Mac & Cheese. Were there ever two words in the English language more perfect together? I think not. Whether you prefer yours made from a box mix and eaten straight out of the pot while standing over the stove or studded with fancy cheese and surprising mix-ins, there is a Mac & Cheese for everyone. The recipe that follows is a perfect make-ahead "fancy" Mac & Cheese, one that will satisfy even the most discerning of dinner guests. With a kick from both the andouille sausage and some A Bite of Good Cajun Spice Blend (get yours here), you should probably just go ahead and double the recipe. ;-)
Andouille Mac & Cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon A Bite of Good Cajun Spice Blend (get yours here)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar (6 ounces)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
12 ounces andouille sausage, diced
3/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 pound short pasta, such as elbows, shells, or penne
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over moderate heat until bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic, Cajun Spice Blend and whisk until the roux is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream until the sauce is smooth and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, whisking, until mixture is smooth and begins to thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the mild cheddar and 1/2 cup of the sharp cheddar. Season the cheese sauce with salt and black pepper.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the panko and toast over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out the skillet.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the andouille, bell pepper and onion and cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are lightly browned, 5 minutes. Stir in the sliced scallions and the chopped cilantro and parsley.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain well, then return the pasta to the pot. Stir in the cheese sauce and the andouille mixture. Season with salt and black pepper.
Spoon the pasta into a large casserole dish set on a baking sheet. Top with the remaining 1 cup of sharp cheddar and the toasted panko.
Bake until piping hot, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
To make ahead: Proceed with the recipe as written up until the point of baking. Allow to cool completely. Spray a piece of parchment with cooking spray and place on top of the casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil. If you plan to freeze it longer than a couple of weeks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap as well. When ready, remove plastic wrap and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the interior temperature has reached 160 degrees. Remove foil and parchment and bake another 15 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.