Crispy Top Mac & Cheese

Carbs. That was Autumn's answer when we asked her guilty pleasure. Then she clarified: Cheesy Carbs. Mac & Cheese it is! Autumn is our Girl Saturday & Sunday. She took on the job of heading the store on weekends--and we're the better for it. Sweet. friendly and a true believer in eating and buying local. For Autumn's guilty pleasure, we put a twist on a classic recipe by adding a savory, crunchy topping made with panko, Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and studded with little crunches of salt from Fleur de Sel. Oh, and then there's mac and cheese underneath.

Ingredients for the Mac & Cheese:

2 Tbl butter

2 Tbl all-purpose flour

2 cups milk, warmed in the microwave

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground Tellicherry Peppercorns

1/8 tsp ground Nutmeg*

1/8 tsp Ground Mustard

1/8 tsp Cayenne

10 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

16 oz elbow macaroni, penne or ziti, cooked according to package directions

Directions for the Mac & Cheese:

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to create a blond roux. You are looking for a very light golden brown and a nutty aroma. Whisk in the warm melt until completely incorporated and smooth. Simmer gently for while whisking constantly until thickened--about five minutes. Whisk in the salt, Ground Tellicherry Peppercorns, Nutmeg, Ground Mustard and Cayenne. Stir in the cheese. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you make the Crispy Panko Topping.

Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.

Ingredients for the Crispy Panko Topping:

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Approx 2 Tbl Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2-3/4 tsp Fleur de Sel

Directions for the Crispy Panko Topping:

In a skillet, heat the Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil over medium heat. Add the Panko and stir to brown (toast) the panko on all sides.  Add more Garlic Oil as needed to ensure even browning. The Panko should be moist with oil but remain separate--don't saturate with oil. After the Panko is evenly browned, add in 1/2 tsp Fleur de Sel and taste. The breadcrumbs should have nice flavor from the Garlic Oil and an occasional crunch from the salt. It should not be oversalty. Add another 1/4 tsp Fleur de Sel if desired.

Top the Mac & Cheese with the Panko and bake for 20 minute or until the it's nice and bubbly. Cover loosely with foil to protect the breadcrumbs from over browning.

*Note about Nutmeg: Just about every white, creamy sauce (Alfredo, Bechamel, Cheese Sauce) benefits from a pinch of Nutmeg. The use of nutmeg in these applications goes back to classical French sauce making techniques. Nutmeg adds a layer of almost indistinguishable, but necessary, flavor to the rich sauces. It seems to help cut the richness and adds depth. Just a pinch will do. The sauce shouldn't shout, "NUTMEG!" 

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