When I was younger, but old enough to stay home alone when my parents went to my brother’s baseball games, I would make myself dinner. And this dinner would consist of boxed macaroni and cheese. And that would be it. And I didn’t see a problem with that at all. Oh what lovely childhood days. Now I feel bad when I try to pass macaroni and cheese off as an entire dinner (not that I haven’t try to do so…just that I feel bad). So I bake some chicken and put out some salad. But who are we kidding?
Mac and cheese is one of those dishes that is always so incredible in restaurants, and I never seem to be able to replicate it at home. In restaurants macaroni and cheese has this delicious texture that I can’t quite pinpoint. It’s almost as if there is cottage cheese. My other theory is that it’s the Velveeta, which honestly I am not past trying at some point. I just want whatever it is that makes that mac and cheese so deliciously creamy but not too greasy, with that soft crumbly texture.
This, however, is not that recipe. This is an entirely different animal of macaroni and cheese, but oh my is it lovely. One thing I love about this recipe is that it is incredibly adaptable and has plenty of room for error. Most macaroni and cheese recipes require you to make a rue sauce to melt the cheese into, something that honestly I seem constantly unable to bring to the perfect consistency in a reasonable amount of time. This recipe skips that step. This recipe involves onions, which I skipped and it turned out fine. This recipe also asks you to cook the pasta on the stove once you add all the cheese, and I accidentally skipped the cooking part, and it did not result in the end of the world.
I can’t decide what my favorite part of this macaroni and cheese is. Is it the simplicity of the recipe? The Gouda cheese? The buttery cracker crust? The fact that it came from this cookbook? Whatever it is, it all adds up to this amazing dish of macaroni and cheese, unique but still comforting for the soul, creamy and cheesy and delectable.
Macaroni and Gouda Cheese Casserole
adapted from the Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook
Prep Time: 25-30 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
4 oz. Ritz crackers (1 sleeve)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted, melted
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large sweet onion (Vidalia), diced (optional)
8 cups water
2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded gouda cheese (about 8 oz. or 1/2 lb.)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce*
1 tablespoon green hot pepper sauce (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, pulse the crackers, bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until coarsely ground. In a medium-sized bowl, combine this cracker mixture with the melted butter. Evenly pour half of the mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish, and set the other half of the mixture aside.
3. If you would like to include the onion, heat olive oil and onion in a medium skillet over medium high heat, cooking until the onion is translucent, 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Bring water to a boil in a large stock pot and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add macaroni and cook over high heat until pasta is tender, 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta and return to stockpot. Add the onion (if desired), cream, gouda cheese, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce (if desired), and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
5. Pour the macaroni evenly over the cracker crumbs in the baking dish. Top with remaining cracker mixture, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese evenly over the top.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Turn the oven off and let casserole remain inside for 5 minutes. Serve hot.
*If you decide not to use the onion and/or hot pepper sauce, I would recommend slightly decreasing the amount of Worcestershire Sauce. I think the flavors are supposed to play off of one another, and without the onions/hot pepper sauce it just seemed slightly too Worcestershire-y.