Alright, my friends, I'm a huge fan of cooking from pantry staples. The possibilities are endless. The impact on my bank account isn't too painful. It's win-win all the way. But sometimes...SOMETIMES...it pays to go out and buy an awesomely spectacular ingredient for the dinner menu. Case in point: Fontina cheese. (Find it in the specialty cheese case of the grocery store.) Fontina melts somethin' fabulous. Smooth like mozzarella. Rich. Creamy. Slightly nutty tasting. SO. GOOD. I usually don't go for more expensive ingredients, but every so often, I'll splurge on fontina...and then (more often than not) use it for this recipe. It's not too far out of my budget, and the results are divine. Trust me. You'll never go back to the fake-orange, boxed mac and cheese again.
As an added plus, the leftovers are a dream.
COOKS NOTE: If you don't have fontina, just substitute your favorite cheese instead. I've made this before with nothing but cheddar and parmesan (as far as cheese goes). You can also stretch your dollar by subbing half fontina-half some other cheese. But please don't sub out the parm. Flavor-wise, it's kind of important.
Also, feel free to exercise your parent-power and up the nutritional value by adding: (thawed) frozen chopped, spinach, peas, (blanched) chopped kale, sauteed leeks, etc. to the noodle mixture before baking. The sky's the limit. I highly recommend spinach. Frozen boxes of spinach are so inexpensive, packed with nutrients, and mild in flavor and texture. There's enough cheese in this recipe to mask much of the flavor of the veggies, making it a great way to introduce some harder-to-eat leafy vegetables to kids. My two year old practically inhales the additional "green stuff" without making so much as a peep.
RECIPE: FONTINA MAC AND CHEESE
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Ready In: 35 minutes
Makes: About 6 servings
Butter, for greasing dish
12 oz wide egg noodles
2 cups heavy cream
2-1/2 cups whole milk
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt, plus more for pasta water
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (packed) grated Fontina
3/4 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan
3/4 cup (packed) grated mozzarella
4 oz cooked ham, diced (optional)
Lightly cooked veggies (optional)
2 T finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Butter a 13x9 inch glass baking dish and set aside. Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Drain well, but do not rinse.
Whisk the cream, milk, flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper in a large bowl to blend. Stir in 1 cup Fontina, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup mozzarella, ham and veggies (if using), and parsley. Add the noodles and toss to coat. Transfer the noodle mixture into the prepared baking dish. Toss the remaining 1 cup Fontina, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and 1/4 cup mozzarella in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the noodle mixture. Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts and begins to brown on top, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
-From the kitchen of Alyssa H.; adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis