Creamy Gouda cheese, caramelized onions, and fun shell pasta are baked to golden perfection with breadcrumbs on top. This smoked Gouda mac and cheese recipe will be your new go-to side dish–it's a crowd-pleaser!
THIS COMFORT FOOD perfection will be the most popular dish on the table. I’m stating facts here, people!
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese, and when it's mixed with smoked gouda and caramelized onions—those melty, savory-sweet gems—I defy you to resist.
The smoked gouda cheese is borderline overkill for decadence, but it pairs perfectly with the sweet onions in the creamy béchamel sauce pooled inside the shell pasta.
Sure you can share smoked mac n' cheese this as a side dish, but I won’t tell if you decide to keep it to yourself.
This mac and cheese would be great served with my Slow Cooker Turkey Meatloaf!
Shell Gouda Mac and Cheese
Shell pasta is heavenly for this mac and cheese. The little pasta cups hold just the right amount of cheesy, caramelized onion goodness.
Choosing a pasta shape for mac and cheese can be an art! Well, for me it's really choosing the best vehicle for cheese sauce.
Shells lend themselves to mac and cheese by holding sauce right inside their little, natural cups. Since this gouda mac and cheese also has caramelized onions, it's nice to have a pasta shape that can hold those bits in a bite instead of having the sauce slide right off.
Can you use a different shaped pasta? Of course! Don't let the pasta shape hold you back from making this.
I've used penne, rigatoni, and even classic macaroni in this smoked gouda mac n cheese.
Why Smoked Gouda for Mac and Cheese?
I often love a mac and cheese with added bacon. The bacon adds a naturally smoky flavor you just melt over!
Here I have chosen smoked gouda cheese, with a similar smoky luxuriousness, to add that rich flavor without the meat, or the step of cooking bacon!
Using smoked cheese allows me to get the delicious flavor of a smoked meat, but keep this dish vegetarian.
I've mixed two cheeses in this shell mac and cheese because straight smoked Gouda could get very overpowering. A bit of Monterey Jack cheese adds a melty, smooth and silky texture and mild cheese flavor to the dish, without competing with the Gouda.
Caramelized Onions In Mac and Cheese
Oh boy! Caramelized onions are so good in savory mac and cheese.
Cooking onions slowly allows the sugars inside to caramelize, creating a very sweet condiment.
Adding this bit of sweet umami flavor to the smoked shells and cheese balances the richness, and makes this dish completely irresistible.
Sure, you could leave them out completely and just make the smoked Gouda cheese sauce, but this extra step is very worth it.
Let me know how it went!
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Steps for Making Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese
1- Start by caramelizing the onions. Heat the oil in a skillet, cook the onions, then add some water.
2- Cover the onions and water to let them cook. This steams the onions and softens them quickly. It cuts down on cooking time, breaking the onions down so you can get to the step of caramelizing faster!
3- Cook the onions slowly until they become dark golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
4- In a separate skillet or pot, make a roux to begin your cheese sauce. Melt butter and add the flour.
5- Add the milk to the cooked roux and whisk until smooth. Then you will add the cheeses and spices. Stir until the cheese is melted. The sauce will start to become thick.
6- Add the cooked shell pasta to the cheese sauce. Also add those caramelized onions you made earlier!
7- Stir the mixture to combine it in the pan while everything is nice and hot.
8- Transfer to a baking dish. This can be a standard 9-by-13, or another 3-quart sized baking dish.
9- Quickly mix together your breadcrumbs and the seasonings. You'll add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil from the recipe here to coat the breadcrumbs. This will help them brown in the oven.
10- Cover the mac and cheese with the seasoned breadcrumbs and then bake the mac and cheese. You want the breadcrumbs to be golden and the cheese sauce to be bubbling underneath.
Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese FAQs
This mac and cheese bakes in the oven so that the pasta and cheese sauce can meld together, but also so the breadcrumbs can toast and brown. Bake mac and cheese at 400ºF for 40 to 45 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, and the cheese sauce is bubbling underneath.
Yes! Please swap the flour in the roux of the cheese sauce for Cup4Cup GF flour. Use GF panko breadcrumbs, and GF pasta. You can use other shapes of pasta, like penne, so if that is your favorite GF pasta, use that.
Cup4Cup is my favorite gluten free all-purpose flour, and works well for this cheese sauce.
What to Serve with Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese
Serve this yummy shell mac and cheese alongside great main dishes or any BBQ recipes:
- Dang Delicious Slow Cooker Brisket Sandwiches
- 3 Ingredient Classic Ribs
- North Carolina Pulled Pork
- 4th of July Food Favorites
Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese
- 1 medium yellow onion finely diced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- ¼ cup water
- 1 16-ounce box medium shell pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk warmed
- 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 7 ounces smoked Gouda cheese shredded (3 cups)
- 11 ounces Monterey Jack cheese shredded (4 cups)
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté 1 minute. Add water and cover pan with a lid. Cook 5 minutes. Remove lid, reduce heat to medium, and cook onions, stirring frequently, until caramelized and dark golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 400℉. Cook pasta in very salty water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- In the pasta pot or a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in the flour and stir until the mixture is light brown and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the warm milk, whisking constantly. When all the milk has been added, bring to a simmer before stirring in salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and shredded cheeses. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened and cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add caramelized onion and cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and toss to coat. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch pan or 3-quart casserole dish.
- In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, thyme, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.
- Top mac and cheese with breadcrumb mixture and bake until top has turned golden brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
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About Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes & food-styling for magazines, books, television & advertising. Order my new cookbook & stick around for amazing things to eat.
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