Featured Wisconsin Cheeses: BellaVitano, Sharp Cheddar, Parmesan
I love quick and easy recipes. So I must confess, when I make macaroni and cheese I generally cook it on the stove top and eat it as fast as I can get it onto my plate. But if I had my choice, I like a bubbly casserole of macaroni and cheese, moist, oozing with cheese, spiked with a little hot mustard and paprika. The perfect macaroni and cheese for me would have some chewy cheese and a crackly crisp and crunchy topping. I wondered, does everyone prefer this style? I asked on Twitter and 59 people told me they prefer baked macaroni and cheese and about four said they are happy with stove top versions.
Macaroni and cheese is a very versatile dish, some recipes use a white sauce, others a custard sauce and some have no sauce at all. Variations include casseroles dotted with bacon or tomatoes or peas. I’ve seen recipes using American cheese, Gruyere, Cheddar, and even goat cheese. Many recipes rely on a combination of cheeses. In preparing to create a baked version I read an article in the New York Times that said most times recipes don’t use enough cheese. They recommended twice as much cheese as macaroni.
In my tests I found several keys to a great macaroni and cheese casserole. First of all, you need to undercook the macaroni, next you need the mixture of macaroni and cheese to be fairly soupy when you put it in the oven. I like layering some cheese to ensure some gooey cheesiness and finally a topping of butter, Parmesan and panko yields a crunchy and flavorful crust.
For this recipe I used a fairly new cheese, BellaVitano® made by Sartori in Wisconsin. In some ways it’s a bit similar to Parmesan Cheese, it has a dry texture and little crunchy crystals, but it’s also is a bit like an Aged Cheddar in terms of flavor and how it melts. Because it’s so intensely flavored you don’t need quite as much of it in recipes. My personal touches to this recipe were the addition of sautéed onions, smoked paprika and piquillo peppers. I wanted to spice it up, but gently. The paprika also lends a nice color to the casserole which is great if you are using a White Cheddar, as I did.
Macaroni & Cheese with Spanish Peppers
Serves 6 to 8
Macaroni & Cheese:
3/4 pound (12 ounces) elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked sweet or hot paprika “pimenton de la vera”
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup all purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
2 cups (8 ounces) Wisconsin BellaVitano® Cheese, shredded
10 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) piquillo peppers, drained and diced
2 cups (8 ounces) sharp or extra sharp Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup Wisconsin Parmesan Cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta to the water, cook until almost al dente (half as long as directed); drain and reserve.
Place a large pot over medium heat, add butter. When butter melts, add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stir in paprika and dry mustard, cook over low for about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook 1 minute more, stirring. Whisk in milk slowly, and bring to a simmer, thicken over medium low heat for a couple of minutes.
Turn off heat and allow the mixture to cool about 5 minutes, then stir in the drained macaroni, BellaVitano Cheese and piquillo peppers.
In a broiler-safe 9×13-inch dish, layer 1/3 of the pasta mixture and sprinkle with 1/3 of the Cheddar Cheese. Repeat the layers twice with 1/3 of the pasta mixture and cheese each time, creating 6 total layers.
In a small bowl combine the panko bread crumbs, butter and Parmesan. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake the dish for 30 minutes. After baking, broil for 2 to 3 minutes if you want a browner topping. Remove from oven and serve.
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BellaVitano, Cheddar, Macaroni & Cheese, Recipe, Wisconsin Cheese
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