Not all macaroni and cheese is created equal. Most kinds are delicious, but some — like the type in a blue box, for instance — are more suited for a weekday dinner than a holiday table. This kind, on the other hand, is dressed up with more expensive cheese and a golden crust of buttery Japanese bread crumbs for a mac & cheese you can serve at the most highfalutin occasion.
As always, you start with cheese. A lot of cheese. You’ll probably have to make a trip to the fancy cheese area of the grocery store for some of this, but if I could find it in Jacksonville, N.C., then I think you can probably find it where you live.
The good news is that even though this tastes a little more upscale than your average mac & cheese, it’s not hard to make. We love to make it for holidays or other large gatherings, but it also works well for people who aren’t that into regular mac & cheese.
You can make it look prettier by using cavatappi (spiral) pasta instead of elbows. Those can be a bit harder to find, though.
The topping is optional, of course. I usually go bread-crumb-free, but I like the topping on this. You should use panko or make your own bread crumbs, though, if possible. That way you’ll know the crumbs are the right consistency.
Butter + crunch. Glorious.
And if a gooey mix of cheeses and buttery bread crumbs aren’t enough for you, you can always add bacon. I doubt you’ll hear any complaints.
Fancy macaroni and cheese (Adapted from Ina Garten, serves 8-10 as a side)
8 ounces (about) Gruyere cheese
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 ounces Fontina cheese
1 pound dry elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or fresh white bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Grate the cheeses. You should have about 2 cups of Gruyere, 2 cups of Cheddar and 1 cup of Fontina.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once water is boiling, cook the pasta until al dente, then drain. (Remember it will cook more later, so subtract 2-3 minutes from the package directions).
Heat the oven to 375. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat (don’t allow the milk to boil). In a large pot or saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter over low heat and then add the flour. Whisk the butter-flour mixture for about two minutes, then add the hot milk, whisk and allow to cook for another few minutes until the mixture is thickened slightly.
Take the milk mixture off the heat. Stir in the Gruyere, Cheddar, Fontina, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni to the cheese mixture and stir to combine.
Pour the macaroni and cheese into a 3-quart baking dish.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the buttery breadcrumbs over the macaroni, then sprinkle Parmesan (and a little of the other grated cheeses, if you have some leftover) over that.
Bake the macaroni for 30 to 40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.