I figured it was about time to post another macaroni and cheese recipe. Because it’s been that kind of winter. Because it’s the ultimate comfort food. Because I need to seriously get back in shape before my sister’s wedding in a few months and this was one of my “last hurrahs” as far as indulgent main dishes. (On a sidenote, isn’t it so funny how you can start swearing off a certain dessert/drink/food, and then that’s exactly what you start insanely craving? Yeah, well, this happens to me a lot.)
This is the ultimate in mac and cheese recipes (well, at least my definition of a great mac and cheese.), which is served as a side dish in Wolfgang Puck’s chain of CUT restaurants. This is how I like mine: creamy (probably the most important part-I want each and every noodle to soak up the cheese-which is why I used the shells….more concavity for cheese to collect in), a nice sharp cheesy taste, and a little bit of buttery crunch on top from baking it. I love a creamy stove top macaroni and cheese for the consistency, but I love the texture of a topping from a baked mac and cheese (although I find that baking a mac and cheese sometimes ruins the nice creamy consistency). This one combines both features.
You can also play around here with what kind of cheeses you put into this dish-although I wouldn’t skip on the creme fraiche. It gives the dish such a creamy consistency and this light flavor. The other thing? This recipe makes a ton of mac and cheese, so unless you are feeding a small army, you could make half. (I ended up freezing a lot of mine.)
CUT Macaroni and Cheese
Servings: at least 8-10
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
4 cups milk (I used skim. It was fine to use here-use whatever you have on hand.)
1 and 1/4 cups crème fraîche
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
3 and 3/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 and 3/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I used a mild cheddar, but sharp would be just as good.)
1 pound whole wheat pasta shells, cooked al dente
3/4 cup whole wheat panko
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Generously spray a 3- to4- quart baking dish with cooking spray. (I actually used a Dutch oven for this.)
3. In a 4-quart saucepan (or a Dutch oven if it’s oven-safe) over medium heat, melt the butter.
4. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, until blended, about 1 minute (it will be clumpy).
5. Add the bay leaf and slowly whisk in the milk until mostly smooth (don’t worry if you still have a few clumps of flour.). Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened (about 10 minutes or so for me).
6. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
7. Add the crème fraîche and the sea salt, whisking until smooth, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
8. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 and 1/4 cups of the mozzarella and 1 and 1/4 cups of the shredded cheddar.
9. Season the cheese mixture to taste with additional salt (and pepper, if you like.)
10. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and add 2 cups of the mozzarella. (if you are using a Dutch oven that you will bake the mac and cheese in. If not, combine everything in a large bowl and then transfer to your prepared baking dish)
11. Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and cheddar.
12. Top the pasta with the whole wheat panko and Parmesan cheese (if using).
13. Bake until the panko is golden and the cheese is bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Source: Adapted from Williams-Sonoma.