Mac n cheese was my friend Suzanne’s supper of choice when we were kids together, and as I recall I was quite fond of it as well. At her engagement party, I wanted to serve a delicious but slightly more sophisticated version of this childhood classic. I adapted this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa’s and tweaked it to accommodate my personal appreciation of Emmentaler cheese, as well the fact that I would have been hard-pressed to find a quality tomato in the middle of winter in New York City. I must disclose, however, that the trinity of cheeses means you’ll spend a solid 15 minutes of time in the kitchen grating- think of it as a good workout for your upper arms, or enlist the help of a sous chef!
- Kosher Salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons Vegetable oil
- 1 pound Elbow Macaroni
- 1 quart Milk (I used 2% organic)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, divided
- 1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
- 6 ounces Gruyere Cheese, grated
- 6 ounces Emmentaler Cheese, grated
- 8 ounces quality Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
- 1 Demi Baguette (to make bread-crumbs, see bottom * for details)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Put a large pot of water up to boil with a pinch or two of Kosher salt. When the water comes to a boil, drizzle in the vegetable oil to keep the pasta from sticking. Add the macaroni and cook for 6 to 8 minutes- be sure to watch the pot and not to let it overcook! Al dente works great for the macaroni in this recipe since it gets saturated with cheese and cooked again later in the oven. While the pasta is cooking, heat, but do not boil, the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour the macaroni into a colander to drain and set the empty pot back on the stove top.
Over medium low heat, melt 6 tablespoons of butter in the large pot that you cooked the macaroni in. With a whisk, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk and keep whisking for two minutes more, until the consistency is even and thick- it should be able to coat the back of a spoon without dripping off. Now, turn off the heat and add the Gruyere, Emmentaler, and Cheddar cheeses, 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir everything together with a large spoon. Pour into a medium sized baking dish. For time management, at this point the mac and cheese can be wrapped in plastic and stored in a refrigerator for a day or two before preparing and adding the breadcrumb topping, baking and serving.
On the day that you’re ready to bake and serve the mac n cheese, melt 2 more tablespoons of butter and stir into the fresh breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly on top of your macaroni. Bake for 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling in the dish.
*For the breadcrumbs: 2-3 days prior to serving, cut and quarter a demi-baguette into small pieces. Store the pieces in a paper bag and let sit at room temperature for up to 3 days. When the bread pieces have really hardened, drop them into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the crumbs are small but not so teeny that they become the consistency of dust. This last step would ideally take place on the day of the mac and cheese preparation. Makes about 1 3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs.
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