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Meet your new favorite mac ‘n’ cheese recipe

Smoked Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese
Smoked Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Mac ’n’ cheese just might be the ultimate comfort food: You have a gooey dish of pasta, creamy cheese and a crunchy topping that usually includes more cheese. And though we all have our favorite recipe (some of us have more than one), this is one dish that can always use a little tweaking just to make it even more perfect.

If you’re a smoked Gouda cheese fan, you’ll love this variation. The recipe uses homemade processed cheese (yes, “American cheese,” which has that silky texture and perfect ooze when it melts), which is pretty easy to make, using grated smoked Gouda. Most mac ’n’ cheese recipes call for melting cheese in a roux-based sauce, and while a roux helps keep the cheese from separating as it cooks, the flour also clouds the pure cheese flavor. Because you don’t add roux to this recipe, the cheese flavor is richer and more pronounced. Cheesy in all the right ways.

SMOKED GOUDA MAC ‘N’ CHEESE

Total time: 1 hour | Serves 4 to 6

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1/2 pound dry macaroni or similar pasta

5 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 chopped onion

3/4 cup hard cider

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1 batch (13 ounces) homemade American cheese, made using smoked Gouda, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes (see related recipe)

1/4 cup milk

3/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste

Freshly ground pepper

2/3 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup finely grated smoked fresh Gouda cheese

1. Boil the pasta to al dente according to the instructions on the packaging. Drain the pasta well and spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet, very lightly oiling the pasta to keep it from sticking. Set aside and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

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3. Stir in the hard cider, scraping to dislodge any flavorings from the base of the pan. Bring the cider to a simmer.

4. Add the cheese, a few cubes at a time, stirring to melt. When the cheese is mostly melted, stir in the milk. Once all of the cheese is melted and the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated to form a sauce, stir in the cooked pasta. Season with the salt and several grinds of black pepper, or to taste.

5. Spoon the pasta and sauce into a 1 1/2- to 2-quart gratin dish.

6. To make the topping, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, then stir in the bread crumbs and grated Gouda cheese until evenly combined, with the bread crumbs lightly coated with butter. Taste and add a pinch of salt, or as desired. Sprinkle the topping over the pasta.

7. Bake the macaroni until the sauce is bubbly along the edges and the topping is crisp and a light golden color, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly before serving.

Each of 6 servings: Calories 491; Protein 18 grams; Carbohydrates 41 grams; Fiber 2 grams; Fat 26 grams; Saturated fat 16 grams; Cholesterol 86 mg; Sugar 4 grams; Sodium 820 mg.

Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter

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