Mission: Macaroni and Cheese (The Spirited Mascarpone Edition)

or my "pretty please mac n' cheese"

Some days you just need a little comfort food.  I am a life long dedicated fan of mac n' cheese out of the blue box, provided it is shaped like a spiral, and yet I have still had this underlying urge to try my hand at the home made sort. I have always been skeptical because there are very few dishes of this cheesy pasta that have really even come close to winning me over, but after my previous success with using mascarpone as a creamy agent in soup I thought it just might do the trick here.  Toss in a little white wine for a kick, some cheddar cheese for a bit of color, and top it as all my favorite dishes are topped - with a mix of breadcrumbs - and you have a recipe for success!  Just creamy enough, no strings to pull through, minimal grease from the cheese due to the use of the mascarpone in place of some of the cheddar, and it sticks to the pasta perfectly.  Check it out:

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk, warmed
½ cup white wine
1 cup Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone
¼ cup combined panko and Italian bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder
parsley (for color)
Nutmeg, a dash
1/2 lb elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Cook the macaroni per package directions while preparing the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with the minced onion. Stir in the flour until a paste-like consistency forms for the roux.

2. Gradually whisk in the warmed milk and then wine until smooth; bring to a low boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir in the mascarpone cheese until melted, then do the same with the shredded cheddar. Season with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

4. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and stir well to coat. Pour out into a casserole dish and top evenly with the breadcrumb mixture.

5. Bake the macaroni and cheese for about 10 minutes, or until the top starts to turn a golden brown. If needed broil the macaroni and cheese for about 1 minute.

I doubled the batch last weekend, doubled the amount of cheddar for the kids, and brought it to a family party. It turns out a bit milder on the wine this way and there is less sauce if it is kept in the oven on "warm" until the other food is ready, but it definitely works well for a crowd since at that point the sauce does not ooze into the rest of your plate. I prefer it with the original amount of cheddar but adding it in does make it more approachable for the often skeptical younger set. And a bonus - it reheats wonderfully for lunches, I'm looking forward to some today myself!

Add your own spices to taste, some extra cheddar when making the sauce for the more signature "orange" look (this will also make the sauce a bit more sticky), but most of all - enjoy!

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