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My friends do a weekly dinner with themes and this week was a Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off.  Apparently this is actually a thing!  We had Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon & Chives, Macaroni and Cheese with Brussels Sprouts & Bacon, this Roasted Fennel & Rosemary Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and of course the classic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

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I adapted this recipe from Verses from my Kitchen for the macaroni and cheese and used this recipe for Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip from Sprouted Kitchen for the roasted fennel & rosemary.  I have to say, the fennel was the hero here!  It added a subtle sweetness and a nice crunch.  Be sure and try the Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip, it was delicious!!

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This was my first experience making homemade macaroni and cheese and although it was successful, the most difficult part was adjusting the recipe for a full bag of macaroni (16 oz).  I had purchased just enough heavy cream for the recipe, so I don’t think it was as creamy as it should’ve been.  If you want better accuracy, you can follow the recipe from Verses from my Kitchen, though I would also reduce the amount of roasted fennel that you add.

Ingredients

    • 1 large fennel bulb, fronds reserved
    • 3-4 cloves garlic, skins on
    • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 tsp rosemary leaves
    • 16 ounce bag of macaroni
    • 4 Tbs butter
    • 1/3 cup flour + 2 Tbs
    • 4 cups whole milk
    • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
    • 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
    • 2 cups aged white cheddar cheese
    • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 2/3 cup bread crumbs (topping)
    • 4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese (topping)
    • 1.5 Tbs butter (topping)

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Roughly dice the fennel.  In a small bowl mix the fennel with 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread onto the prepared parchment paper. Add the garlic with skins in the corner and douse with the remaining olive oil.
    3. Roast for 15 minutes and then toss the fennel.  Decrease the oven to 350º F and continue to roast for an additional 12 minutes or until golden. Transfer the fennel to a bowl and set aside the garlic.
    4. Dice the fennel fronds.  Loosely mix the fennel fronds and rosemary in the remaining oil on the parchment paper.  Roast for 3 minutes.
    5. Butter two medium or one large casserole dish.
    6. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup liquid, drain and transfer to a large bowl.  While preparing the cheese, if the macaroni starts to stick add just enough liquid to loosen it.
    7. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the fennel fronds and rosemary, smash the garlic and add until well combined.  Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking continuously.  Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking continuously until smooth.    Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to build up on the spoon, about 8 minutes.  Incorporate the three cheeses until smooth.
    8. Mix the cheese mixture with the macaroni until fully combined.  Chop the fennel into small pieces.  Add the roasted fennel.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    9. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the prepared dishes.
    10. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until well combined.  Sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese.
    11. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Sprinkle with fresh fennel fronds if desired.

Note: 

    1. These directions are based on my style of cooking, but if desired I encourage you to study the original recipes and see if their style works better for you.
    2. The roasted garlic easily over browns and burns.  Remove early if necessary.
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