I am kinda obsessed with Mac & Cheese, okay I’m totally and madly in love with it. It’s my absolute favorite dish and I never tire of it. In fact, it would be my last bite before I die or at least I would hope so. I could eat it every day period.
My obsession with Mac & Cheese started with the “shells and cheese” my Mom used to make for me. We lived overseas part of my life and it was hard to come across good cheese. So Mom and I would stock up on boxes and take them back with us. I’m not talking about the blue box either, it was important that the cheese was already smooth, even if it was imitation cheese. Since then, I order it whenever I see it on the menu, I have tried recipe after recipe with all sorts of combos of cheeses, milks, pasta styles and butter or margarine and finally I found a recipe that has become my go to recipe. Now, I sometimes follow the recipe to its exact ingredients and sometimes, I change up the cheeses or type of milk. I always use butter! It’s constantly good and I have yet to find a combo that has failed me. My Mac & Cheese recipe comes from Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa’s Family Style cookbook.
Cook Time: 35 minutes Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- Vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
- 1 quart milk
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
- 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
- 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
Note: To make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the tomatoes and bread crumbs on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.
For this experiment and in celebration of my friend Jeanine getting her personal training certification (ironic, i know, but it’s one of her favorites too), I used some fancy cheeses! Okay, I didn’t plan ahead and had little time, so I didn’t have time to get tomatoes from the grocery store. Typically I use whatever cheeses are in the fridge and this time Jeanine is one lucky lady! From my fridge, I opted for Gruyere, Cantalet and Gouda from my favorite cheese shop - Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. To keep it somewhat healthy I did use whole wheat fusilli pasta and 1% milk. But don’t worry I still used real butter! For breadcrumbs, it’s good to use fresh or even panko breadcrumbs but I used my breadcrumbs. I keep a bag of breadcrumbs in my freezer that consists of leftover breads, cracker crumbs, ground in a food processor. I draw from that bag whenever a recipe calls for breadcrumbs. It’s a tasty blend and easy!
I have a particular fondness for harder, more mature cheeses. I think it’s gotta do with the fact my parents always took me to dinner parties as a kid and I spent evenings chatting with older folks. I appreciate experience. These cheeses are complex and flavorful, ripe with experience. My kind of people, my kind of cheese! I digress.
I mixed everything as the recipe calls for (or so I thought) but after I blended the pasta and the cheese mixture together; I realized I forgot to add to the flour to the cheese mixture before pouring it into the pasta. So I added the flour a little bit at a time as I stirred the pasta and cheese together simultaneously. You don’t want to add it all at once or it will clump up. Thankfully the cheese was still hot so the flour blended in nicely. For the breadcrumb topping, I melted the butter in the saucepan I used to make the cheese mixture and quickly added the breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs not only soak up the delicious melted butter but any leftover melted cheese. Yum! Of course then spread the breadcrumb mixture across the mac and cheese in the pan. I won’t be baking this until tomorrow so its sitting wrapped in my fridge as I type. It will be enjoyed with a nice glass of red and after a toast to Jeanine’s success as a personal trainer!