Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-auchool Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
I have two ways of approaching this irresistible and addictive recipe. There isn’t a person on Earth who won’t love this recipe, and when that happens, you need a master plan.
Plan A: Make a batch of this macaroni and cheese and eat it with wild abandon. When finished, put whatever is leftover in the fridge, let it cool and set up overnight and then make the second part of this recipe the next day. Everything tastes better when it sits overnight, especially anything made with pasta. Case in point: This recipe can also be made with leftover lasagna!
Plan B: I have done what I just advised in Plan A and not had enough leftover to make this recipe! If that’s the case in your house too, make the mac and cheese and simply refrigerate it overnight so it cools and firms up. Truth? I have made two batches, served one batch immediately and rolled and fried the other after letting it sit overnight because, I just want to warn you, making macaroni and cheese and then telling everyone they can’t touch it until the next day can be an issue. People get cranky without their mac and cheese.
Alex Guarnaschelli’s Macaroni and Cheese Bites
3 cups elbow macaroni
1 qt. heavy cream
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3½ cups grated gruyère cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tbsp. water
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs, toasted
4 cups frying oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Cook the pasta: In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring the water back to a boil. Taste the water. It should be salty like seawater. If it a little faint in salt taste, add additional salt. Add the macaroni and stir, with a wooden spoon or large slotted spoon, to ensure the macaroni does not stick to the bottom of the pot as it cooks. Cook until the macaroni is still quite firm, 8-10 minutes.
3. Pour the macaroni and water into a strainer placed over the sink. Allow the water to drain out, reserving approximately 1 cup of the liquid.
4. Make the cheese sauce: In the same pot, bring the cream and the reserved cooking liquid to a simmer. Add the Dijon mustard and 3 cups gruyère. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently; stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted and has integrates with the cream. Add the parmesan and cheddar. Stir with a wooden spoon and simmer again until smooth. Add a splash of Worcestershire and a splash of hot sauce. Stir to blend. Taste for seasoning. Keep warm.
5. Add the macaroni to the cream and stir gently to blend. Allow the macaroni to rest on the stove, 5-10 minutes, so the pasta absorbs the flavors. If needed, add the remaining ½ cup gruyère. Transfer the macaroni to an 9×13-in. ovenproof baking dish and bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes to allow the flavor to come together.
6. Refrigerate the macaroni and cheese overnight. When cooled, cut into small wedges and, if desired, roll each one in your hands gently like a meatball until it is rounded.
7. Combine the flour and cayenne in one bowl, the eggs, water and a pinch salt in another and the breadcrumbs in another. Roll each ball in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Shake any excess off each one. Arrange them on a baking sheet fitted with parchment. Refrigerate.
8. Heat frying oil in a large pot to 375°. Test the oil by dropping in one mac and cheese ball. It should begin the bubble and fry gradually. Prepare a baking sheet fitted with a kitchen towel and a slotted spoon. Drop a few balls into the oil and fry until they are light to medium brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove them with the slotted spoon and lay them out on the kitchen towel to cool. Sprinkle immediately with salt. Repeat. Devour.
When I serve these mac and cheese bites to friends or family, I also make an optional tasty bed for them to sit on.
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup fine breadcrumbs, toasted
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 small bunch chives, minced
Make the mix: In a medium bowl, mix the olive oil and breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt. Stir in the cheese and some of the chives. It should be like slightly wet sand. Spoon the breadcrumbs on a serving tray, arrange the mac and cheese bites on top in a single layer and top with the remaining chives.
A tip about storage: I love having a few extras hanging out in the freezer for times when friends come over or when I don’t feel like cooking. Yes: chefs sometimes don’t feel like cooking either! These keep well-breaded and ready to fry. Just make sure you wrap them tightly and keep in a sealed bag. Anything with dairy or pasta can more easily absorb other aromas in the freezer