Raise your hand if you’re a Cracker Barrel fan. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped at one during a road trip. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure ― not the most health-conscious choice, but damn, it’s good.
You have to be careful about what you order because 90% of the options will make you want to take an immediate nap, but one of my favorite items on their menu is the hash brown casserole. It’s cheesy, it’s creamy, it’s salty and somehow it’s always in a perfect square. I mean, you honestly can’t go wrong with any cheese and potatoes dish, but there’s something about this one that wanted me to make it at home.
After a quick Google search, I found a lot of DIY recipes using frozen hash browns, cream of chicken soup, sour cream and cheddar cheese. I decided to try to make a better version that could be eaten at any meal. I took one of the most iconic Italian pasta dishes ― cacio e pepe, which translates to “cheese and pepper” ― and combined it with this roadside staple for one epic culinary mash-up.
It starts with peppery béchamel ― I make a roux, add some heavy cream and then stir in generous portions of freshly cracked black pepper and freshly grated parmesan. I add a little chicken stock to thin out the texture and to mimic the flavor of canned cream of chicken soup. After I make my béchamel, I fold it into the thawed potatoes with grated onions, sour cream, melted butter and gruyere cheese to make it extra fancy. It then gets transferred to a baking dish, topped with more gruyere cheese and baked in the oven.
The result is a decadent, delicious side dish worthy of any breakfast, lunch or dinner table.
Cacio e Pepe Hash Brown Casserole
For the béchamel
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the casserole
32 ounces frozen shredded hash browns, defrosted
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup onion, shredded
3 cups grated gruyere cheese, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
Freshly grated parmesan, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Make béchamel: Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until it turns into a paste and bubbles a bit, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Slowly whisk in the half-and-half and chicken stock. Bring to a low boil and continue to cook, stirring often, until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan, pepper and salt. Set aside.
5. Make casserole: In a large bowl, mix together thawed hash browns, 1/2 cup melted butter, sour cream, shredded onions, 2 cups gruyere cheese, salt and the béchamel.
6. Transfer to a prepared baking dish and top with remaining gruyere cheese.
7. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until all is completely warm and the cheese is melted and golden brown on top.