Yesterday, I received lots of compliments on this classic American dish. I must say that my gourmet colleagues and friends at the museum definitely have “the palate”. As stated by one Mac N’ Cheese connoisseur, Lilit, “First, I tasted the Parmigiano, then the Gruyère … and the sharp Cheddar, which lingered – BTW, I love Gruyère.” When I asked Jen (another expert on this dish) if the Cheddar stood out too much, she stated, “That’s what I really liked about it – the sharp Cheddar taste!” Noelle, an initiator of the Mac N’ Cheese rage at our workplace, chimed in with, “Your Mac N’ Cheese was to die for! And the hint of jalapeño was perfect!”
I softened the blow on the jalapeño by adding a mere tablespoon, but I normally triple the amount – hence the name of this fabulous dish – Hot Mac N’ Cheese Wheels. So when you get the wheels rollin’ on this recipe just tweak it your way and have fun!
Active prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
1-1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1 pound pasta (short variety)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely minced white or brown onion
1 to 3 tablespoons finely minced jalapeño pepper (optional)
1/3 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (whole or 2% reduced fat)
Dash ground nutmeg
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onion or chives (for garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a 5-quart mixing bowl, combine the Parmigiano Reggiano, Cheddar and Gruyère cheeses. Reserve 1 cup for the topping.
3. In a 5-quart saucepot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil.
4. Stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook, uncovered, on medium heat 8 to 9 minutes or until pasta is “al dente” (crunchy tender) – do not overcook.
5. While pasta cooks, melt butter in an 8-quart saucepot on medium-high heat. Immediately stir in the onion and jalapeño pepper and set heat on medium.
6. When onion is translucent, quickly whisk in the flour followed by the cream and milk.
7. Bring cream-milk mixture to a simmer, about 1 minute.
8. After 1 minute, whisk in the cheese mixture (minus the reserved portion), the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and black pepper.
9. Using a wooden spoon, stir the cream-cheese mixture until it comes to a simmer.
10. When cream-cheese mixture comes to a simmer, gently fold in the cooked and drained pasta to combine.
11. Carefully transfer the macaroni and cheese mixture to a buttered 10 X 13-inch baking dish – sprinkle top evenly with reserved cheese.
12. Place baking dish with macaroni and cheese on a rack set in center of oven and bake 20 minutes.
13. After 20 minutes, change oven setting to “broil”.
14. Broil top of macaroni and cheese for 5 minutes or until the Hot Mac N’ Cheese is golden brown.
Serve immediately, garnished with green onion or chives.
Wine pairing suggestion: chilled Pinot Grigio, Bordeaux (whites); or Malbec, Bordeaux.
Note: If the cheddar cheese flavor is too strong for you, replace it with 1/2 cup Gruyère or Mozzarella cheese.
Pasta in photo: DeCecco® Rotelle (Italian for “wheels”).
Text and Photographs ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real