mac & cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of my top five favorite dishes, but it is something that I can really only eat in the colder months of the year. We seem to have finally turned the corner and are having more consistently warm weather, which means mac and cheese season is drawing to a close, but I was able to get one more batch in last night.

I do a pretty basic béchamel-and-crispy-topping version, but I am always tweaking it, trying different pasta shapes and a variety of cheese combinations, usually based on whatever little odds and ends we have in the cheese drawer. The version I put together last night contained a mixture of Bobolink Frolic and cave-aged Cheddar, imported Fontina, Rolf Beeler Gruyere, Harpersfield with Ommegang, Grand Old Man, Pecorino Romano and a cow/sheep/goat milk Robiola.

pipe rigate

I used to grate fresh nutmeg into the béchamel, but these days I prefer to add a little Colman’s mustard and hot pepper sauce. They add a nice bit of sharpness and bite to the sauce, particularly when I’m using milder cheeses.

As it turned out, our last mac & cheese of the season came on the same day Yuno returned to Union Square with the first of her young broccoli rabe. Mike brought home a bunch and I sautéed it with a little garlic and olive oil to accompany our rich and creamy main course. It was a delicious combination.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. short, chunky pasta (I used Pipe Rigate)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, plus additional for greasing the baking dish and topping
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon Coleman’s dry mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce to taste
4 cups assorted cheeses, shredded, grated or cut into small chunks
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used flat-leaf parsley, rosemary and thyme)

Cook the pasta according to package directions until just short of al dente.

Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in a wide saucepan, stir in the flour, then whisk in the milk and cream until the sauce is smooth. Whisk in the dry mustard and hot sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Using a slotted spoon or spider, add the pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is well coated with sauce.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly buttered baking dish. Combine the chopped herbs and panko and spread evenly over the top of the pasta and cheese. Crumble up another tablespoon or two of butter and scatter over the top of the panko mixture. Place the baking dish into a preheated 400 degree oven, uncovered, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling (about 20 minutes). Allow to sit 5 minutes before serving.

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