Baked mac and cheese is a delicious treat whether you're a kid or an adult, and this scrumptious version comes complete with a three-cheese sauce, crispy prosciutto, and a few other tasty ingredients to make it extra special!
Baked Mac and Cheese, a Favorite for the Kid in All of Us
When I was a youngster and even into my teens and early adult years, I used to love the boxed macaroni and cheese that came with the yellow cheese sauce in the pouch.
It was easy enough to prepare—you'd simply cook the noodles, cut the top off the pouch, and squeeze the "cheese" contents onto the hot pasta and stir to incorporate and great for when the craving hit for some quick and cheesy comfort food, but it definitely wasn't unique or gourmet by any stretch of the imagination.
That's why when I began recipe developing many years ago, one of the first “comfort food” recipes that I found myself longing to prepare in my own style was a baked mac and cheese recipe, one that held within it those morsels that I deemed interesting, fun, and extra scrumptiously decadent.
After all, isn't that what a good, homemade baked mac and cheese is all about, anyway? Total cheesy decadence, coziness, and comfort?
What I was hungry for was a macaroni and cheese recipe that would be appealing to lovers of this tasty classic of all ages! 😉
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
Just as the name suggests, a baked mac and cheese recipe is just that: baked.
The components are first prepared separately (think cheese sauce, noodles, other added yummy ingredients...) then combined, turned out into a nice, large baking dish, topped with crispy panko topping (in the case of this recipe), and baked!
The results are a mac and cheese that is rich, creamy and gooey in the center, with a crisp, golden-brown topping. So good!
And for my personal recipe, I use three cheeses in my cheese sauce (sharp white cheddar, gruyere and jalapeno jack), with multigrain elbow macaroni pasta for the noodles (you can use regular as well). I also add in a tiny sprinkle of julienned, tangy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes, plus that crisped up, chopped prosciutto as a final flourish.
It's truly a homemade baked mac and cheese unlike any other—my favorite kind! 😉
Here's a quick overview of the steps for my baked mac and cheese recipe:
- I begin by preparing my cheese sauce, and keeping it warm.
- Then, I cook my pasta noodles according to the package instructions, and set those aside for a moment.
- Next, I prep my panko topping, as well as the other handful of ingredients that go into this delicious dish.
- Finally, I combine the pasta noodles with my sauce, add my other remaining ingredients, turn this mixture out into a prepared baking dish, and top with my panko mixture and bake until golden and bubbly.
- I finish with a flourish of chives plus some of my remaining crispy prosciutto, and dig right in!
(My full recipe is below...)
Tips & Tidbits for Baked Mac and Cheese:
- Choose your noodles: Classic elbow macaroni pasta is perfect for this recipe. For added health benefit, I personally opt for the multigrain variety, but you can use your favorite kind of pasta.
- Getting cheesy: My choice of cheeses are sharp white cheddar, jalapeno jack and gruyere; and I choose those because they have lots of flavor and are wonderfully meltable. You can also sub whole milk mozzarella, or another of your favorite highly meltable cheeses, if you prefer.
- Crisping prosciutto: To prepare, simply add slices to a hot pan for a couple of minutes until crispy, both sides, as you would bacon. When done, blot with a paper towel and chop. (Feel free to substitute bacon, or even leave it out altogether if you'd like to make this a vegetarian version.)
- Sliced sun-dried tomatoes for zip: The slightly sweet-savory and tangy flavor of some julienned sun-dried tomatoes offers a bit of an interesting flavor pairing when it comes to the creamy sauce; but if you're not a fan, simply leave them out!
- Prepare ahead for easy baked mac and cheese: If I'm looking to streamline things for myself and make the process a little quicker on the day I plan on baking and serving this recipe, I prep the sauce, cook the noodles, and prep as many of the other ingredients as I can a day or two ahead of time. Then, I simply reheat the sauce and warm the noodles, put it all together, and bake!
- Reheating leftovers: I've found that the best way to reheat leftovers, to get as much of that creaminess back as possible, is to either microwave a portion in a bowl, covered with a small plate (to keep the steam in); or, reheat in a glass container covered with foil in a toaster over set to 375- 400° for about 20 minutes.
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
Baked Mac and Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 8
Nutrition Info: 772 calories
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Cheese Sauce Ingredients:
• 4 cups low-fat milk
• 2 cups half and half
• 1 tablespoon chicken base
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1 ½ teaspoons salt
• ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
• Pinch ground nutmeg
• 6 tablespoons butter
• 9 tablespoons flour
• 1 ½ cups, heaping, grated extra sharp white cheddar
• 1 ½ cups, heaping, grated jalapeno jack cheese
• 1 ½ cup, heaping, grated Gruyere cheese
• 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
• 14 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni pasta (multigrain or regular)
• 3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), julienned
• 8 ounces sliced prosciutto, crisped and chopped, divided use
• ¼ cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
• ¼ cup grated jalapeno jack cheese
• ¼ cup grated Gruyere cheese
• 1 cup panko bread crumbs
• 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoon chives, chopped, for garnish
-Begin by preparing your cheese sauce: add the milk, half and half, chicken base, garlic, salt, white pepper and nutmeg into a medium-sized pot, and place over medium heat; bring the mixture to a good simmer, whisk to blend so that all ingredients within are combined, and turn off the heat; keep warm.
-Place a large (preferably non-stick) pot over medium-low heat, and add the butter in; once melted, add in the flour, and stir to combine to form the “roux” or thickener for the sauce, and allow it to cook for about 1 minute to cook out the raw flour taste.
-Next, slowly pour the hot milk/half & half mixture into the roux, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps from forming; allow the mixture to come to the simmer for about 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally, to allow the sauce to thicken and tighten up a bit.
-Once thickened, turn the heat off, and add the grated cheeses into the cream sauce one at a time, whisking very well to blend in between each addition of cheese.
-Whisk in the lemon juice, and once smooth and blended, cover and keep warm.
-To prepare your baked mac and cheese: preheat the oven to 350°, and lightly butter a large casserole/baking dish.
-Cook the elbow macaroni according to package instructions, and drain well.
-Next, add the cooked elbow macaroni directly into the cheese sauce, along with the sun-dried tomatoes, and gently stir to combine well; pour about half of the mac and cheese mixture into the prepared casserole/baking dish, and sprinkle over about half of the chopped, crispy prosciutto.
-Pour the remainder of the mac and cheese mixture into the casserole dish, and sprinkle over the top the ¼ cups each of the white cheddar, jalapeno jack and Gruyere cheeses, mixing them a bit.
-Combine the panko bread crumbs with the olive oil, Italian seasoning, black pepper and salt , and sprinkle that mixture evenly over top of the mac and cheese to create a topping.
-Place the uncovered casserole/baking dish into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and gooey, and the breadcrumb topping is golden and crispy (if the breadcrumb topping needs additional browning, just turn the broiler on low, and allow it to crisp up a bit more for a moment or two, but don't walk away from it).
-To finish the mac and cheese, sprinkle the remainder of the chopped, crispy prosciutto over the top, as well as the chopped fresh chives, and serve immediately while hot.
Cook’s Note: This recipe was originally published in 2013, and has been updated with even more love!