Recently, some of my family members on my father’s side came home to visit from Pittsburgh for a few days. While they were here my parents and I wanted to have them over the house for a bite to eat and to catch up over a few drinks. I wanted one of the dishes to be very special for my Aunt, so I sat down to brainstorm until it hit me… Nanny’s baked Italian macaroni and cheese. This dish gives regular macaroni and cheese a run for it’s money. If you’re into red sauce and Italian food made with love just like your grandparents used to make, you’ll adore this dish! This is the kind of thing that confuses your taste buds when you take your first mouthful! You’ll say to yourself.. Is it mac and cheese? Is it lasagna? Is it baked ziti? It is all of those flavors in one Diamonds! This baked macaroni is awesome and will win over anyones heart that you make it for.
My nanny started making this dish for my father when he was a young boy because he wasn’t crazy about just plain old macaroni and cheese. He wanted dimension to it so her thought was to mix in red sauce and it has been a hit ever since. Unfortunately, she has been gone for years and years now, but my Aunts and I plan on keeping the dish alive just as much as she did when she was here with us.
Let me show you Diamonds how I created my Nanny’s Italian macaroni and cheese.
Of course we’re going to begin by making a simple roux. A roux consists of equal parts fat and flour.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pot over medium-low heat.
- When the butter is fully melted, whisk in the exact same amount of flour.
- When your roux turns into the consistency of a thick paste and becomes bubbly, continue to whisk on low for just a minute or two until the flour taste gets cooked out.
- To the roux, add 3 3/4 cups of milk. You can use whole or 2% depending on your preference. Then add in 1/2 block of whole fat cream cheese, 1/2 pound of cubed American cheese, and 1/2 cup of white cheddar cheese, as well as a handful of finely grated parmesan cheese.
- Season with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, garlic and onion powder, dried oregano, and whisk vigorously until fully combined. Let the cheese sauce continue to thicken over low heat on a gently simmer.
- While the cheese sauce is coming together, boil the noodles of your choice and strain out the water when they’ve reached “al dente”. I chose pasta rings because I figured it would be a cute little change up from the average elbow noodle we usually enjoy while indulging in macaroni and cheese.
- In a mixing bowl, combine a 12 ounce can of red sauce with a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese, sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, garlic and onion powder, along with a pinch of sugar to taste. The sweeter you like your sauce the more sugar you can add. Everyone likes it different!
- Dump all of your cooked pasta into the thick and creamy cheese sauce. Add in one last little chunk of cream cheese to get everything extra gooey and gorgeous looking before layering it all into a casserole dish!
- Finish with lots and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Black pepper just makes both white sauces and cheese sauces absolutely perfect.
- Spoon some of the red sauce onto the bottom of a 9 by 12 casserole dish.
- Then layer your marvelous macaroni and cheese on top of the red sauce.
- Keep layering between the sauce and macaroni mixture.
- Then sprinkle the top with some shredded mozzarella cheese and the rest of the bag of the white cheddar you used earlier.
Cover the top with foil and bake on 375 degrees for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes until the top begins to get golden brown.
- I don’t prefer it when people over brown the cheese on top of pasta bakes or casseroles because the cheese tends to lose it’s stringiness.. which is honestly my favorite part!
WOW Diamonds! Look how mouthwatering that serving looks between the creaminess on the inside, and the blanket of cheese that’s sitting on top!! UNREAL! I think sometimes there’s this misconception that Italian cooking is crazy difficult, but most of the time that’s a lot further from the truth than you think. Most of the meals and even snacks my grandparents made were simple, but they knew just had to do it so right that nothing else would compare!
Top this bountiful bed of cheese off with some more oregano and fresh parsley, and you have truly got yourself one of the greatest pasta dishes of all time! Its easy, yet it tastes so lux you wouldn’t believe you could have been making this all your life.