Caramelized Leek and Onion Mac Cheese
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-7
  • ½ large sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 1 leek, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 3 oz chopped ham
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk (skim is fine)
  • 2 tsp chicken Better than Bouillon
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp Hungary Sweet Paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2.5 - 3 cups loosely packed shredded cheeses, recommend Irish Cheddar and Parmesan.
  • ⅔ lb elbow macaroni pasta
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Heat large skillet over medium high heat and melt 2 tbsp of butter or olive oil.
  2. Add onions and leeks. Saute to cover with fat. Add ¼ cup water, cover and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally. Allow 1 - 1.5 hours of cook time for full caramelization.
  3. After completing mise en place, heat ~4 quart vessel of your choice on medium heat and melt butter. Add flour and all herbs and spices. Whisk continually until roux is the color of your choice. Recommend light brown.
  4. Add water, milk, bouillon. Simmer 5 min, add all cheeses and ham. Simmer until thickened and keep warm.
  5. After leeks and onions have been cooking over medium heat for 30 min, turn heat to medium low and keep cooking (covered) until caramelized, for another 30 min - 1 hour.
  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until 1 minute before done, then drain well. Saute breadcrumbs in 2 tbsp olive oil until light golden brown.
  7. After leeks and onions are sufficiently caramelized, add garlic and cook another minute. Add leeks and onions into cheese sauce. Add pasta and stir well. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Place macaroni and cheese into baking dish of your choice, smooth the top, top with slices of tomato then panko breadcrumbs.
  9. When ready to serve, bake at 350 F for 30 min, or until sauce bubbles and crumbs are golden brown.


I don’t like macaroni and cheese dishes that consist mostly of cheese. I think dishes like “Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese” and “Delilah’s 7 Cheese Mac and Cheese” are monotonous, bland, disgusting if taken in more than small amounts, and ultimately boring. Additionally, I don’t believe in using filler cheeses that don’t contribute much flavor, such as Jack cheese; cheeses have to pull their weight.

Using flavorful cheeses in smaller amounts means more room for additional flavors. Since we are not big fans of the creamy (read: slimy) texture of ultra-cheesy recipes, using a combination of chicken broth and skim milk means less fat than the traditional cream-based renditions without sacrificing flavor or texture.

My template recipe for Mac Cheese is as above: 3 tbsp each flour and butter for roux, 3 cups liquid, 3 loose cups cheese, 2/3 lb macaroni, flavorings. This incarnation was very successful, and didn’t suffer from the fact that my carefully wrapped bacon went moldy in the fridge (damn you Wisconsin) and had to be replaced with ham.