I’ve been tinkering around with mac’n’cheese recipes lately, which I’ll admit, is a dangerous thing to be tinkering with, waistline-wise. But we’ve entered that season where a bowl of extremely cheesy, creamy macaroni covered with crunchy golden-brown breadcrumbs is more perfect than just about any other kind of food, and I’m willing to run a few extra miles each week in the name of finding a great recipe to get us all through the colder months.
I’m not going to go so far as to claim that this is the perfect mac’n’cheese recipe, because I know that’s just going to open up all kinds of room for debate. What I will say, is that this is a really, really good mac’n’cheese recipe, and one that I would be happy to devour any day of the week. I’ve added just enough sweet Italian sausage and sauteed apple and onion to add a bit of textural interest and flavor contrast, but not enough to detract from the main event, which is of course, cheesy noodles. This recipe really lets the cheddar cheese shine – it’s the only cheese in the sauce, and is enhanced by a smidge of nutmeg and a spoonful of mustard, both flavors that go well with cheddar, apple, and sausage independently. And please, go the extra mile and make your own buttery, toasted breadcrumbs from scratch – it’s really easy and completely worth the extra 5 minutes it will take you. Now go add these ingredients to your grocery list – it’s officially comfort food season!
Sausage, Apple, and Cheddar Mac’N’Cheese
A Katie at the Kitchen Door original recipe. Serves 6.
- 3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 apples, cored and cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
- 3/4 lb. medium pasta shells
- 1 1/2 c. milk
- 4 TBS flour
- 6 TBS butter, divided
- 10 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp mustard
- 1/2 medium baguette
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Squeeze the sausage meat out of its casings, and use the back of a wooden spoon to break up into bite-sized pieces. Cook the sausage until browned all over and fully cooked through, stirring frequently. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the pan, and place it in a 9×13 inch glass casserole dish.
- Drain all but 3 TBS of the sausage grease from the pan. Add the diced onion and the cubed apples to the saute pan with the remaining sausage grease, and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions and apples are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Scrape the apples and onions into the casserole dish with the sausage, and season the apples, sausage, and onions to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the saute pan from the heat, carefully wipe clean, and set aside.
- Cook the pasta shells according to package directions, then drain and set aside.
- Warm the milk in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat until it is just steaming but not yet simmering. Place 4 TBS of the butter in the saute pan and melt over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir to fully coat with the butter. Cook the flour-butter roux until just beginning to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Do not let it burn. Once the roux is golden brown, slowly drizzle the warm milk into the pan, stirring as you do so. When all the milk is added, cook the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, then remove from the heat. Add the grated cheese to the sauce a handful at a time, stirring until it is melted (do not add the cheese while the sauce is still on the heat, as this will cause the sauce to break!). Once all the cheese is incorporated, stir in the nutmeg and the mustard, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta shells and stir to coat, then add the pasta to the casserole dish with the other ingredients. Stir to evenly mix the ingredients in the pan.
- Break the baguette into large chunks and quickly process in a food processor or blender to form medium-size bread crumbs. Add the remaining 2 TBS of butter to the saute pan and melt over medium heat, then add the bread crumbs to the melted butter. Saute, stirring frequently, just until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top of the casserole dish. Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet (to catch any drips), then place in the oven and bake until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.