Mac 'n Italian Cheese
I love mac ‘n cheese; it’s the ultimate comfort food for me. But I’ve always had difficulty cooking with cheddars (they seem to separate on me no matter what I do) and I’m not too much a fan of the American cheese/Velveeta variety of mac ‘n cheese. Since there are so many wonderful cheeses available now, I thought I’d try my hand at creating a mac ’n cheese using a different combination of cheeses (that was a couple of years ago now).
I ended up thinking of it “thematically” (or, rather, by nationality). What worked best for me and has turned into a “signature dish” for me is mac ‘n cheese made with Italian cheeses. They provide all the attributes that I find a good mac ’n cheese should have: sharpness/bite; saltiness; smoothness; milkiness. Now, whenever DH and I are invited to friends’ homes, I am asked to please bring the mac ’n cheese!
- 1/2 lb. dried penne pasta
- 4 TBS + 2 TBS unsalted butter
- 4 TBS all-purpose flour
- 3 c. milk (I like whole milk but I've also used 2% milk just fine; I've never tried using skim)
- 1/4 c. grated asiago
- 1/4 c. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 1/2 - 2 c. fontina, shredded
- 1/4 c. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 TBS creme fraiche (optional)
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 TBS fresh bread crumbs (plain) (more or less, depending on the surface area of the dish you choose to use)
- 1Prepare dried pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drain and put into the baking/casserole dish you will use. Toss with the 2 TBS butter. Set aside.
- 2Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- 3In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the 4 TBS butter. Whisk in the flour, whisking continuously for 2 minutes. It should be golden; do not let it turn brown.
- 4In a steady stream, whisk in the milk. Whisk constantly until the sauce has become smooth and has thickened, approximately 5 minutes.
- 5At this point, I switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. Add the asiago and Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir it in well, about 1 minute.
- 6Add the fontina. Mix in thoroughly and allow the sauce to melt together, 1-2 minutes more.
- 7Add the mozzarella cubes and stir them in. Turn off the heat and add the creme fraiche, if using.
- 8Put the cooked penne into the sauce and stir to thoroughly coat all the pasta with the sauce. (There should remain drippings of the butter from the penne in the casserole/baking dish.)
- 9Taste the sauce for salt (I usually do not need to add any). Add freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- 10Pour penne & sauce back into the casserole/baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top.
- 11Bake (uncovered) until the sauce is bubbling, approximately 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes or so before serving.
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