Make Awesome Baked Macaroni And Cheese With These Recipes + Tips

You can't get enough of cheesy pasta!

IMAGE Shutterstock

Before the industrial revolution, when it was not yet commercially available, pasta was only served to the wealthy or upper class. Historians believe Thomas Jefferson's chef learned the dish in Europe and perfected the recipe when they returned to the US. President Jefferson popularized the dish in Colonial America since he served it during his state dinners. While the original recipe called for butter, cream, and parmesan cheese, many American chefs improvised to make a more affordable version with cheddar and other processed cheese. Those with more refined pallets used gourmet cheese like Gruyere and aged Gouda as an expensive twist to this classic favorite.

In Italy, the pasta and sauce variation used tomatoes, cured meat, and vegetables since they cook with what is available in their pantry or backyard. They used tomatoes a lot, so a variety of the baked macaroni we know today combines these essential ingredients: pasta, meat, tomato sauce, cream sauce, and cheese. This cheesy ultimate comfort food that has the power to turn a frown into a smile is the iconic baked macaroni and cheese. 

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Photo by Shutterstock
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Not to be outdone, ingenious Pinoys have their version of the baked macaroni recipe but made sweeter. It has a unique Filipino sauce and added hotdogs to the beef to make up the sauce.

This holiday season, spice up your baked macaroni and cheese with this updated version! This recipe is an heirloom recipe copied from a grandmother's recipe collection. It sees the merging of an Italian pasta dish with the universal appeal of a cheesy bechamel sauce. (Don't be surprised if you don't see measurements! Many grandmothers cook by relying on their sense of taste.)

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Here are the ingredients of what you need:

  • • Ground beef (80% lean, 20% fat)
  • • Garlic
  • • Onions
  • • Star anise
  • • Grated carrots
  • • Diced Tomatoes
  • • Red wine
  • • Fresh basil or oregano
  • • Butter
  • • All-purpose flour
  • • Fresh milk
  • • Cheddar cheese
  • • Sour cream
  • • Macaroni pasta 
  • • Panko breadcrumbs
  • • Parmesan cheese
  • • Mozzarella cheese

How To Make The Meat Sauce

Brown the beefIt deepens the flavor of the meat. Browning the meat means searing the beef, and it can only happen if your pan or skillet is really hot to begin with. Let the beef rest in the pan for a couple of minutes. Do not stir the pan as the agitation brings the temperature down and draws moisture out of the beef. Plus, you won't brown the beef to create the flavor you're looking for. Aromatics like garlic, onions, and the surprising star anise come after. The star anise adds an added punch to the beef flavor. Add grated carrots next. The carrots bring a natural sweetness to your sauce and take the acidity out of the tomato sauce. Use canned diced tomatoes and a splash of red wine to add earthiness and release flavor molecules, making a more decadent tasting sauce. Don't forget the fresh or dried herbs like basil and oregano. Simmer in low heat; you can opt to add beef seasoning for a more robust flavor.

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This white sauce called the bechamel sauce is the creamy layer in your pasta dishes.
Photo by Karishma Etong

How To Make The Bechamel Sauce

A classic white sauce is the base of many Italian dishes, and it is a winning way to elevate your baked macaroni and cheese recipe. The difference in this updated version is the sour cream in the roux and more cheddar cheese for a sharper cheesier concoction. The procedure remains the same, starting with melted butter and flour, then hot milk while whisking continues as cheese is incorporated. Sour cream is a welcome treat in the end.

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It is important to remember to undercook your pasta. Since the pasta will be tossed in the meat sauce while it is still simmering, it will also continue to cook your noodles, and the heat causes a chemical reaction that makes the sauce adhere to the pasta better.

How To Assemble The Dish

Begin with a mental calculation of the container. The goal is to create two layers within the dish. First, fill 2/3 of the baking dish with pasta; layer with cheese sauce and grated mozzarella or sharp cheddar. 

Add the pasta again, leaving room for the bechamel. Pour a generous amount of white sauce. Seal the pasta with a crust-like topping by combining panko breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese and sharp cheddar or mozzarella cheese. 

Cover with foil and chill for around 4 hours before baking. Chilling allows the dish to settle. Next, preheat your oven and bake covered in foil for 25 minutes. Remove the foil to brown the cheese on top. 

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This pasta is creamy and loaded with bacon!
Photo by Patrick Martires

Another variation you might want to try is a creamy bacon macaroni and cheese, without the tomato sauce and the beef. To make it, render out the bacon fat until crispy. Remove the bacon but use the fat as the base of the white sauce. Add cheese powder to achieve the yellow-orange color. Add processed cheese spread and sour cream into the mixture before pouring it over your undercooked pasta and adding crumbled bacon bits. (Tip: use bacon crumble pack instead of whole strips because it is cheaper and saves you extra work of chopping bacon to pieces.) Set aside 1 cup of the cheesy bechamel sauce so you can create two layers in your baking dish. Top each layer with the cheesy sauce and cover with Parmesan and sharp cheddar. Bake covered with foil, removing the foil cover to brown the topping. Sprinkle the bacon bits when done and ready to serve. 

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Whatever recipe you choose, the little details spell the difference; try the suggested tips and share your experience. We're always happy to celebrate your cooking moments.

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