Make This Award-Winning Mac and Cheese Tonight

Make Award-Winning Mac and Cheese at Home - Make It Better

My job is SO HARD. Recently I was asked to judge the third annual Cheesy Noodles Mac N’ Cheese Contest for charity. The nerve! But seriously, I was honored to accept, especially given the beneficiary.

Held at Max’s Restaurant & Deli in Highland Park, the fabulous culinary competition benefitted StandUp for Kids Chicago, a nonprofit that raises money for Chicago’s homeless teens. They provide crisis intervention and basic survival necessities to these young people in dire need.

Competitors putting forth some of Chicagoland’s best mac and cheese included Nick’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Wilmette), Pinstripes (Northbrook), Barrel Crossing Tap & Grill (Highwood), Valley Lodge Tavern (Glenview), Remington’s Chicago, and last year’s champion, Chicago’s Smoke Daddy. All of these restaurants showcased admirable versions of the beloved comfort food, but it was an unexpected newcomer who stole the crown.

David Witcher, a late “wild card” entry, grew up in Illinois, but moved to England when he was 20. There, he owned a restaurant in the 1980s and ‘90s, but later switched to catering, selling his delicious chocolate chip cookies at music festivals, U.S. military bases and other events. He retired a number of years ago. He happened to be in Highland Park visiting family and learned of the mac and cheese competition and decided to enter. His wife and daughter represented him at the event, and were thrilled with his win!

David’s secret? Five types of cheese, two varieties of mustard, and an unexpected twist: prosciutto. Here’s his delicious recipe, complete with his charming comments. It was sinfully rich, but oh-so-tasty.

David Witcher’s Macaroni & Cheese

Serves 6

David says, “This is an excellent dish to prepare in advance or you can even freeze it. If you freeze in foil containers, your children will think it is store-bought and not homemade. My daughter only ate food that had danced on television so I learned this trick for homemade dishes. Hopefully you will never be satisfied with bought or any other restaurant mac and cheese, ever again — my gift to you.”

  • One large leek, finely sliced and chopped
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 ounces finely grated medium-strength cheddar cheese
  • 4 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese
  • 4 ounces finely grated Spanish Manchego cheese
  • 1 ounce Dolcelatté or if you can’t find that, then blue cheese (chopped up so it melts easily)
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half (this is not a diet dish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon hot horseradish sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 ounces Prosciutto ham, finely chopped (can omit if vegetarian of course)
  • 1-pound box of dried macaroni (gluten-free pasta may also work if desired)
  • 2 ounces fine white breadcrumbs (or enough to cover your baking dish to no more than 1/4 inch)
  • 1 ounce grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (the grated cheese is preferable to the powdery version)

Directions:

For Cheese Sauce:

1. Clear the kitchen of all impediments; partners, children, empty wine glasses (this is not going to be pretty).

2. Put 1 tablespoon of the butter in a frying pan and add the chopped leek.  Sauté very slowly on a low heat to just make the leek translucent, NOT caramelized. Spoon the leeks into a large mixing bowl.

3. Into the same bowl, add the cheddar, Gruyère, Manchego, Dolcelatté and Parmesan (do this before you make the roux for the cheese sauce — trust me on this).

4. Make a roux to start the sauce by slowly melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan and then adding the flour, stirring to combine. Let simmer on very low heat for about 4 minutes (remember, VERY low, and stir slowly) until the consistency is like runny honey. If it’s too thick, add a touch of milk; too thin, add a touch more flour. Slowly whisk in the milk (remember, stirring all the time) and keep stirring until it thickens. Add the half-and-half and keep stirring until thickened again.

5. This is the time to add a little optional nutmeg. Be careful, you are not making eggnog!

6. Add in both types of mustard and the horseradish sauce, again stirring to combine completely.

7. Finally, you get to stir in the cheeses and the leeks (this is why you needed to have the grated cheeses prepared ahead). Leave the empty mixing bowl to the side, you’ll need it again soon. Stir until all the cheese has melted.

8. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the chopped prosciutto, then cover the pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pasta:

1. Prepare pasta according to cooking directions. This will take approximately 8 minutes, a great opportunity to refill one of those empty wine glasses.

2. Drain the pasta in a large colander.

3. Pour pasta into that the empty mixing bowl (I told you you’d need it again).

4. Wash your hands (you’re about to get them deep in macaroni).

5. Mix in the cheese sauce to an even consistency, once it’s cooled, of course (or you can use a large mixing spoon, but the first method is more satisfying).

Bake:

1. Pour this mixture into a casserole dish.

2. Lightly and evenly cover with the breadcrumbs (remember, about 1/4-inch deep).

3. Mix the Gruyère and the Parmesan cheeses together and evenly sprinkle over the top of the breadcrumbs. Place dish in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes, or until golden.


Display your award-winning mac and cheese in this Chalten Casserole Holder from Maze Home. Available now in Shop For Good

Shop For Good - Casserole Holder from Maze Home