It has been cold, gray and rainy here lately, so I was in the mood for comfort food. What’s better than mac and cheese? Not just any mac and cheese, mind you, but fancy mac and cheese. First, swap the elbow noodles for penne rigate, a decidedly more grown-up pasta. My absolute favorite pasta ever is Selezione Monograno Felicetti, which used to be available at Whole Foods, but has since gone missing from their shelves.
I had half a box left, so I used it for this dish. Farewell, good pasta. Maybe I’ll find another source for you someday…
Next, add three deliciously complementary cheeses — brie, Gruyère, and sharp cheddar — and envelop them in a rich, creamy bechamel sauce. Top with more cheese and plenty of toasted, buttery breadcrumbs, and bake until warm and bubbly.
It’s perfection on a cold, rainy evening. Add a salad and call it dinner.
Cheesemonger’s Mac and Cheese
Original recipe from Bon Appétit, September 2007, with my modifications
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup diced rindless brie*
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cups whole milk
1 cup breadcrumbs
8 oz penne rigate
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Toss all the cheeses together. Set aside 3/4 cup for topping.
Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until golden brown (just a couple of minutes). Add thyme and nutmeg. Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer until smooth and thickened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cheeses (less the reserved 3/4 cup), stirring until melted and smooth.
Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs, toss, and stir until golden brown. Set aside.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain and toss with the cheese sauce. Place the mixture in a 9×9 baking dish and top with reserved cheese, then breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown.
Note: You can also make this ahead and bake later. Refrigerate or freeze the pasta mixture. When ready to bake, defrost if frozen and drizzle with cream (about 1/4 cup total, but just eyeball it). Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture, and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until bubbling and golden.
*Stick the wedge in the freezer for a few minutes to make it easier to cut the rind off.
So, dear readers, how about you? I know you’re out there, and I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite comfort food for a cold, rainy day?