Since the early years of my blog, during the holiday season I have tried to share not only some tried and true holiday favorites (like my go-to Peanut Butter Fudge recipe or our favorite Green Bean Salad), but recipes or ideas to use up all those holiday leftovers. You see, it is a huge pet peeve of mine letting food go to waste but I am like many, and often get board with eating plain leftovers. Transforming holiday leftovers into a new and revamped dish may take a little creativity, but the end result is a tasty meal all will love.
After years of blogging, I quickly realized that I needed to not only apply that approach to holiday leftovers, but to leftovers in general. There are so many common uses for leftover rotisserie chicken or rice, but what about all those ingredients. You know when you have just a little bit left in the jelly jar or have to buy an entire can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and only need two for those Smokey Turkey Enchiladas.
To be honest, I’ve become quite the fanatic about not letting ingredients go to waste. I keep a list on my fridge and wall of my pantry with all of the half used ingredients buried within. I use this list to help me as I prepare my meal plan for the week and for those nights when meal planning goes out the window and I need a super fast dinner (like during this busy time of year!).
A few ingredients that constantly make my list are a variety of cheeses and pepperoni. You see we love to have pizza night a few times a month or whip up individual English muffin pizzas for a quick lunch, but then we get tired of pizza and all those ingredients just sit in the fridge.
On a recent night, when I hadn’t been to the store in a few days and we were hungry for dinner, I checked my list and threw together this mac ‘n cheese. Mac ‘n cheese is such a classic and great on it’s own, but it is also a fantastic dish that can be adapted and personalized based on what cheese and mix-ins you have on hand. For this version, I used white cheddar cheese and created a crispy pepperoni topping by sauteing some leftover Hormel Pepperoni Minis with some crunchy Panko bread crumbs. Mini pepperoni is perfect for pasta dishes since it makes it easier to eat with the pasta. Crisping it up takes the flavor and texture up a notch making a delicious, hearty, mac ‘n cheese you can enjoy all winter long!
Crispy Pepperoni Topping:
1-2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup original Hormel Pepperoni Minis
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
White Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese:
½ pound macaroni, shell or cavatappi pasta (or small pasta of choice)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 cup half and half cream
½ tablespoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper, or to taste
1 ½ cups freshly grated white cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using ½ to 1 tablespoon butter generously butter an 8×8-inch baking dish. Set aside.
To make crispy pepperoni topping, melt ½ tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pepperoni and cook until crispy, about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon transfer half of the pepperoni to a paper towel lined plate and set aside to stir into prepared pasta. Add bread crumbs to remaining pepperoni in skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bread crumbs are golden brown and crispy, adding additional butter if needed. Set pepperoni and bread crumb mixture aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add desired pasta and cook according to package directions, just until tender. Drain cooked pasta in a colander and return to pot.
To make cheese sauce, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once completely melted whisk in flour, whisking for 1 minute or until well combined. Gradually whisk in milk, half and half, and mustard. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, whisking occasionally, or until sauce has thickened. Whisk in grated cheese, whisking until completely melted. If sauce becomes too think, add additional milk, if needed. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Pour prepared cheese sauce over cooked and drained pasta. Add the reserved ¼ cup of cooked pepperoni minis, stir to combine.
Pour macaroni and cheese into prepared baking dish. Top with crispy pepperoni and bread crumb topping.
Bake in preheated 375 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Whether you have leftover pepperoni or not, this mac and cheese is great family friendly meal! No leftover pepperoni on hand? Grab this $1.00 off the purchase of any two (2) HORMEL® Pepperoni packages and head to your favorite store to grab everything you need. For more information about Hormel Pepperoni, including great recipes that go beyond the pizza box, follow HORMEL® on Twitter and Facebook.