Creamy Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese

IMG_4242Mac and cheese inspired by Panera. Actually, it’s inspired by Pinterest since I’ve never even had Panera’s mac and cheese. When I do indulge in mac and cheese, I tend to prefer it to come from my kitchen and to be of the baked variety. I am a sucker for those crispy ever-so-slightly burnt edges. That said, I’ve been (always am…) craving Panera’s lethally delicious Broccoli Cheddar Soup, so I decided to meld the two. So, while I can’t say that I know this to be an exact replica of Panera’s popular mac & cheese, it was yummy, easy, and decadent, and the original recipe is said to come from Panera itself. AND, it included one of my very favorite, and very under-rated cheeses, the American Cheese, white, thinly sliced from the deli. Yum.

Creamy Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Just the Tip / Inspired by Panera via Smells Like Home

What I used:

  • 1 pound short-cut pasta (I used whole-wheat shells)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole-wheat flour)
  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 4 oz white American cheese, chopped
  • 8 oz shredded extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (I used chalula)
  • 3 cups small broccoli florets

What I did:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Let the butter sizzle a bit and sprinkle in the flour while whisking. Let cook for a minute or two, whisking pretty consistently. While the flour cooks, heat the milk in the microwave for a minute or so. Slowly pour the milk into the flour mixture while whisking. Once thoroughly incorporated, let the milk mixture cook until thickened, about 8 minutes.
  3. Cook the pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water. With 4-5 minutes remaining on the pasta, add the broccoli to the pasta water and cook together.
  4. After 8 minutes, add the cheese, salt, dijon, and hot sauce to the milk mixture. Incorporate thoroughly, and add the drained pasta and broccoli.

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