The #1 Secret Ingredient Your Mac & Cheese Is Missing
Next to burgers, mac and cheese may just be one of the most popular American foods of all time. How satisfying is it to dip your fork or spoon into a bowl of warm, cheesy noodles? The question is, do you know how to make the best mac and cheese recipe right in the comforts of home?
Let us start by saying there is a distinctive difference between boxed mac and cheese and mac and cheese that's made from scratch. Melting fresh cheese atop a bed of tender noodles is matchless; powdered cheese fails to even come close to paralleling the taste of a true homemade mac.
There are several variations when it comes to macaroni and cheese, too. Some recipe developers and chefs combine several types of cheese to make a decadent, hefty bowl of creamy pasta. Others top the noodles with savory garnishes including chopped chives, caramelized onions, and crispy bacon. However, what if we told you that the best mac and cheese recipe includes an ingredient that you can't even see.
Executive Chef Bryan Forgione at Buddy V's Ristorante (yes, as in famed baker, Buddy Valastro!) in Las Vegas provided us with a recipe for mac and cheese that he and his team make in-house at the restaurant. Find out what the secret ingredient is that makes this mac and cheese superior to all other recipes.
What's the secret ingredient to making the best mac and cheese?
Technically, there are two secret ingredients, the first one being the style of noodles. Chef Forgione uses cavatelli pasta over traditional elbow macaroni.
"You don't eat mac and cheese to have a light bite, you eat it to have a deliciously rich experience," he says, which is exactly why he swaps elbow macaroni noodles for cavatelli pasta as it both absorbs and retains the creamy cheese better.
"Small and hearty, cavatelli pasta gives the dish a sturdier taste, [with] its ridges catching and holding onto all of the cheesy flavors," he says. "Our mac and cheese carbonara takes comfort to a whole new level."
OK, then what's the other secret ingredient?
The key to making a delicious mac and cheese dish? Using egg yolk to give it an even creamier carbonara-like pasta feel. The egg yolk is the non-traditional, secret ingredient for this mac and cheese recipe—and you wouldn't even know it's in there just by looking at it.
"Buddy loves macaroni and cheese and is known for his famous carbonara in his family, so it was only natural that we combine these two beloved dishes," the chef says. "Incorporating the egg yolk adds an incredible richness, not to mention additional creaminess, that really pulls the entire dish together."
Cast iron vs. stainless steel: which would you recommend using for this dish?
We know stainless steel and cast iron skillets have different strengths, which is why Forgione suggests using both if you have them.
"I recommend a stainless steel sautée pan for the initial cooking of this dish," he says. "You can transfer to a baking dish or cast iron to bake with bread crumbs for that added layer of texture and flavor."
Which types of cheese do you include in your mac and cheese recipe?
This recipe calls for two kinds of cheese: either smoked mozzarella or fontina and parmesan.
"The beauty of this dish lies in its complexity of flavors, and the cheese plays an important role in creating that overall effect," says Forgione. "Both smoked mozzarella and fontina cheeses bring unique elements to the dish that really can't be replicated by other, more common cheeses."
Both fontina and smoked mozzarella elevate the flavors of any dish, which is why you should only pick one to pair with the parmesan. He says fontina is both rich and creamy and offers a subtle nutty flavor, while smoked mozzarella inherently adds a hint of smokiness to the dish.
How can I make this mac and cheese recipe at home?
Here's how you can make this next-level mac and cheese carbonara.
4 oz. Cavatelli pasta
2 tbsp pancetta
0.5 tsp coarse black pepper
6 fl. oz. heavy cream
1 oz. smoked mozzarella or fontina
2 oz. parmesan
1 tbsp Peas
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
Kosher salt, to taste
- Boil the pasta and reserve.
- Crisp pancetta in a sautée pan with the black pepper and add cream. Bring to a boil and reduce by a third.
- Add the pasta, peas, and cheeses, stirring to incorporate. Save 1 oz. parmesan for topping.
- Once all is melted, turn off the fire and add the egg. Mix and check the seasoning.
- Pour into dish. Top with the remaining parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
- Place in a 375-degree oven until bubbly, toasted, and delicious.
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