Although Shane and I have a go-to macaroni and cheese recipe, I couldn't help but try this variation which Michelle shared over on Brown Eyed Baker a few months ago. The recipe is similar to our favorite, but even more interesting because it adds mushrooms, shallots and herbs - three things I absolutely love, especially when they're combined in one dish! Annie also tried the recipe and posted it just a few weeks ago, reminding me that I still hadn't gotten around to making it yet, and since she also raved about it, I knew I needed to get on it. As luck would have it, Shane was heading out of town for the weekend and since he doesn't like mushrooms or shallots it was the perfect opportunity to make this dish. I whipped it up ahead of time and had enough leftovers to feed me all weekend, which freed up the time I would otherwise have spent cooking dinner so I could bake :)
Not surprisingly, I loved the macaroni and cheese! I rarely eat cheese and I hadn't tried Gruyere prior to using it to make our go-to recipe for the first time. Now, I can't believe I was missing out for so long - it's such a fantastically nutty, creamy cheese and it works beautifully in this dish. The mushrooms were a wonderful addition to the macaroni and cheese - one I wish I'd thought of before - and the quantity was right on. As Annie noted, it will seem like a lot of mushrooms when you cut them up, but they cook down quite a bit so don't be concerned. Ever since I made homemade macaroni and cheese for the first time, I've mostly given up the boxed variety and with so many variations out there to try, I imagine that won't change anytime soon!
Mushroom Herb Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Annie's Eats
1 pound (16 oz) elbow macaroni (or other small pasta)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups whole milk
6 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
6 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400 F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside. Add the pasta to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander then return to the pot.
While the pasta is cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated from the pan, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more, just until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and season the mushroom mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the vinegar and then set the pan aside.
To make the sauce, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is golden, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the herbs and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the milk to the pan and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens. Once thickened, remove from the heat and add the shredded Gruyere and cheddar cheeses, whisking until they are completely melted and the sauce is smooth.
Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to coat. Add the mushroom mixture and mix to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking pan.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour the butter over the breadcrumbs and use a fork to coat the crumbs evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the pasta.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.