Baked Pasta, Gouda, & Caramelized Onions

Original Recipe HERE
This is, hands down, the greatest macaroni and cheese dish I've ever had.  I'd even venture to say it might be the greatest food item I've ever had.  It's that good.  It's the caramelized onions that took it into the stratosphere.  Everyone in my family loved it, and only *J* picked out the onions (and gave them to me...for once his pickiness worked in my favor!)
I didn't want to deal with cooking sausages, so I substituted precooked smoked sausage.  I imagine bacon would work just as well, though you'd need a lot of it in order to guarantee some in every bite.  Which is totally fine by me; I'm not afraid to use an entire package of bacon in one meal.
I also added all of the cheese and onions right into the pasta mixture and didn't leave any for garnishing the top.
The original author of the recipe said that she's used skim milk in place of the whole.  I used an unorthodox hybrid of whole milk, water, and half-n-half (because I hadn't gone grocery shopping in a week), and it was fine.  I imagine skim would make it the sauce a little thinner, but if you care at all about trying to make this dish healthier, apparently it's an option.
* For pasta & sauce:
1 lb (16 oz) pasta [I used ruffles]
1-1/2 lbs precooked sausage
1-1/2 cups caramelized onions
4 cups milk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
6 Tablespoons flour
3/4 lb smoked Gouda, grated
Salt and pepper

* For caramelized onions:
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced [I used three medium-size onions]
2 teaspoons sugar

* For pasta & sauce:
(1) Preheat the oven to 350°.
(2) Prepare caramelized onions (directions below).
(3) Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente, according to directions.
(4) While pasta is cooking, slice sausage lengthwise twice, then slice into thin quarters.
(5) Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until slightly browned.  Transfer sausage to a large bowl.
(6) Add pasta to sausage.  Stir to combine.
(7) In  medium saucepan or microwave, heat milk until steaming.
(8) Return large saucepan to stove.  Add butter; melt over medium heat.
(9) Add flour.  Cook, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes.
(10) Whisk in hot milk, 1/4 cup at a time.  Continue whisking until sauce is smooth and thick and comes to a simmer.
(11) Add cheese.  Remove saucepan from heat.  Whisk until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.
(12) Add caramelized onions to pasta mixture.  Stir to combine.
(13) Add cheese sauce to pasta mixture.  Stir to combine.
(14) Grease 9x13" baking dish.  Add pasta mixture in an even layer.
(15) Bake until golden and bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven; let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

* For caramelized onions:
(1) In  large skillet, melt butter into olive oil over medium-high heat.
(2) Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly, until onions begin to soften (about 5 minutes).
(3) Stir in sugar.  Cook, scraping browned bits off bottom of pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown (about 20 minutes).
(4) If desired, dice onions into bite-size pieces.
Kid Participation: None.  I was too busy with all the steps to let them help out...heaven forbid they hose up the caramelized onions!

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