This is the best spin on a classic Thanksgiving dish that I've ever made. Everyone talks about it, everyone asks for it, and it combines two of my favorite Southern staples into one dish.
Technique tip: Make sauce ahead and freeze in containers. Thaw the day before cooking, then toss with noodles and bake day of.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a large 3- or 4-quart baking dish and set aside.2.
Combine shredded cheeses in a large bowl and set aside.3.
Combine the canned sweet potato, maple syrup and brown sugar in sauce pot over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.4.
Cook the pasta one minute shy of al dente according to the package instructions. Remove from heat, drain and place in a large bowl.5.
Drizzle pasta with olive oil and stir to coat pasta. Set aside to cool while preparing cheese sauce.6.
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan.7.
Whisk in flour over medium heat and continue whisking for about 1 minute until bubbly and golden.8.
Gradually whisk in the milk and heavy cream until nice and smooth. Add the sweet potato mixture and continue whisking until you see bubbles on the surface and then continue cooking and whisking for another 2 minutes. Whisk in garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.9.
Add two cups of shredded cheese and whisk until smooth. Add another two cups of shredded cheese and continue whisking until creamy and smooth. Sauce should be nice and thick.10.
Stir in the cooled pasta until combined and pasta is fully coated with the cheese sauce.11.
Pour half of the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining 2 cups of shredded cheese and then the remaining mac and cheese.12.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. In a small bowl, combine panko, Parmesan cheese, melted butter and paprika. Sprinkle over the top and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.