One of the things I most look forward to each year is the first snowfall of the season. Snow has always felt lucky to me in many ways, I have fond memories of good things happening on snowy days and seeing those first few snowflakes swirling in the wind always makes me smile. This past weekend I had the great pleasure of being snowed in and watching as the view from my balcony transformed into a winter wonderland, it felt like I was looking into a snow globe.
It was one of those perfect days where you have all the time in the world to prepare something truly special, but we decided to add a twist. My sister and I decided we would pool our resources together to come up with the perfect Snowmeggedon meal. A sort of Chopped: Snowed In Edition, and boy did it pay off. We decided on pasta very quickly, and it became apparent that meat and cheese would be essential additions. Baked Ziti came to mind, but we didn’t have the proper ingredients, and no Italian wants to be responsible for serving up a sub-par Baked Ziti. I decided to tear through my library of cookbooks for something out of the ordinary and stumbled upon a Macaroni and Cheese cookbook that I had poured through many times but not yet got around to trying out. It was the clear winner.
Feeling ambitious we decided to use a base recipe, substituting what ingredients we had and hoping for the best. We decided upon a cheese combination of Sharp White Cheddar and creamy Havarti, with the addition of spicy Italian sausage to break up some of the creamy richness of the sauce. Before baking we sprinkled with some dried Italian herbs and Parmesan cheese. This was heavenly. A big cheesy hug on a snowy day. I’ve documented it here, lovingly named it our Snowmeggeddon Mac ‘N Cheese and hope you can enjoy our cheesy success the next time you’re snowed in.
Snowmeggedon Mac ‘N Cheese
Source: Adapted from The Mac + Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo + Erin Wade
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 Tsp. kosher salt
- 1 lb. Ziti pasta
- 1 lb. ground hot Italian sausage, cooked and drained
- 10 oz. Sharp White Cheddar, grated
- 6 oz. Havarti, grated or about 6 medium slices
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 Tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/4 Tsp. dried parsley
- 1/4 Tsp. dried basil
- 1/4 Tsp. Italian Seasoning
- 2 Tbsp. Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until small bubbles form at the edges, but it has not begun to boil. Keep warm or remove from the heat.
- Melt the butter completely over medium heat in a separate medium saucepan. Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Slowly pour the heated milk into your butter-flour mixture, or roux, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Turn the heat back on medium-high and continue to whisk constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until the sauce becomes silky and thick. To check for the proper consistency, place the back of a spoon in the sauce, if the sauce coats the back of the spoon without running off and you can drag a finger through it without ruining the impression you made, your béchamel is ready. Add in the salt, nutmeg and black pepper. Set aside.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the ziti according to the instructions. Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Add the shredded cheese to your béchamel sauce a little bit at a time until fully incorporated, there should be no more remaining lumps of cheese and the sauce should be smooth. If the cheese sauce seems thick and gloppy, add milk a little bit at a time until it reaches a silky consistency. Next, add the cooked ground sausage to the cheese sauce and stir. In a medium size bowl, combine the cheese sauce and the pasta together and mix until the pasta is evenly coated with the cheese and meat mixture.
- Transfer the pasta to a large baking dish spreading out evenly. Top the pasta mixture with the parsley, basil, Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. Pour a small amount of milk around the edges of the baking dish. Bake the Mac ‘N Cheese at 350° for 20-25 minutes until the edges have started to bubble. Remove from the oven and let the Mac ‘N Cheese rest for 5 minutes before serving.
When making Mac ‘N Cheese, be sure to either buy block cheese and grate it or use deli style cheese slices. While those pre-shredded bags of cheese are convenient, they cause the cheese sauce to become grainy.