Pesto Macaroni and Cheese

by Bianca of Food and Pictures

Wisconsin Pesto Macaroni and Cheese4

I like cheese. Everyone likes cheese. I suppose that’s a relatively broad statement, but almost everyone loves cheese. But that statement branches into many questions. What kind of cheese? Melted? Marbled? Baked? Fried? There are one thousand and one ways to enjoy cheese and equally as many varieties. One of the best ways to enjoy cheese – in my opinion – is in its simplest form: on a cracker with a thick slice of Wisconsin Cheddar.

But that’s for the lazy, “I don’t want to move, yet I want to eat” type of days. For the days when I feel like surrendering to the process of cooking, there is macaroni and cheese.

Wisconsin Pesto Macaroni and Cheese2

Now American cheese has its place – in a dorm somewhere, where the mac and cheese is eaten straight out the pot – but I like my macaroni and cheese a little classier, baked with sharp Wisconsin Cheddar, Parmesan and pesto with a crispy panko-Cheddar crust.

As a single girl I think about date meals all the time; and there is nothing that says, “Hey, I like you,” more than homemade macaroni and cheese; however, I cannot and will not claim this to be “engagement” macaroni and cheese – maybe when paired with engagement chicken; but that’s just a maybe. I digress. A crispy browned top, that when penetrated leads to a world of oooey gooey cheesy pesto-y wonderfulness, will at the very least buy you a second date – the proposal is up to you.

Wisconsin Pesto Macaroni and Cheese3

Now I will be the first to admit that macaroni and cheese with a pesto twist is prep heavy. There will be pots, food processors, oven-safe dishes and the like; but upon taking the first bite, the pile of dishes that awaits you will, momentarily, be miles away. You will be lost in the savory goodness of this dish. This I promise you. If I were a betting woman, my money would be on pesto macaroni and cheese. What are we playing for? I don’t know, but I just want to reinforce how amazing this is. The very first time I made this, my six-foot-one male friend squealed like a thirteen-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Yeah, that’s how good this is. I could wax poetic about how delicious this macaroni cheese is and how it will transport you; but you need these precious moments for prep. What are you waiting for? Get cooking!

Pesto Macaroni & Cheese

by Bianca of Food and Pictures

Serves 4

Pesto
2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Wisconsin Parmesan
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

Macaroni & Cheese
1 stick butter
6 tablespoons flour
5 cups milk
1 lb. grated Wisconsin Cheddar
1 cup pesto
1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked in boiling salted water

Topping
1/2 stick of butter
2 cups panko breading
3/4 lb. coarsely grated Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar

In a food processor add basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and garlic. Pulse 4 times. Scrape down sides, turn on and slowly add the olive and blend until smooth. Check and adjust seasonings.

Melt butter, stir in panko and Cheddar cheese and combine well. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan, stir in flour and cook 3 minutes. Whisk in milk and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Simmer and whisk occasionally. Stir in Cheddar cheese, pesto, salt and pepper until smooth. Remove from heat and cover to avoid a skin forming.

Mix macaroni and sauce until evenly combined. Place in a shallow dish and cover evenly with topping. Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown and bubbling, approximately 20-25 minutes.

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