Rule One: The Cheese Trifecta
I'm a big believer that you need three distinct cheeses in order to really get a full-flavored sauce. Generally, you want a soft/semi-soft for gooey melting, a semi-hard for flavor and body, and a hard for even more flavor and saltiness. Of course, depending on the cheese you pick, those properties (especially flavor) may shift around. Because of this, I recommend you make sure to have at least 2 of your 3 cheese be bold flavors, if not pungent. That's right- I'm encouraging a stinky cheese. Why? Because the flavor mellows to create a wonderfully tangy cheese sauce. Stinky cheeses also tend to fall into our soft and therefore melty category, so you'll have a luscious and flavorful cheese sauce.
Rule Two: Grated Cheese is Great
If you plan on making your own cheese sauce for anything, step away from the pre-shredded cheese bags. Please, I beg of you. Do you know why grated cheese stays unclumped? Because it's tossed in a cornstarch solution, and while that may result in a thicken up sauce, it also results in a grainy sauce. Gross. So- grate your own cheese just before using and rejoice in your silky smooth sauce!
Rule Three: Find Your Sauce to Noodle Ratio
I am in the camp that likes my mac and cheese to be overly-sauced....almost a mac and cheese soup, if you will. However, there are some that prefer only a light coating of cheese on their mac, resulting in a tight mac that you could almost slice out of a pan. In my opinion, those people are wrong and don't deserve mac and cheese....but to each his own, I suppose. So, regardless of which end of the spectrum you find yourself on, be sure to prepare your mac and cheese recipe ratio intelligently: more mac= less saucy, less mac= more saucy. If you prepare the recipe I'm going to share with you today and complain that it was "too saucy", I'm going to assume you're an idiot and couldn't figure out that you could just add more pasta to achieve your desired ratio. Sorry for the tough love.
So there you have it. Pretty easy stuff, and I think these rules are applicable not only to mac and cheese, but any time you prepare a cheese sauce.
Now on to the recipe! The following sauce recipe makes for an absolutely divine mac and cheese, though the flavor may be a bit strong for young palates. You could also use this sauce to dress up vegetables, or even transform it into the base for a good broccoli cheese soup!
Gnocchi Mac and Cheese (inspired by Gimme Some Oven recipe)
- 2 pounds gnocchi, store bought or homemade*
- 3 TB cornstarch
- 1 cup chicken stock, room temperature
- 2 TB butter
- 5 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup whole milk, warmed
- 1 1/4 cup fresh grated, good quality soft ("cook's") fontina
- 1 cup fresh grated, good quality sharp cheddar
- 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan
- 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp each salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp - 1/2 tsp each cayenne, dry mustard, nutmeg
- Fresh basil
Cook gnocchi according to package or recipe directions. Be sure to salt the cooking water in order to add a bit more flavor to the gnocchi. Drain and set aside.
In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, saute garlic with butter until softened. Whisk together cornstarch and room temperature stock, then add to pot. Whisk in warmed milk and bring the mixture to a low boil, whisking frequently.
Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in freshly grated cheeses, a handful at a time. Add seasonings and taste, adjusting to personal preference. Stir in a bit of chopped fresh basil if desired.
Add gnocchi to cheese sauce and stir gently to evenly coat. Serve immediately.
*If you make your own gnocchi, be sure to cook the potatoes "dry"- i.e. in the oven or microwave like a baked potato. Overly moist potatoes (those boiled in water) will yield dense, gummy gnocchi.