Macaroni and Cheese
from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way
This is an old-fashioned macaroni and cheese, or pasta e quattro formaggi from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way, which is now out of print. It makes 8 generous servings, and fits into a 3 quart Pyrex baking dish.
The dish can either be baked right away or held and baked hours later.
3 cups milk (I use whole milk)
1/2 small onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs
2 branches thyme
few gratings of nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
freshly ground pepper
Slowly bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan with the onion, bay leaf, parsley, peppercorns, thyme and nutmeg. Do not let it boil over! Strain. Melt the butter and whisk it and the flour together in a separate bowl, and then whisk it into the hot milk. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The Pasta and Cheeses
1 pound macaroni or ziti in short or long pieces (I use pipe rigate)
2.5 cups fresh bread crumbs (I make these with a few slices of white sandwich bread in a food processor)
.25 cup melted butter
6 ounces (2 cups, 170 grams) Gruyere, Fontina or Swiss cheese, grated (I use cave-aged Gruyere)
2 ounces (2/3 cups, 57 g) smoked cheese such as Swiss, Gouda or mozzarella, grated
0.5 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
freshly ground pepper
Bring a pot of water to boil, add salt, then add the pasta. Cook until slightly underdone, since it is going to cook again. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking, set the pasta aside.
Toss the bread crumbs with the melted butter. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large gratin or baking dish. Toss the pasta with the first 2 cheeses and the white sauce. Put a third of it into the dish, make a layer of sliced mozzarella, season with pepper to taste, and repeat with the rest of the pasta and cheese.
Cover the dish with a blanket of the buttered bread crumbs and bake until the crumbs have browned and the dish is hot, about 30 minutes. If you are going to bake the macaroni later, set aside the bread crumbs until you put the dish in the oven. If the dish goes directly from the refrigerator to the oven, it will take about 45 minutes to heat.
If you're serving the mac and cheese as a main dish, serve it with something fresh, simple, and little tart, such as a tomato and onion salad or a salad of endive or crisp romaine lettuce with fresh herbs and a lemon vinaigrette.
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