Saturday, October 17, 2009

Macaroni-less Mac & Cheese

I've had macaroni-less Mac & Cheese at one of my favorite restaurants, Two Blondes and a Shrimp, and I wanted to try making my own--it is that good! So the other night I tried it and it was a great success. Here's what I did.

The dish I envisioned was a cross between lasagna and macaroni and cheese. Layered lasagna noodles, but with the cheesy flavor of macaroni and cheese. I searched the Internet high and low for such a recipe--in vain. Apparently, no one has done this before and documented it. Well, Two Blondes has done it, but now I have documented it--at least my version/interpretation.

I started with some flat lasagna noodles. All I could find were Barilla brand no-boil noodles. Hmm... that could be a problem. So I layed them flat in a half sheet pan (8 of them) and poured boiling water over them and left them sit while I made the rest of the stuff. After about 20 minutes they were softened but still al dente.

On to the filling. I got 12 slices of sliced fontina and 8 of asiago cheese from the Publix deli. My thought: layer the pre-sliced cheese with the noodles and add a creamy cheddar sauce to hold it all together and melt everything in the baking process.

For the cheddar sauce I cooked two Tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until it foamed, then added a small onion, finely chopped and a half teaspooon salt and cooked until soft. I added a dash or two of cayenne, a Tablespoon of dry mustard powder, then two Tablespoons of flour and cooked about a minute (yes, making a roux). Then I added two cups of 2% milk and cooked this until it came to a boil and thickened. Off heat i slowing whisked in 9 ounces of grated sharp cheddar cheese (I used Cabot seriously sharp cheddar)--the sharper the better! I reserved another 3 ounces of shredded cheddar for the top. I added a bit more salt and pepper to taste (ended up with about a Tablespoon of salt--remember, the noodles will be a bit bland. [hmm...maybe next time i'll use salted boiling water on the noodles??]

Now I was ready to begin assembly. I used a 9x9 glass dish, buttered. I added a half cup of sauce to the bottom, then a layer of the noodles. Then a layer of fontina (four slices), another half cup of sauce (spread all the way to cover everything), and 4 slices of asiago. Repeat for the next layer, skipping the asiago. Repeat again for the third layer with the asiago. Top with the last of the noodles, the last generous half cup of sauce, and sprinkle with the reserved cheddar. Finally I grated some parmigiano-reggiano (good quality parmesan cheese) on the top.

I covered with foil and baked in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, removed the foil, and baked at 375 for another 10-15 minutes till the top was browned and bubbly. I removed from the oven and let cool for quite a while until it was cool enough for me to steal a corner from it.

Wow, it was very good. The flavor was spot-on. Extremely cheesy, like a good mac and cheese should be. The noodles were there, but not the dominant taste. They added a nice form and structure to the layers of flavor. This dish was certainly a winner.

Will I make this dish again? You bet. I've had a half dozen friends sample it and all the comments so far have been exceedingly favorable.

Are there things I'd do to improve? Yes. The dish was a bit "greasy" or "oily," a result of some slight bit of cheese separation. Next time I will not put shredded cheddar on top, but mix it all into the sauce. I think next time I'll pass by the asiago in favor of maybe some Emmentaler or gruyere--or maybe both. I'll keep the fontina as well, but cut down a bit, I want cheddar to be the predominant flavor. When I shred the accompanying cheeses, I'll toss them in a bit of corn starch, that should alleviate any greasiness.

For the sauce, next time i'll chop the onions even finer and also add some garlic--that would have been a great flavor to have in the sauce. I think i'll strain the sauce as well to remove the onions--i'll already have all the flavor from them and that will make the sauce even creamier.

I'm also rethinking the top. Perhaps it would be nice to have a more traditional crunchy top to offset the extreme creaminess of the rest of the dish. Maybe some buttered panko crumbs, perhaps tossed with a bit of mozzarella to give it some form and texture.

So there you have it. What do you think? Your comments are always much appreciated. When I make it again, I'll let you know what I've done to perfect it even more.


  1. Yum! I think you're on to something. I'm pretty sure this is something I'd like to try!

  2. I made this fabulous macaroni-less mac & cheese today. But since I used 7x11 glass dish (instead of 9x9) I ran out of cheddar sauce. So, as a top layer I used:
    Shredded cheddar (Irish cheddar-Dubliner), seasoned bread crumbs and …prosciutto. Served it with rashers of bacon on the side. According to my friends – the BEST brunch/hangover food EVER.
    It was very heart attack/greasy.
    Next time, to reduce the greasiness a tad, I propose adding ricotta:

    Top----sauce3, shredded mozzarella and parmesan,seasoned bread crumbs, prosciutto
    ----ricotta & fontina
    ----ricotta & asiago