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Super Secret Mac & Cheese

The staff of Inside Columbia have declared this the best mac & cheese ever. Chef Dennis Clay shares his inspiration and his super secret recipe for the ultimate comfort food.

Growing up, we had a lot of variations of the old standby, macaroni and cheese. Mom would make a variable amount of casseroles using the backdrop of mac and cheese and gussying the dish up just enough to get away serving it three nights a week without complaints from hungry teenagers. More often than not, it would be things like taco casserole or Hamburger Helper. While I have a great appreciation for a good taco casserole, I find myself trying to make just the basic mac and cheese really well.      

The last time I was at my mother’s house, my younger brother was eating a bowl of taco casserole as I arrived with my kids from our five-hour drive. Having been in the car with two small kids and being a guy, I did not stop once unless the emergency cord was pulled, so naturally I was ravaged. A little known secret: noodles and cheese soothe the savage beast. The whole time I was eating that conglomerate of noodles, mexi cheese and taco meat, I kept thinking to myself that it needs more salt, more flavor and more umami. I dumped a bottle of hot sauce over the top. Well, that made it worse. Sorry, Mom, as much as I love your taco casserole, it can’t touch my mac and cheese, even with the bells and whistles of shredded mexi cheese and taco-flavored ground beef.

This particular recipe calls for some cheeses that may be unknown to you. While they are all three different, they each play an integral role in the texture of your sauce. Essentially, this is a recipe for béchamel with cheese added at the end to thicken it even more. If you feel inclined to do so, you may add any ingredient you wish to this casserole. Just leave out the tex-mex salsa, please.

Super Secret Mac and Cheese Recipe

Feeds 8

1 pound campanelli pasta

1/4 pound havarti

1/4 pound fontina

1/2 pound shaved parmesan

1.5 cups quart cream

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup garlic chopped

Panko bread crumbs and additional ground parmesan for the top

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Melt butter, combine flour and garlic, cook for 2 minutes on medium low heat. Add cream and whisk on high until thick. Add all cheese and whisk until melted. Toss with cooked pasta and top with panko breadcrumbs, small pats of butter and bake for 25 minutes. Top with cut scallions and voila!

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