On a cool day nothing sounds better to me than a warm plate of mac and cheese! That being said, I didn't always like macaroni and cheese (when I was little and would have a box of Kraft, I would throw away the cheese and just eat the fun-shaped pasta) because it always seemed way too creamy to me! That is until I realized that with lots of sharp cheeses, and some savory add-ins, mac and cheese can be one of the best dishes out there, especially for this time of year.
There are a few things about this macaroni and cheese which I think make it extra special and one of my favorite recipes-
One of my favorite parts of this recipe is the toasted panko thyme breadcrumbs that you'll sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese before baking it. These breadcrumbs are so easy to toast up, and really help add that flavor and crunch for the most golden top, which I think we can all agree is the best part of any mac and cheese. You'll want to grab these ingredients-
Then you'll melt the butter in a little skillet, add in the panko and stir until it's perfectly golden, then remove it from the heat and stir in the parmesan, thyme, salt, and pepper. It only take a few minutes to prepare but makes for the most delicious topping to this mac and cheese. Plus, the breadcrumbs don't actually toast much more once in the oven, so toasting them in a skillet beforehand ensures they'll be perfectly golden.
You'll next want to make a roux with the remaining buter and flour, which is probably the most important part of this recipe. It's super simple, but it will ensure your cheese sauce is glossy and thick enough to coat each piece of pasta, which is always ideal. You'll melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan, then whisk in the flour. Keep whisking until the flour is incorporated and starts to turn golden, which will help add flavor and ensure the sauce is perfectly thick.
Like I said, the next few things you'll add into the sauce are really what makes this recipe unique, and perfect for people like me who don't love super creamy dishes. Grab these few things and you'll be ready to incorporate them into the sauce-
You'll first add the white wine, ensuring it is completely whisked into the roux. Continue whisking and simmering until the wine is partially reduced, cooking off the alcohol and some of the acidity. Next you'll add the milk, continuing to whisk until it is completely incorporated into the roux. Although it will not thicken right away, if you continue to let it simmer for a few minutes, I promise it will thicken right up and become super glossy!
Once thickened, turn down the heat to low and add in the garlic powder, cayenne, and dijon mustard. The cayenne is certainly optional, but with the milk and cheeses, it is super subtle and definitely not spicy in the least, but just adds that kick of flavor. While you are making the sauce, cook the pasta until it is just shy of al dente, as it will continue cooking in the oven. My favorite shape for macaroni and cheese is cavatappi because the cheese sauce really gets into each spiral, but other pasta shapes that would work great are shells or elbows.
Now like I said, if you are someone who doesn't love super creamy recipes, then I've got your back with the sharpest cheese trio out there! These 3 are the best not only because they're so sharp, but also because they're great melting cheeses-
Gradually stir all the cheese into the sauce, stirring constantly between each addition to ensure the cheese is fully melted. Adding it in gradually will also help ensure it doesn't clump. Continue simmering until the sauce begins to thicken. If it doesn't thicken right away, don't worry, as it will after a few minutes. You'll want it to be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Once the sauce has thickened, add in the cooked pasta and stir to combine. If the pot you cooked your pasta in is larger, it also might be easier to pour the sauce directly on the pasta. Make sure to stir it up nice and good so each noodle gets some sauce! Although it may look like a lot of sauce, it thickens up even more once baked and no one likes a dry mac and cheese.
After combining the pasta and sauce, pour it into your baking dish, which can really vary in size as long as it is large enough to hold everything, so feel free to use whatever dish you already have! Top with the remaining fontina for that extra cheesy and golden top, then sprinkle on the prepared bread crumbs. This recipe only bakes uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden, so you really don't have to wait long at all!
Once golden, remove it from the oven, and top with additional fresh thyme. Serve this up right away (although it will smell so delicious you won't be able to wait!) and enjoy each cozy bite.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Cheesy, savory, and satisfying, this macaroni and cheese is just creamy enough but also full of flavors of white wine, dijon, and thyme, so that it tastes just like your favorite sharp fondue recipe.
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