Mac and Cheese with Basil Breadcrumbs

Well for this moment in time I’m a happy camper.   Watching the Bears on Monday night football, wearing my favorite sweatshirt and jeans and enjoying a glass of Trader Joe’s Chariot wine.  Of course, none of these things really has anything to do with my happy mood.  It’s a pretty safe bet that if there’s a smile on my face, a good meal was involved,  somehow.  Tonight let’s just call it a mac & cheese-induced delirium.

Mac & cheese is trendy, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, quite honestly.  You see  I’m a simpleton at heart.  And while I applaud chefs adorning their mac & cheeses with high end ingredients like truffles and lobster, I think this is one dish that deserves a more subtle approach.  Properly cooked pasta paired with a creamy bechamel-based cheese sauce and baked with a crunchy bread topping.

Sheer simplicity.  Timeless.  Universally loved.

I do take a few liberties with this recipe.  I love this mix of cheeses and the fresh basil in the crust makes it unique but does not overwhelm. Grown-ups will enjoy the extra touches.  Children will love the basic elements and should appreciate the fact that true mac & cheese does not come out of a box!   This could very well be the  perfect family happy meal.

Trust me, when you’re a Bears fan, you need all the happy meals you can get.  Eagles just pulled ahead.  Time for some more Chariot…

Mac and Cheese with Basil Breadcrumbs

8 oz. elbow pasta (or a similar sized pasta)

3 TBS unsalted butter

2 TBS all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

½ cup low-sodium chicken broth

3 oz EACH  fontina cheese, white Cheddar, and white American cheese, shredded

3 TBS Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tsp prepared yellow mustard

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and Tabasco sauce to taste

2 slices soft white bread

10 fresh basil leaves

1 TBS olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°.  Coat a 6-cup glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick spray or lightly grease with some olive oil.

Place milk and broth in a small saucepan and heat slightly over low heat.  In the meantime, bring a large sauce pan of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni until al dente.  Drain and set aside.  Return pan to stove.

Melt the butter in the pan, then add flour, stirring until the flour is cooked and the roux appears light-blond.  Gradually whisk in the warmed milk and broth.  Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer.  Cook until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to low.  Stir in cheeses until smooth.  Then add mustard, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, Tobasco and nutmeg to taste.  Fold in macaroni and transfer to prepared baking dish.

Process bread, basil, oil, salt and some pepper to taste in a food processor until finely chopped.  Sprinkle over mac & cheese.  Bake at 400° until sauce is bubbly and crumbs are browned, about 15 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes then serve.

Makes 4-6 main dish servings

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