Every year over the winter break, the University of Toronto holds a mac and cheese cook-off among five of the residence chefs. This Mac ‘N Cheese Smackdown is a great showcase for some very good chefs, who make me think that times have changed a lot since I was at university, and that residence food might not be so bad after all!
The winning mac and cheese was a mushroom and Asiago concoction, created by Jaco Lokker, Director of Food Services and Executive Chef. Inspired by his creation, and always happy to find new ways to snack on mushrooms intended for other purposes, I fiddled around a bit with my own very simple mac and cheese recipe, and came up with this. I’m sure it’s not quite as fabulous as Chef Jaco’s, but I never seem to have leftovers when I make it at home.
Mushroom-Asiago Macaroni and Cheese
For the mushrooms
- 2 TBSP butter
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 12 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced (I use white button or cremini, but have fun with your own favourites)
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
For the cheese sauce
- 3 TBSP butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups liquid (I use a 50:50 mix of milk and water)
- 1 1/2 cups grated Asiago cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
- 12 oz dry pasta, your favourite shape, although macaroni is traditional
- 1/2 Panko or other bread crumbs
- 1/2 or more grated cheddar, for the top
Sauté the mushrooms first. Start by melting the 2 TBSP butter in a pan and frying up the shallots. When they start to brown, add the mushrooms. Let them sauté until they release their liquid, and then until the liquid evaporates again. You don’t want them extremely dry, but they should’t be swimming in mushroom juice either. Stir in the thyme as the mushrooms are cooking. Set aside. Try not to eat. Seriously. Put down the spoon now and step back from the pan.
Now make the cheese sauce. In a medium-sized pot, over medium-low heat, melt the 3 TBSP butter and then stir in the flour. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or whisk. Slowly add the liquid, starting with the milk if you’re using it, stirring or whisking as you go to keep the mixture as consistent as possible. You’re making a roux here, so the first bits of liquid will cause the butter-flour mixture to get very thick very quickly. I like a whisk for this, but use what you are comfortable with.
Continue stirring or whisking until the mixture comes to a simmer. At this point it should have thickened to a nice sauce-like consistency. Turn the heat to low, or even off. Add the salt, and stir in the Asiago cheese, letting it melt into the roux. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Set aside for a while until the pasta is ready.
Boil the pasta according to package directions until it is al dente, or how you like it. Drain, and then mix well with the cheese and mushrooms. Transfer the whole yummy mess to a greased oven-proof casserole dish and sprinkle the Panko and grated cheddar cheese over the top.
Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes, until the top looks yummy and golden.
Serve with salad, because a plate of spinach makes you feel less bad about eating this much delicious cheese.