• Prep Time
    45 minutes
  • Cook Time
    30 minutes
  • Serving
  • View

This recipe is going to be intentionally vague because you might like the casserole “soupier,” than I do, or you might like more cheese or a different kind of cheese.  What makes this mac and cheese recipe special is the Bechamel sauce.  Don’t forget the nutmeg!  This casserole is meant to highlight perfectly cooked pasta and good quality cheese.  It is creamy but not goopy like something you get out of a box.  The crunchy buttered breadcrumb topping elevates this dish to steakhouse quality.  This dish takes just a little more time than it takes to make that boxed mac and cheese but it’s sooo worth it (and so are you!)

Now, I scoured the internet for recipes for macaroni and cheese, and as you might imagine almost every celebrity chef has a version of this dish that he or she declares is perfect. In my opinion if you have cooked your pasta properly (as opposed to overcooking it before assembling your casserole) and you’ve chosen a mixture of good quality, good tasing cheese, you don’t need all those extra spices like mustard, paprika or thyme.  Just don’t forget the nutmeg in your Bechamel.

I found an article about celebrity mac and cheese on thekitchn.com written by Grace Elkus in 2019.  It’s worth taking a look at the recipes from Ina Garten, Alton Brown, Ree Drummond and Sunny Anderson.   I personally thought Ina Garten’s recipe looked the most like mine, except that I used a blend of sharp yellow cheddar and white cheddar cheeses as opposed to Gruyere.  According to Ms. Elkus, these are the four principles of making good mac and cheese taken from the top celebrity chefs’ recipes:

The Big Takeaway Lessons from All Four:

  • Generously salt your pasta’s cooking water: Whether your recipe calls for it or not, go ahead and add at least one tablespoon of kosher salt to the pot of boiling water. This will season the pasta from the very first step, adding flavor to the final dish. Don’t bother adding oil to the water, and definitely don’t rinse your noodles after you drain them, which will wash off the starchiness that helps the cheese sauce cling to the pasta. As a general rule of thumb, elbow noodles take about five minutes to cook to al dente. And speaking of noodles, feel free to get creative: I actually find shells and cavatappi to be much more interesting than elbows.

  • Warm your milk before adding it to the roux: After creating a roux with butter and flour, slowly stream in warm milk instead of adding it in cold (you can either warm the milk in a liquid measuring cup in the microwave or in a small pot on the stove). This technique, used in Ina’s recipe, will help the bechamél sauce thicken more quickly.

  • Use a blend of cheeses: I find the best mac and cheeses are made with at least two kinds of cheese, which makes for a creamier and more interesting sauce. If your recipe only calls for one, swap out half for another cheese you like. Fontina is always a good option, because it’s an excellent melter. I like to reserve a bit to sprinkle on top with the breadcrumbs before popping it in the oven.

  • Always top with something crunchy: Yes, we all love mac and cheese for its creaminess, but you’ll be thankful for some crunch to break up all that richness. Don’t bother toasting it first — simply toss breadcrumbs (either fresh or Panko) with some melted butter and scatter over the cheesy pasta before baking. If the top of your mac and cheese doesn’t brown as much as you’d like, stick it under the broiler for a minute just before serving.

By the way, I love Ina Garten and I strongly recommend that you purchase any and all of her cookbooks.  Her recipes are deceptively simple and full of flavor. It’s impossible to watch her t.v. show and not be jealous of her gorgeous house, elegant life, fabulous friends and doting husband.  Her slightly nervous laugh is charming and infectious.  She clearly enjoys good food with good friends and a little booze to lubricate the party!  What I really like about her is that much like Julia Child she emphasizes cooking for people you love and eating good food with good friends.  It’s important to enjoy the PROCESS of cooking with love. I want to have dinner with Ina Garten!!!!  (Ina, call me, I’m available! and does your hubby have a brother?)


Rigatoni and Cheese


    Step 1

    Make the Bechamel sauce. See directions for making a Bechamel sauce on this site. The reader's digest version is this: melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat but do not brown it, stir in the flour to make a roux, and then add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly until you have a nice thick sauce. Again, add nutmeg! Set aside.

    Step 2

    Bring a pot of water to the boil and heavily salt it. Cook the pasta about 8 or 9 minutes. Do not overcook as the pasta will continue to cook in the casserole.

    Step 3

    Drain the pasta and dump it in a big bowl. Add enough Bechamel sauce to coat the pasta (you may have some left over). You want a wet mixture but not a bowl of pasta soup.

    Step 4

    Add the grated cheese. Mix with your hands if you want to. If your pasta is still hot, the cheese will get nice and melty pretty fast.

    Step 5

    Pour the pasta and cheese into a buttered casserole dish..

    Step 6

    Top with more cheese.

    Step 7

    Top with buttered breadcrumbs or sprinkle unbuttered crumbs over the top and then dot with little pats of melted butter.

    Step 8

    Bake at 375 degrees for thirty minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden and crunchy.

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