It was the middle of Lent and I (surprise!) was watching Ina Garten (my mostly-favorite cooking show) make this ooey-gooey Mac & Cheese. The reason I remember it being the middle of Lent? I had given up cheese (among other things) for the season, and was just drooling over the cheesy-ness of her creation. The kids taunted me, "Mom you can't have that-- but don't you want to!?!" Of course I did! What's not to like?! Gruyere! Cheddar! Crispy crumb topping! So, I took all this in, and stowed it away in my mental recipe box. And today, today was the day (the last day of school for the kiddos) that I served this cheesy concoction. BOY! Was it worth the wait (and weight...)!
I tweaked Ina Garten's recipe: I'm a simple girl and I like to use stuff I already have in my pantry (like Panko bread crumbs). Plus, my husband is paid by the tax payers (and yet also pays taxes;does that make him self-employed? I digress...) and having a one meal cheese bill of over $20 doesn't really fit in the budget, so I tweaked some more (it's still not cheap. Would have been cheaper if I had made this when I lived in Germany (where such gourmet cheeses are readily available at a fraction of the cost in America), or... well, anywhere on the mainland, but it's all part of the cost of living in paradise, no? Seriously, I'm not complaining. Much.) Also, if you like the crunchy topping, use a larger, shallow dish (and cut down on the bake time). I used a deep lasagna dish and was very pleased (again, I like my dishes and was happy to see my lonely Polish pottery baking dish used, as it's been neglected for a while.)
Tips: Grate all the cheese in the food processor, it's easy and fast. Use kosher salt! If you use table salt cut the salt to 1/2 T. Don't leave out the nutmeg. It might not seem like it belongs but it's REALLY missed if you omit...
The surprise of the evening? The tomatoes. The kids loved them (as did I)! And I think they are necessary, to balance some of the creamy-richness (and it IS rich) of the sauce.
Rich Man-Poor Man Mac & Cheese (it's a RICH sauce and you're POOR after you pay for the gourmet cheese!)
1 lb elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 qt (4 cups) whole milk, warmed (microwave for one or so minutes, DO NOT BOIL)
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
12 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (I recommend white Cheddar)
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T Kosher salt, plus extra for salting pasta water
1/2 t ground nutmeg
3-4 small fresh tomatoes
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- In a large pot of boiling salted water add the pasta and cook to al dente, according to the directions on the package. Drain well.
- Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the warmed milk and cook for about 5 minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
- Slice the tomatoes and arrange over the pasta and cheese.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine with the Panko bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and bread crumbs are browned on the top.