Some recipes reach a point where further manipulation and revision are futile. This recipe calls for ingredients that make use of pantry staples as well as a few specialty ingredients. Inspired by the “fondue of the day” concept at Artisanal restaurant in New York and a basic recipe published in Martha Stewart Living, I still play around with the cheese combinations to use what is on hand, on sale, or in season. The basic recipe works.
8-9 oz. elbow macaroni
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp mustard powder
1 cup yellow cheddar, shredded (I use an American made medium or sharp version like Tillamook or Whole Foods 365)
¾ cup shredded Swiss raw milk, aged gruyere
1/3 cup fourme d’ambert blue cheese, crumbled (I have also used Colston Bassett Stilton, Gorgonzola Dolce or Oregon Smoky Blue with success)
1/3 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated (use any grated parmesan cheese or a pecorino romano if you prefer)
Over medium high heat, bring to boil a large saucepan filled with cold water, salt and bay leaf. Once boiling, add the dry pasta and stir quickly to prevent sticking. Follow cooking directions on package for cooking times. I prefer cooking to “al dente” since the pasta will continue soaking up the moisture while baking.
Place a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Drop in butter and 1/2 tbsp olive oil and cook until just melted. Add garlic and stir until golden, not brown. Make a roux by shaking the flour over the oil evenly. Stir to cook the roux to a light, golden color. Add the cream and work the mixture with a heat resistant spatula to break up potential clumps. Add the mustard powder, cayenne and combination of cheeses. Stir until completely melted and smooth. It should be the consistency of cheese fondue dip.
Drain pasta and remove bay leaf. Add pasta directly to cheese mixture and stir evenly to coat pasta.
Use another 1 tbsp olive oil to coat a casserole pan. Gently pour the pasta and cheese mixture into the pan. In a small bowl, combine the parmigiano reggiano, panko and final tbsp olive oil. With your fingers, drizzle the mixture atop the mac and cheese evenly. This coating will form a tasty crust when baked.
Place casserole in the hot oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until top crust is nutty brown.
It’s a decadent and high fat main course so don’t eat it every week; certainly not everyday. Seattle weather turned cool and rainy this week. This recipe beckoned.
It’s best served with sautéed, dark greens or fresh, seasonal salad.