Make-Ahead Creamy Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8 sit down dinners; 16-buffet; 25+ portioned and served

2 Cups of Toasted Panko Bread Crumbs (see note below)
1 pound elbow macaroni, or any small pasta
1 tablespoon table salt
6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ((1.8 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 medium garlic clove, grated
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
3 1/3 cups milk
1 pound Colby cheese , shredded (4 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Make the topping and set aside. Bring 4-5 quarts of water to boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and pasta. Stir and cook until just beginning to softened and firm in the center to bite. About 5-7 minutes depending on the quantity. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. 

2. Wipe the pot dry and heat the pot medium heat. Add butter and melt, stir in the garlic, mustard, and cayenne for about 30 seconds until fragrant and butter begins to foam. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden. 

3. Gradually whisk in broth and milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes (requires more if cooking a large amount). Off heat, whisk in cheeses until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Pour into 13x9 inch baking dish. 

4. To Store: After cooling, wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap first then foil. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month. Thaw completely and bring the casserole to room temperature before baking. Toast, cool, then freeze bread crumbs. 

5. To serve: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap! But cover tightly with foil. Bake until the filling is hot throughout, 40-45 minutes. Add topping and serve. 

Toasted Panko Topping:
2 Cups of Panko Bread Crumb
1 teaspoon of paprika or dry rub mixture
4 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss bread crumbs, paprika (or dry rub) and melted butter in a bowl. Spread out over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring until toasted. 8-12 minutes. Cool completely.

Make-ahead tips:
Make the casserole and refrigerate up to 2 days. Or freeze up to 1 month. Thaw in refrigerator completely in the refrigerator about 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before baking in oven.
For serving 300 people: for 12 lbs of pasta, make recipe X 11 for the cheese sauce.

3-4 Days ahead: all cheese was shredded with food processor and stored in refrigerator.

Up to 6 hours ahead: cooked 12 pounds of pasta, drain, drizzle some melted butter & store in 6 full-size disposable steam pans until ready to bake
**toast topping, cool completely and set aside

Up to 3 hours ahead: make cheese sauce, divide and pour into 6 pans. Cover with foil and set aside until ready to bake.

1 hour ahead: Put 1 1/2 cups hot water between 2 layers of pan. Bake until filling is hot. Before serving, generously sprinkle topping.

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