The Coterie Room's Sweet Onion Mac and Cheese

The Coterie Room's Sweet Onion Mac and Cheese

Sweet Onion Mac and Cheese [Photograph: Steve Legato]

While I am almost always partial to baked macaroni and cheese, I sometimes lust after my childhood Velveeta-based concoctions. In Mac & Cheese, Ellen Brown adapts The Coterie Room's Sweet Onion Mac and Cheese to satisfy that craving. This is a recipe for sauce-lovers, but it's no Velveeta shells and cheese.

The sauce is based on soubise, a fancy French word for creamy onion sauce; onions are caramelized, pureed, and then stirred into a luscious cheese sauce with a lusty trio of fontina, Parmesan, and cheddar. A sprinkling of crisp fried shallots tops this decadent dish; they may seem to guild the lily, but their textural contrast is welcome amongst all of the creaminess.

Why I picked this recipe: Caramelized onions and fried shallots made this creamy mac irresistible.

What worked: Once again, I had no problems following the recipe as written, and I may just incorporate caramelized onion puree into all of my cheese sauces from now on.

What didn't: I found the sauce a little thick, and I found 5 minutes to be plenty of simmering time (instead of 10). Next time, I'd go down on the flour a bit (perhaps dropping it to 3 tablespoons or 1/4 cup instead of a full 1/3 cup).

Suggested tweaks: I'd like some more herbs in here for a bright contrast to all of the dairy, but otherwise there's not much here to tweak.

Reprinted with permission from Mac & Cheese by Ellen Brown. Copyright 2012. Published by Running Press. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.

  • Yield:serves 4 to 6
  • Active time: 45 minutes
  • Total time:1 hour


  • 1/2 pound orecchiette
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup canola oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Maui, diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 2 ounces fontina, grated
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup rice flour (substitute cornstarch)
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley


  1. 1.

    Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, run it under cold water, and return it to the pot. Toss the pasta with the olive oil.

  2. 2.

    Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and toss to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook the onion for 5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, sprinkle the onion with salt and pepper, and cook, uncovered, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the onion is golden brow. Puree the onion in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender, and set aside.

  3. 3.

    Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, or until the mixture turns slightly beige, is bubbly, and appears to have grown in volume. Increase the heat to medium, and slowly whisk in the warm milk. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until it thickens.

  4. 4.

    Add the cheese to the sauce by 1/2-cup measures, stirring until the cheese melts before making another addition. Stir in the onion puree, and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. 5.

    While the sauce simmers, heat the remaining canola oil in a small saucepan to a temperature of 350 degrees. Coat the shallot slices with the rice flour, shaking off any excess. Fry the shallot slices for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the shallots from the oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.

  6. 6.

    To serve, stir the sauce, chives, and parsley into the pasta. Cook over low heat until the pasta is hot and coated with the sauce. Serve immediately, garnishing each serving with some of the fried shallots.