Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that got me thinking. I have always loved the holidays. To the point that my husband, if left to his own devices, would prefer to move into a hotel from October through January just to escape the almost-annual Halloween party and accompanying decorations. And the Thanksgiving decorations and dinner. And the Christmas festivities, including house guests and many much more decorations and tree-trimming and stocking-stuffing and yuletide cheering and family-recipe making and eggnogging and, well, you get the idea.
I was ruminating on one of the old Thanksgiving standards, which people tend to either love or hate: the green bean casserole. You know, the one with the green beans drowning in cream of mushroom soup and topped with French’s French Fried Onions – that one. As a kid, I recall that the single best part of that dish was the crunchy fried-onion topping. I am a huge onion ring fan, and the fried onions atop the green bean casserole always reminded me of the fond taste of onion rings.
Getting around to my point of this whole story, I found unusual inspiration for this week’s recipe in the glory that is French’s French Fried Onions. Looking around online, I was surprised at how many others had found the same inspiration, topping their mac and cheese with french-fried onions. There’s even a recipe from French’s themselves! I ended up taking my inspiration from the folks at Over 300 Cookbooks. I could not get my grubby little paws on Irish Dubliner cheese (what can I say – after reading the recipe I wanted to make it NOW, not take time to run to the store) so I used Kerrygold aged cheddar instead.
The star ingredients:
In addition to the star Kerrygold cheddar, the recipe calls for Parmesan and extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Is that enough cheese for you?
Goooood stuff. First, I filled a large pot with water and added splash of olive oil and salt. The rosemary sprigs (fresh from the garden, thankyouverymuch) were added and the entire affair was brought to a boil.
I then added whole wheat chiocciole to the pot and cooked it for about five minutes. The rosemary sprigs were fished out and removed and I finished cooking the pasta per the package directions. The pasta was drained and set aside. Next, the oven was preheated to 350 degrees and a large rectangular baking dish was Pammed.
Back in the large pot used to cook the pasta, I added butter and once it melted the flour was added. The roux was whisked constantly for about a minute, then the milk was slowly added. Once the milk was incorporated (keep whisking!), the mixture was brought to a boil, then cooked over medium heat for five minutes with the occasional stir thrown in.
Once everything in the pot is happy, remove the pot from the heat and add the cheeses (oh, the glorious cheese!), mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir until the cheeses are melted and you have a pot of gooey lusciousness. Add the pasta and give it a good stir to combine, then spoon into your baking dish.
Sprinkle the French-fried onions over the top, then add a dash of paprika. Bake for thirty minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbly.
I know it’ll be hard, but do make sure to wait about five minutes after the mac comes out of the oven. And believe me, once you smell the toasty fried onions coming out of the oven, it’ll be tough!
Doesn’t that look luscious? And it was! The whole wheat pasta added a nice chewiness to the mac and cheese. The overall flavor was surprisingly just a little bland, but this could be remedied by leaving the rosemary in for the duration while the pasta cooks, or by adding a pinch of fresh finely chopped rosemary over the top right before serving. And, to be fair, using Dubliner cheese (as recommended by Over 300 Cookbooks) might make all the difference in the world. Three and a half elbows up!
Here’s my recipe.
- 5 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 6" each)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups fat-free milk
- 14 ounces Kerrygold Aged Cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 6 ounces Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 pound whole wheat chiocciole
- 6 ounces French's French Fried Onions
- salt and pepper to taste
- Fill large pot with water, olive oil, a pinch of salt and rosemary sprigs. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. After five minutes, remove the rosemary. Continue to cook pasta per package instructions, then drain and set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, shred the cheeses. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and Pam a large rectangular baking pan.
- Using the same large pot, melt butter and once melted, add flour and whisk. Continue whisking and cooking for one minute. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for five minutes, whisking occasionally.
- Remove the pot from heat and add the cheeses, mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir until cheeses are melted and the sauce is smooth.
- Add cooked pasta to the pot and stir to combine. Spoon mac and cheese into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until top is browned and cheese is bubbling.
- Let sit for five minutes prior to serving.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
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