When you’re staring at a 3/4-full bag of pretzels in the pantry that needs to get eaten ASAP before it goes bad, you get creative. I had the pretzels from a previous recipe, but only used a handful out of the big bag. So I was left staring at the residual pretzels that weren’t far form going stale, wondering how to use them up. I could bake with them, sure. But then I began pondering if I could find a savory dish to make with them instead.
Instantly, I thought of a good cheesy mac & cheese with its crispy breadcrumb topping. How easily could those breadcrumbs be replaced with pretzels? Too easily, it seemed. Pretzel-Topped Mac & Cheese was just begging to be made. So made it I did.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my instincts were telling me that this would be a winning combination. The pretzels would be a perfect swap for boring breadcrumbs. I suppose people aren’t kidding around when they tell you to trust your instincts because mine were right on point. This mac was out of this world.
Pretzels are the perfect topping for mac & cheese. Their crispy-crunchy texture perfectly contrasts the tender pasta and creamy sauce. Plus, the pretzels lend their signature salty goodness, giving the mac another level of flavor. These guys are like long lost lovers. They were always meant to be together, a match made in heaven. Finally, the lovers have been united, and a delectable romance has been born.
I picked a nice sharp cheddar cheese and mild but distinct muenster. The combination is delicious, and a perfect pairing with the pretzels. The cheeses melt fantastically to yield a rich and creamy sauce. I made sure to use plenty of cheese in the sauce, even adding an extra sprinkle on top, so this mac ain’t lackin’ in cheesy flavor. Plus, the whole sauce gets another flavor boost from my secret mac & cheese ingredient: hot sauce. There’s only a touch, so it’s not overwhelming. It’s just a little kick for this comforting, creamy, gooey, cheesy dish.
Ready to make a break from bland breadcrumb-topped mac & cheese? Then try this pretzel twist instead.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- Do your macs often come out dry? It’s probably because you overbaked.
- Make sure your pasta is al dente or it will be limp and soggy after you bake it.
- Use the best-quality cheese you can get. It makes a big difference. It’s also important to use freshly grated cheese because pre-shredded doesn’t melt as well.
- Worried about the hot sauce? Don’t be. I actually don’t even like hot sauce, but I love it in my mac & cheeses to give it that great flavor kick.
- You only need to lightly salt the sauce because the pretzels are very salty.
Pretzel Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook
- 1 lb. cavatappi or penne, preferably whole grain
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 a small yellow onion, finely chopped or grated
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 3 cups milk
- 2 1/2 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded muenster cheese
- 1 tsp. hot sauce (I used Frank’s)
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. butter, melted
- 1 cup pretzel twists, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan oven medium heat. Add the onions and saute until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the flour, making sure it’s free of lumps. Let cook for a minute, continuing to whisk. Whisk in the milk. When it is free of lumps, cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
- Whisk in the salt, hot sauce, and 3/4 of the cheeses, reserving the remaining quarter for the topping. When sauce is smooth and cheese is melted, remove from heat and stir in pasta until well-coated. Pour into the casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
- In a small bowl, combine the melted butter and chopped pretzels. Sprinkle evenly over mac and cheese. Cover and bake for 10 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.