Beer-cheese soup is one of our go-to comfort foods. So, we thought, why not combine that concept with one of our other favorite comfort foods, mac-and-cheese? For this gooey, insanely flavorful version, we started with a classic roux then added not one, but two, secret ingredients: hidden onions and beer.
One of Emily’s favorite cooking tricks is microplaning an onion. It adds a ton of flavor to a savory dish without turning off those few crazies who think they don’t like onions. It’s also a perfect application for this seemingly old-school creamy mac-and-cheese. For beer, we looked to the team at Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence, KS, for inspiration. They recently won the gold medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, in the Herb and Spice Beer category (for the amazing Garden Party), but we love to cook with their Wheat State Golden. Brewed like a traditional Kolsch, this light yet flavorful beer melds perfectly with the cheeses in the sauce and is the ideal beverage to serve alongside the finished product. If you don’t get Wheat State Golden in your area, use your favorite wheat or kolsch-style beer.
We finished with two kinds of cheese: sharp cheddar and parmesan. And, of course, enjoyed it with more beer.
Mac and Beer-Cheese
1 pound cavatappi or elbow pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons pureed or microplaned white onion
1 cup whole milk
1 cup beer
1 8-ounce block sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. Add the pasta, and cook until it’s just under al dente. Strain the pasta then toss it with a little olive oil so the noodles don’t stick and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Add the butter to the same pot over medium-low heat. Melt the butter, then begin whisking in the flour one tablespoon at a time. Once the flour and butter are well incorporated, whisk continuously for 1 to 2 more minutes, then whisk in the onions. Once you begin to smell the onions, add the milk and whisk. When it’s warm (but not scalding), add the beer and whisk. Begin adding the cheddar cheese, one cup at a time. Stir or whisk continuously until each cup is melted before adding another. Finish with the parmesan cheese, then add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Continue to stir or whisk the mixture over medium-low heat until the sauce becomes thick enough to coat the spatula or a noodle when dipped in. Add the noodles to a lightly greased or buttered baking dish, cover with the sauce and stir well to ensure the pasta is well-coated.
Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until the mac and cheese is bubbly and golden brown on top. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before eating, and definitely serve with more beer.