I've long been on a search for a great macaroni and cheese recipe, so it was a thrill to see a version on Food 52 from someone I trust. Jennifer Hess of Last Night's Dinner, who I think is an inventive and smart cook, tweeted about her entry, and I put it at the top of my list. I love how her blog chronicles culinary inventions springing from what's in her pantry, freezer, and local market haul. She's the kind of cook you want to emulate, someone who can think on her feet, which I really admire. I knew that a recipe for something as serious as macaroni and cheese was sure to be perfect.
It was. Though the idea behind this recipe is common—boiled pasta mixed into a bechamel sauce and baked—the execution here is dead on. And, best of all, the whole thing cooks in a single skillet (plus a pot for boiling the pasta). It comes out of the oven brown and bubbling, with a subtle sharpness from the cheddar, nuttiness from the gruyère, and a wonderful savory roundness from the Parmesan/Pecorino tag team. This one is going into my rotation, as long as nobody who I'm eating with minds butter, heavy cream, and a heckuva lot of cheese. Hess does recommend a nice salad or sautéed greens, which is good advice.
Skillet Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound dry short pasta (shells, penne, farfalle all work great here)
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick), plus an additional 1-2 tablespoons for topping
- 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco), to taste
- 2 cups grated sharp farmhouse Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup grated cave-aged Gruyere
- 1/2 cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano, plus 1/4 cup for topping
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus 1/4 cup for topping
- 2 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage or savory
Bring a pot of salty water to boil and cook the pasta until nearing al dente, but not full cooked. Drain it and rinse with cool water. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in an 11-inch oven-safe skillet until the foam subsides, then add the flour, whisking to remove clumps and prevent burning. Add the milk and cream slowly, whisking constantly, until it is all added and there are no remaining clumps. Whisk in the dry mustard, hot sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
Set aside half the Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses. Add the remaining cheeses a little at a time, stirring often, until the are melted into the sauce. Taste for salt and spiciness and adjust as needed.
Turn off the heat and add the drained pasta little by little, stirring to coat with the sauce, until it is all added. Combine the herbs, breadcrumbs, and reserved cheese, and sprinkle over the top. Crumble the remaining butter in small pieces over the whole skillet.
Bake until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.