Active Prep: 30 min. Inactive Prep: 5 hrs.
Difficulty: Medium
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Grossing an average of over $10 million per restaurant each year, The Cheesecake Factory continues to ring up more dollars per store than any other chain in the U.S. The fantastic cheesecakes make up a big part of that sales figure, but the chain’s ginormous menu, which appeals to a wide variety of tastes, is what brings customers back over and over again. One of the top-selling items these days is the Fried Macaroni and Cheese appetizer that I discovered could be re-created at home by forming macaroni and cheese into balls, which are then frozen, breaded, and fried to a crispy golden brown. I made a simple formula here for the creamy marinara dipping sauce by adding heavy cream to bottled marinara sauce. I ran some taste tests and concluded that Newman’s Own brand was a close match to the sauce served at the restaurant. Feel free, though, to use any marinara sauce you like. This recipe will make twelve fried macaroni and cheese balls, which is enough to serve as an appetizer for four to six.

4 ounces uncooked cavatappi or twisted elbows pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded medium cheddar cheese
3 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded Fontina cheese
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups panko bread crumbs
6 to 12 cups vegetable oil

1 cup bottled marinara sauce
½ cup heavy cream

Finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Sprig or two of fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Prepare the macaroni by cooking the pasta in 6 cups of boiling water in a medium saucepan over high heat until tender (8 to 10 minutes). Strain the water from the pasta using a colander or large strainer.
  2.  Make the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk, then add the cheeses and salt. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce is smooth with no lumps of cheese. Stir in the pasta. Pour the mixture into a rectangular baking dish, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. When the macaroni and cheese is cold, slice it into 12 pieces with a knife (4 rows down and 3 across). Use your hands to remove each section, form it into a ball, and arrange each of the balls on wax paper. Freeze for 1½ hours.
  4. When the macaroni and cheese balls are frozen, combine the beaten eggs and the remaining 1 cup of milk in a small bowl, pour the flour into another small bowl, and pour the bread crumbs into a third small bowl. 
  5. Roll each macaroni and cheese ball first in the flour, then dip it into the egg/milk mixture, and then roll it in the bread crumbs until well coated. Dip each ball back into the egg/milk for a second time and then roll it around in the bread crumbs again for a nice, thick breading. Arrange all of the breaded mac and cheese balls on the wax paper and let them rest in your refrigerator for 1½ hours or overnight.
  6. When you are ready to fry the macaroni and cheese balls, preheat the oil in a deep fryer or large saucepan with a cooking thermometer attached to 325 degrees F. Fry the balls, a few at a time, for 4 to 5 minutes or until brown. Drain the balls on a rack until they are all fried.
  7. While the macaroni and cheese balls are frying, combine the marinara sauce with the cream in a small bowl and heat it up in your microwave oven for 1 minute (or in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot). 
  8. Pour the creamy marinara sauce into a serving dish and arrange the fried macaroni and cheese balls in the sauce. Sprinkle a little shredded Parmesan cheese over each of the macaroni and cheese balls. Add a sprig or two of parsley to the dish and serve. 

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