Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese
Mac & cheese is a classic comfort food that always reminds everyone of their childhood. One day, my husband came up with the idea of a way to spice up the classic mac & cheese and make it into a more grown-up version of the childhood favorite. We’ve now made it a couple of times have been extremely happy with the way it has turned out. My husband enjoyed it so much that when I was trying to think of a dish to cook for the annual International Food Fest that I have at my office each year, he suggested that I make this dish for my co-workers. I ended up doing just that. Apparently, it was quite the hit with my co-workers as my dish was cleaned out within 45 minutes!
So, what’s the key? Instead of just using your basic cheddar cheese, we created our mac & cheese with a combination of white cheddar, Gruyère and gorgonzola cheese. Since the gorgonzola creates the most prominent flavor of the three cheeses, we called our creation gorgonzola mac & cheese.
Down to the nitty gritty, the ingredients: penne pasta, salt, pepper, whole milk, flour, butter, French Gruyère cheese, English white cheddar cheese, Italian gorgonzola cheese, and panko bread crumbs. Simple ingredients that create such a complex and unique flavor.
Start by getting the pasta noodles into a pot of boiling, salted water. We choose to use penne because the tubes of the penne trap in all that great cheesy greatness. But really, you can use any kind of pasta you want; the traditional elbow macaroni, bow tie, rotini, or whatever floats your boat.
Next step is to create the roux for the cheese. Roux is a French term for a cooked mixture made from wheat flour and a fat, generally butter. Roux’s are made as thickening agents for soups, sauces, stews and gravys. In this case, we’re making a roux to use as a thickening agent for our cheese mixture. In a saucepan, melt some butter. It’s going to be equal parts (tablespoons) butter to equal parts (tablespoons) of flour. Slowly add the flour into the melted butter one tablespoon at a time. Constantly whisk together the mixture for a good 5 minutes until the flour is fully incorporated into the butter, and the flour flavor has been cooked off. You certainly don’t want your mac & cheese tasting like flour! The whisk also removes any lumps in the flour. You should end up with a thick, almost paste-like substance that is a bit off color.
Time to add milk to your roux. It will be equal parts (cups, this time) of whole milk to equal parts of the butter and flour you used for the roux. For example, if you used 2 tablespoons of butter, you’d need 2 tablespoons of flour, and 2 cups of whole milk. Add the milk right into the roux and keep whisking away. You want the temperature on low so as to not boil the milk. Constantly whisk so that your roux melts into the milk and doesn’t end up clumping. Add some flavoring to the milk by adding salt, and pepper. You can also add ground mustard and a bay leaf if you wish. Simmer the milk mixture for at least 10 minutes. If you added a bay leaf for flavor, you should remove it at this point.
In the meantime, it’s time to start shredding the cheese. I started with the French Gruyère. It has a nice nutty and creamy texture and it melts really well, so it works perfectly for mac & cheese.
Next came the English aged white cheddar cheese. Nice and creamy and smooth with that cheddar tang. And cheddar cheese always melts nicely and works well for baking. Also, cheddar is the classic cheese to use for mac & cheese.
The gorgonzola we purchased was already crumbled, so no need to do anything there. The cheese will just be thrown into our mix mixture in crumbles. Ok, now all 3 cheese have been prepped.
Into your milk mixture, you will need to temper some eggs. It’s 1 egg to every 3 tablespoons of butter. Crack an egg into a separate bowl and beat it lightly. You now want to temper your egg by pouring a couple of spoonfuls of your milk mixture directly into the bowl with the eggs, all while constantly stirring your eggs. This accomplishes the goal of raising the temperature of the eggs. Once you’ve done this, you can now pour your egg directly into saucepan with your milk mixture. It’s important to temper your eggs, otherwise, if you poured the beaten eggs directly into the milk mixture, you’d end up scrambling your eggs. No one wants to find cooked egg pieces sprinkled through their mac & cheese. The egg in this dish acts as a binding ingredient to hold your mac & cheese together, it’s not being used to make an egg dish.
It’s now time to add your cheese to the milk mixture. Turn the heat off the stove before you do this. Take 3/4 of the cheese you’ve shredded and add it directly into the milk mixture you’ve created. Also add some crumbles of gorgonzola cheese as well. Keep whisking to melt the cheese into the milk.
You should notice that with the addition of the cheese, the milk mixture starts to thicken. In fact, if you pull your whisk out of the milk mixture, there should be strings of cheese that stick to the whisk. Because you’ve taken the pan off the heat, the milk mixture is warm enough to melt some of the cheese, but shouldn’t really melt all the cheese you’ve put in.
When you’re pasta is cooked, drain it and pour the pasta into a casserole dish. It’s now time to add your milk and cheese mixture directly into the same casserole dish with the cooked pasta. You want to fill the casserole dish to the point where all of the pasta is covered.
Now, top the casserole dish with the remaining 1/4 of the shredded cheese you reserved. Make sure that shredded cheese covers the entire top of the casserole dish. Also, don’t forget to add some crumbles of gorgonzola as well. Remember, with gorgonzola, since it’s flavor is so overwhelming, less is sometimes more. You want to be able to taste all the cheeses and not have the gorgonzola overpower everything!
The last step before your casserole dish makes its way into the oven is to top the whole thing with bread crumbs. I chose to use panko bread crumbs because it’s nice and light and flaky and comes out incredibly crispy. You’ll need to brown the bread crumbs a little bit before you put it on your mac & cheese. Melt some butter into a skillet, add the bread crumbs and mix to make sure that the butter coats the panko. Then turn up the heat and keep stirring. The panko will slowly start to turn a rich golden brown color. Transfer the bread crumbs from the skillet directly onto the casserole dish.
Into the oven goes the casserole dish for a good 20-30 minutes. If a knife can go through the center and come out clean, and you see the cheese has melted and is bubbling, your mac & cheese is done! Take it out of the oven and allow it cool for 10-15 minutes, at least. At this point, it’s way too hot to eat anyway, and the cooling allows the mac & cheese to come together as well.
When you’re finally ready to serve the mac & cheese, top the casserole dish with some more crumbles of gorgonzola cheese. This way, anyone eating this will instantly see that the gorgonzola is the star of the dish. It also adds another layer of gorgonzola flavor to the mac & cheese. Again, don’t overpower the dish.
Whether you’re making gorgonzola mac & cheese for just yourself or for company, you’ll have a winning dish that everyone will enjoy. It’s the warm reminder of a classic comfort food kicked up about 20 notches with the addition of Gruyère and gorgonzola. You won’t be disappointed with this gorgonzola mac & cheese dish!