I'm a big fan of stovetop macaroni and cheese. I prefer it over any type of baked pasta because I like the creamy consistency the dish has before it's baked. To get that crispy top that most people love I serve it with a toasted breadcrumb topping that gives a great texture and crunch. This version of mac and cheese has the fun addition of caramelized onions which is the base of one of my favorite soups, french onion.
French Onion Mac and Cheese
4 tablespoons butter
2 large Vidalia onions, very thinly sliced
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 pound gruyere cheese, shredded
½ pound Italian fontina cheese, shredded
1 pound penne
Breadcrumb topping, optional – see note
In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions, thyme and bay leaf and cook for 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are browned and softened, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a plate and discard the bay leaf. Reserve the skillet.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
In the reserved skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute, then whisk in the wine. Let the wine cook down for a minute, stir with whisk so mixture is smooth. Slowly add chicken stock and milk until combined and smooth and bring to a boil; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Lower the heat to simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheeses until melted.
Combine the onions and sauce with the pasta and toss well. If using breadcrumb topping add a sprinkle to the top of the dish and serve the rest in a bowl for passing at the table.
Note - To add some texture to this dish I added a breadcrumb topping. I had some extra garlic and parmesan panetini crackers and pulsed them in the food processor and added them to the top. Alternatively, you could sauté 1 clove of minced garlic in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter. Add about ½ cup to ¾ cup panko bread crumbs. Toss with garlic oil and let get lightly browned. Turn off heat and toss with ¼ cup parmesan cheese.
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