Baked Macaroni and Cheese – Spanish-Style

This savory and sweet baked macaroni and cheese is like a main course version of the best cheese board ever. A little bit gourmet but still family-friendly, this will take your mac and cheese game to the next level.

Back in the day, when we were childless, unfettered renters, Phil and I watched a lot of Food Network. Especially Chopped. There was one contestant in particular, Madison Cowan, who caught our attention. He had an inspiring story and an unrelentingly positive outlook, but most importantly everything he made on the show looked like something I’d gladly have for my last meal.

At the time, Phil had tracked down his (now defunct) blog, and sent me a link to a baked macaroni and cheese recipe he found there. Luckily that was back when people still printed recipes, and I still have the copy I printed from Google Reader (yes that’s how old it is!). This recipe has been a family favorite for almost 10 years.

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Baked macaroni and cheese in a glass baking dish with a portion scooped out

This is no ordinary mac and cheese. It’s pretty much as gourmet as mac and cheese gets I think, without involving truffles or caviar. But it remains as simple to make as any other mac and cheese recipe and will satisfy ALL your cheesy comfort food cravings.

You know how cheese goes so well with a sweet and fruity condiment? Think baked brie with cranberry or fig jam. Or grapes on a cheese board. This baked macaroni and cheese combines those flavors in a classic main dish instead of in appetizer form, and it really really works.

Instead of the usual cheeses, this one is made with rich and nutty Spanish manchego, along with some salty Parmesan. The sweet and fruity component is a Spanish condiment called membrillo, which is a paste or jelly made of quince. The two together are a magical combination.

That said, if those ingredients are too hard to find/not affordable for you, you can get the same sweet and savory effect with some simple substitutions.

Ingredient substitutions

Manchego

Manchego can be kind of expensive, and also hard to track down, depending where you live. A more economical option would be an aged sharp cheddar. You want a cheese with flavor here, nothing too mild.

Another delicious option that is easier to find than manchego, and has a similar nuttiness, would be Gruyère.

Membrillo

While membrillo can be easily found here, it might be difficult to track down locally. But here again, there are plenty of great alternatives. Any jam, jelly or preserve that is on the tarter side, like cranberry or lingonberry would make a fine substitute. When I made it this time, I actually used this quince jam instead of actual membrillo, and have used cranberry jam many times in the past.

So, how do you make our favorite baked macaroni and cheese? Same process as most other recipes, with one extra easy step that will take it over the top.

Start by sautéeing some onions until they are tender and browned. Then add your quince paste (or substitute), and cook down a bit. Spread the onions evenly at the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Sliced onions in a saute pan, with membrillo, for baked macaroni and cheese Spanish-style

Next, boil some noodles and make your cheese sauce. Start with a simple butter and flour roux (super important to whisk constantly to avoid lumps). Add the milk, continuing to whisk constantly until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken.

Whisk in the grated cheeses. Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni and stir to combine.

steps for making a cheese sauce for baked macaroni and cheese. Flour and butter roux in a saucepan, with milk added, with cheese added, and mixed with macaroni noodles

Next, spread the noodles and cheese sauce over the onions in the baking dish. Sprinkle with additional cheese and a little smoked Spanish paprika.

Macaroni mixed with cheese sauce being spread over onions sauteed with membrillo, and sprinkled with additional cheese and paprika

Bake until golden and bubbly!

Baked macaroni and cheese in a glass baking dish with a portion scooped out

Enjoy! xx

Sound good to you? If you make this baked macaroni and cheese, I would be thrilled if you would take a pic and tag me on Instagram @ourhappymess!

Or pin for later! ↓↓↓

Baked macaroni and cheese in a glass baking dish with a portion scooped out

P.S. If you’re looking for a more traditional baked macaroni and cheese with a ‘lil twist, try my spicy mac and cheese recipe!

And if you’re looking for more easy dinner inspiration, follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Or subscribe in the sidebar on the right to get every new recipe in your inbox 🙂

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Baked macaroni and cheese in a glass baking dish with a portion scooped out
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Baked Macaroni and Cheese - Spanish-Style

This savory and sweet baked macaroni and cheese, is like a main course version of the best cheese board ever. 

Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword manchego mac and cheese, spanish mac and cheese
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 615 kcal
Author Ann

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • splash white wine or water
  • 3/4 cup membrillo or quince or cranberry jam or jelly
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk whole or 2%
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg freshly grated
  • 2 1/2 cups manchego cheese grated (or sharp cheddar or gruyere)
  • 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese grated
  • smoked Spanish Paprika

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

  2. In a saute pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook until soft and browned, about 7 minutes.

  3. Add the membrillo to the onions and stir to coat. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often. Spread the onions evenly in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

  4. Heat a large pot of salted water over high heat. Cook the macaroni until al dente, according to package directions. Drain, return to the pot, and set aside. 

  5. While the macaroni is cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk constantly until smooth for about 1 minute. 

  6. Slowly whisk in the milk and heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble and thicken. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in 2 cups of the manchego and all of the Parmesan, until melted and smooth, reserving 1/2 cup of manchego for the top. 

  7. Pour the cheese sauce into the pot with macaroni and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste.

  8. Spread the macaroni evenly over the onions in the baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and a little paprika. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. 

Recipe Notes

Adapted from Madison Cowan

Nutrition Facts
Baked Macaroni and Cheese - Spanish-Style
Amount Per Serving
Calories 615 Calories from Fat 261
% Daily Value*
Fat 29g45%
Saturated Fat 16g100%
Cholesterol 70mg23%
Sodium 600mg26%
Potassium 294mg8%
Carbohydrates 60g20%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 12g13%
Protein 26g52%
Vitamin A 620IU12%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 722mg72%
Iron 1.2mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.



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