When I told the kids I would be cooking macaroni and cheese for dinner, they were expecting the stuff that comes out of the box -- the limp noodles coated in a bright orange sauce that is served on the days when the babysitter makes dinner or when the cupboards and fridge are in need of stocking. It's one of those rare meals where I can avoid hearing, “Ew. I don’t like that!” And there is no fight when I tell them they have to clean their plates. The boxed stuff happens.
I set the hot baking dish on the table while the cheese still bubbled around the edges.
“What is that?” They asked, confused.
“It’s a fancy macaroni and cheese recipe.” I told them. They looked skeptical.
I forget how easy homemade macaroni and cheese is. It can be as simple as grating cheese and adding it to hot pasta with a little milk and butter. Really no more work than the box. But tonight I wanted something a little different. Deeper in flavor with a bit more sophistication.
The kids lapped it up much in the same way they do with the boxed version. The paprika-tinted chorizo colored the pasta in a way that resembled the fluorescent orange cheese powder. Had I used a different type of pasta -- perhaps macaroni pasta instead of orecchiette -- they may have actually been fooled. Although the taste of this homemade version is much richer and complex in flavor. A light bitterness pervades the cheese as the maltiness of the beer mixes throughout. The kids laughed nervously when I told them there was beer in their dinner. I assured them that the part that makes beer for adults was long gone.
Macaroni and cheese is a blank canvas. Change the type of cheese used and the flavor changes dramatically. Roasted vegetables can be tossed in at the end for added nutrition and heft. Tomato paste mixed into the sauce gives it a rich color and a deep flavor. I love adding chopped roasted chiles and peppers for a soft spice, which makes this perfect winter dish even more suited for the cold. It’s also a perfect meal to make well in advance and tuck into the freezer for those days when I’m tempted to reach for the box, I can reach into the freezer instead.
Beer and chorizo macaroni and cheese recipe
Note: I used orecchiette pasta here, but you can use any short pasta you’d like. Also, if you prefer to leave the beer out, just increase the milk to 2 cups. If you want to get brave, try making your own pasta or crafting homemade cheese and really wow the crowd.
- 8 ounces ground chorizo
- 1 pound Orecchiette or macaroni pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup pilsner beer
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups shredded Gruyère cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Butter or spray a 3 to 4 quart baking dish.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta then set aside.
Saute the chorizo in a large skillet until cooked through. Set aside.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.
Whisk in the flour and cook, constantly whisking, 2 minutes, then whisk in the milk, adding it slowly at first. It will clump up initially but keep whisking and warming until a thick sauce forms.
Add the beer and continue to whisk until smooth. Add the nutmeg and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and simmer, whisking occasionally. Add the cheddar and the Gruyère, a handful at a time, and melt each addition before adding the next. Stir in the chorizo and then the pasta.
In the same skillet the chorizo was cooked in, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the bread crumbs and lightly toast, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the pasta and cheese into the prepared baking dish and top with the bread crumbs.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the bread crumbs are toasted.
This can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen until ready to bake.