few minutes longer. The sauce will be quite thick.
- Add the two cups of shredded Cheddar cheese. Season with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta. With a couple of spatulas, stir the sauce gently to prevent crushing the pasta and to ensure that the sauce thoroughly coats all of the pasta. Taste the mixture for seasoning, and adjust to your taste, should you require.
- Butter an oven-proof baking dish. (The dish I used was an 11 x 8 oval baking dish). Pour the Mac and Cheese into the baking dish.
- Making the Topping: Combine the topping ingredients together. If you are using the Italian seasoning, add at this point. Sprinkle the topping on top of the Mac and Cheese in the baking dish.
- Bake at 350oF (325oF Convection) for 30 to 40 minutes or until the Mac and Cheese is bubbly and golden brown on top. Let the dish sit for a few minutes. Serve the Mac and Cheese hot in shallow bowls and enjoy!
CHEF TIP: Note that if you are using gluten-free ingredients for the topping, it will bake to a much lighter colour. (see photograph below)
It has been my observation as a chef and a home cook that recipe trends come and go, but these tried and true traditional recipes stand the test of time. You will not be disappointed with this delicious Mac and Cheese!
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on this blog post under the following subheadings:
- The Simple Spatula
- Gluten-Free Flour Blends
- Preparing Your Pans
More Urb’n’Spice Ultimate Recipes:
Ultimate Grilled Double Cheese Bacon Sandwich
Ultimate Hamburger – Make it Your Own
If you give try my recipe for UrbnSpice’s Ultimate Mac and Cheese, please leave me a comment below with your feedback.
You can find me on social media – just be sure to tag @urbnspice and #urbnspice so I am sure to see it. Enjoy!
The Urbnspice Chef
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Who doesn’t love Mac & Cheese? It’s the most requested at my house, too. Looks delicious.
Denise Pare-Watson says
Mac and Cheese is a comfort food, for sure, isn’t it? Especially when it is rainy and blustery outside. 🙂
Nicoletta @sugarlovespices says
I enjoy your tips and suggestions, they are always spot on. And do we want to talk about that sauce? Oh my, that creaminess make me want to have a plate of mac and cheese for my lunch. Mac and cheese was a dish new to me prior to coming to Canada, but I have come to love it, in many different variations. Happy belated birthday to your granddaughter (who has good taste in food 😉 ).
Denise Pare-Watson says
Thank you, Nicoletta! I appreciate the feedback because I really love teaching and it often comes through in my posts. My granddaughter will love your comment. She is a budding mini chef, that little one and loves hanging out with Grammi in the kitchen. I am glad that you have come to love mac and cheese and all of the many different variations (although I cannot get my head around lobster mac and cheese yet, can you?).
Amanda (Peppers and Pennies) says
May I come live with you? My husband isn’t picky but he has strong views on ham and realllly doesn’t like it in casseroles or Mac and cheese. It pains me! This is the ultimate recipe with the addition of ham, a rich cheese sauce and amazing crumbly topping!
Denise Pare-Watson says
Of course, you can come and live with me 🙂 I love feeding people. This dish is so good, Amanda! I wish I could make it for your husband and change his mind forever – lol. I appreciate your comments – it makes me want to make another mega batch again. My son-in-law (and his little ones) ask for it for their birthday dinners. And it freezes so well, too.
Love the idea of the ham, onions and toppings! My kids would love this – nothing like mac and cheese when you’re looking for a warm, comforting food hug!
Denise Pare-Watson says
Thanks, Terri! It is a delicious version of mac and cheese. If you make it for your kids, please tell me all about it. Even my son-in-law, who does not care for onions, asks me to make this mac and cheese all the time 🙂