I’m experimenting with mac and cheese again. This was our Good Friday dinner, a meatless meal that we enjoyed with a simple salad. I wasn’t too sure about the tomatoes at first, afraid that the juice would render the cheese sauce watery, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really shouldn’t have been, because I’ve yet to taste a recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbooks that I didn’t like.
The recipe calls for 12 ounces of gruyere, which is a bit more costly than the average cheddar or whatever else you can find in grocery stores. Still, I was not prepared for the $14.99 a pound price tag at my local grocery store. When I looked at the label I said, “Whoa!” out loud and got a few stares in return.
Now let me explain. I love good cheese, and Michael and I enjoy trying different kinds of cheeses and making cheese fondues. But I also try to be a thrifty shopper, particularly since I’m taking a year or two off from work so that I can be with my boys full time. So the thought of spending more than $11 on just one of the cheeses for a dish was a bit disconcerting. I knew that I could probably get the cheese for a lower price at Trader Joe’s, but as much as I adore that store, I can’t take my three boys there by myself. Really, with those smaller shopping carts, I can only manage one child at a time in Trader Joe’s.
So I stood there next to the cheese display, mulling over my dilemma while the boys waited not so patiently in the shopping cart. I really wanted to surprise Michael with this gourmet mac and cheese for Good Friday since he had been gone all week, but I didn’t want to fork over that much money for the cheese. I finally decided the best compromise would be to use half the recommended amount of gruyere and make up the rest with extra sharp cheddar. It wouldn’t be exactly as described in the book, but it would still have some of that good gruyere flavor.
Even with only half the gruyere, we thought the cheese sauce was rich and tasty, and I would certainly make it that way again. And of course, treating ourselves every once in a while is not a bad thing.
6 to 8 quart pot with lid
2 quart pot or sauce pan
4 quart pot or sauce pan
food processor with grater disk and blade attachment
3 quart casserole dish, lightly coated with cooking spray
1 pound elbow macaroni, cavatappi (corkscrews), or conchiglie (medium shells)
4 cups milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I use Wondra® or Pillsbury Shake and Blend.)
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, freshly grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, freshly grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (approximately 4 small), thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed, run through the food processor)
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. In the 6 to 8 quart pot, bring water to a boil. Add some kosher salt and the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain well.
***While the pasta is cooking***
3. Warm the milk in the 2 quart saucepan. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for about 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Continue whisking and add the hot milk and cook for another minute or two. The mixture should start to thicken and get smooth.
4. Remove from heat. Add the Gruyere, cheddar, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into the prepared 3-quart baking dish.
5. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, stir them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni and breadcrumbs are browned on the top.
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.
Source: adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style, by Ina Garten