Autumn. A season built on nostalgia and near-magical moments from our childhood. Family gatherings, crimson leaves floating end over end, dropping temperatures and layers of clothing, early dusk hours and comfort food. The beginning of a new normal, days that enter abruptly and end softly, bringing glorious colourful sunsets with them and evenings that have us yearning for the kind of foods that stick to our soul.
I remember my autumns as a child fondly. But I didn’t really appreciate them until recently. I hark back to days at my grandparent’s collecting leaves, not to bag them but to jump in them. Over and over. Again. The long drives from the big city to the small town, up past the old concrete bridge that marked the beginning of the end. Pulling into the driveway to see my grandmother perched in her well-worn recliner inside the big front window. Waiting.
It was in their small house and even smaller kitchen where she would make me the comfort foods that I now expect in the fall. I’d work up an appetite by raking the leaves while she watched from the kitchen window. And when I walked through the side door and directly into the kitchen the aroma would wash over me and nearly knock me over. That memory never left me. It occasionally catches up to me, reminding me of how lucky I was.
So on one of the first cold evenings of the year, I collected my thoughts and made my own version of a childhood classic. Mac and Cheese.
My recipe doesn’t look anything like my grandmother’s, but it does have the bones of it in it. Rich, creamy cheese and a crisp topping. The foundation of mine is garlic and thyme, flour and cream. A thick base for the cheese. Every element combines to make this a rich, flavourful and crispy mac and cheese that is the epitome of comfort and autumn.
From my kitchen to yours.
Mac and Cheese
- 4 cups of elbow macaroni
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp. mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. grated cardamom
- sea salt & ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 1 1/2 cups grated aged white cheddar
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs (topping)
- 3 tbsp. Parmesan cheese (topping)
- 1 tsp. chopped thyme (topping)
- 1 tbsp. butter (topping)
- Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook your pasta according to directions. Cook until al dente. Drain.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and thyme, cooking for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook for a further 2 minutes, whisking continuously. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Stir with a wooden spoon until it coats the back of the spoon, about 8 minutes.
- Whisk in mustard, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt and pepper. Fold in the three cheeses until smooth. Add in the pasta and fold to combine. Grease 8 ramekins or one 2.5 L baking dish and spoon in the pasta mixture evenly.
- Meanwhile, using a saute pan, melt the butter and fold in the thyme, panko and parmesan until well mixed. Sprinkle over top of the pasta mixture.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the topping is golden. Let stand until slightly cooled.