Caprese Penne Mac & Cheese

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Cold weather requires comforting deliciousness.

Comfort = Noodles.

Winter has most certainly landed in the Maritimes, leaving us East Coasters questioning why we choose to live where the air hurts our face. But seriously, y’all, it’s cold. Like, my car wouldn’t start yesterday morning because of the cold kind of cold (true story). And, for me, there is no better way to warm up when Winter decides to show it’s frigid face than by chowing down on some classic, carb-loaded goodness.

The King of Comfort? Mac & Cheese. Rich, buttery, cheesy, and full of happiness. I first starting making Mac while living in a sublet apartment in Brentwood, Tennessee, after my baptism into Southern deliciousness (thanks Jack’s BBQ in downtown Nashville – you’re awesome). It was the first time in my life that I experienced proper, scratch-made Mac & Cheese, and I’ve been making my own versions ever since. Quick, easy, and tailor-made to please a hungry crowd.

This Mac & Cheese is full of comfort, nostalgia, and extra cheesy deliciousness. Stay warm, friends.

Caprese Penne Noodle Mac & Cheese

Makes 4 to 6 servings 

Sauce

½ cup butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 litre of whole milk

2 teaspoons lemon zest

½ teaspoon each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

100 grams fontina cheese, grated

150 grams aged cheddar Cheese, grated

50 grams Parmesan cheese, grated

Sea salt & pepper, to taste

Mac & Cheesiness

600 grams uncooked penne noodles

1 large tomato, thinly sliced

150 grams fresh mozzarella

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

½ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (plus more whole leaves for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Awesome.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the penne noodles according to the package directions (al dente, please). Drain, and reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter and olive oil together in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the garlic and cook for 20 seconds (keeping a close watch to make sure that it doesn’t burn). Whisk in the flour and, while constantly whisking, cook for 1 minute. In a slow and steady stream, whisk in the milk until all of the flour mixture has worked itself into the liquid. Smooth and glorious. Add the lemon zest and season with sea salt and pepper.

Bring the milk mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook until nicely thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the cheese, one handful at a time, until melted. Season with an extra hit of salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the noodles, cheese sauce, and reserved cooking liquid in a large casserole dish (or high-sided pan) and mix well. Break over the mozzarella, top with sliced tomatoes, and drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle the top of the Mac with chili flakes for a bit of heat.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the tops of the pasta are starting to crisp.

Top with sliced fresh basil, garnish with basil leaves and serve. Delicious!

 

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