This recipe has been in my bookmarks for almost a year now, after I saw her make it on an episode of Barefoot Contessa. Not too long ago, a dear friend wondered if I had a good recipe of macaroni & cheese, and I remembered this. So when we had a wonderfully rainy and dreary day, I decided it was time to give this a go.
Source: Barefoot Contessa
Serves 6-8 (we halved the recipe because it was meant for my husband & I)
3 Qt baking dish
1 large pot
1 medium sized saucepan
1 small saucepan
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk (4 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground 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.
Add some oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, but make sure you leave it with a little bite. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. I know, I didn’t need to share a picture of this, but this was the first chance I’ve had to use my new stainless steel cookware, so I thought I should show some of it off.
Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large 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. If it isn’t thickening as quickly as you think it should- just wait. Whisk and whisk, and suddenly, it will go from the consistency of milk to a sauce. It’s magic, I swear.
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. (I should note that in the spirit of Ina saying that you should use ‘good’ ingredients, I used a sharp English cheddar instead of an American cheddar. It had a nice fruity taste! Since not all baking dishes go by quarts, for our half recipe, we used my 10.5 x 7 Le Creuset baker)
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. We omitted the tomatoes- The Boy is not really a tomato fan, but I’m eager to try it next time. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. (Not having a food processor, I used some panko crumbs in the butter and scattered that on top) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. (Since we were baking a smaller amount, I set my timer for 20 minutes and just peeked in on it until it was as browned on top as I wanted. In my oven, it was about 22-25 minutes.)
Final thoughts: These was a nice grownup macaroni and cheese- the nutmeg gave a nice depth to it, and the nutty Gruyere and sharp yet fruity Chedder was wonderful, too. My one mistake? I didn’t make a full 3/4 cups of crunchy topping and I wished there was more. It was wonderful! (Between the compact florescent lights in the kitchen, the darkness that rainy days provide, and my point and click… I couldn’t make this come out looking normal without looking obviously Photoshopped. Sorry)
No matter what, this is a great recipe if you’re looking to start tweaking recipes. Simply by omitting the nutmeg and beginning to try different cheeses added in, you should wind up with something truly delicious!
Thoughts on cost- yes, Gruyere and an English cheddar are pricier than most cheeses. But we were looking for something a little more special than a plain mac & cheese, and this definitely fit the bill. If you’re looking to save some money, get your cheese from a cheese shop or a store like Trader Joe’s or Fresh & Easy. It will be more expensive at a mainstream supermarket. If you still think it’s too much, you can always swap out the Gruyere for a nice Swiss and the english cheddar for any sharp cheddar, but you’ll lose some of the flavor.