The best mac & cheese
Good for the soul, but may get you to heaven a little early
My mac & cheese is to die for, literally. It is an extravagant indulgence that tastes out of this world, and if you ate it regularly, it would rapidly transport you from this life into the next. The secret is crème fraîche and gruyère cheese. When my kids were little I made mac & cheese all the time, and became kind of famous for it in my neighborhood. Now that I am older, wiser and a wee bit fatter, I don't make it nearly as often. But on that special occasion when you want to lure your adult children home, my mac & cheese recipe is the perfect inducement.
A little history
A recipe for Gratin de Macaroni à l'Ancienne, in Linda Dannenberg's Paris Bistro Cooking (published way back in 1991), was the inspiration for my recipe. Linda Dannenberg's cookbook painstakingly documents recipes from an array of old-time Paris bistros, many of which are now closed. I have actually used her cookbook as a travel guide for picking old-school bistros while in Paris. Gratin de Macaroni à l'Ancienne is from Le Bistro d' à Coté, or "Bistro next door," originally a 19th century épicerie. In the mid-80's it was reopened by chef Michel Rostang around the corner from his two-star restaurant. Chef Rostang may have been the first chef to begin this wonderful trend of opening casual, less expensive bistros near the chef's higher end restaurants.
A few changes to ease my conscience, sort of
My mac & cheese version is similar to Le Bistro d' à Coté's, but a little Americanized. I add turkey sausage and peas. I did this originally to try and make the dish feel just a wee bit healthier. Did I mention I add a wee bit more cheese too? So much for making it a bit healthier!
A few years back I had the good fortune to eat at Le Bistro d' à Coté and try their Gratin de Macaroni à l'Ancienne. As expected it was delicious, but if you want an unbiased opinion as to whose mac & cheese is better you will have to ask my friends Marybell, Carol, Jenny and Kinzie. The only people on the planet who have tried both.
- If you have time, make your own créme fraîche a day before. It takes 2 minutes, will save you money and you will like the product you get.
- You can make this in a 13 x 9 x 2" pan, but use a Spanish cazuela if you have one. The cazuela looks beautiful, goes from oven to table and the will keep your mac & cheese hot.
- Use a food processor to quickly shred the gruyere and grate the parmesan cheese.
- Make sure you boil your pasta in plenty of salted water. You should use enough salt so the water tastes like sea water. If you salt your pasta water, there is no need to salt the sauce.
- Use rigatoni or other ridged pasta tubes so the sauce really clings to the ridges.
- Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
- Butter lettuce salad with fines herbes and walnut oil dressing
- Orange butter lettuce salad with walnuts and feta
The best mac & cheese
Yield 10 servings
Good for the soul -- my mac and cheese may get you to heaven a little early. Inspired by a a recipe served in Le Bistro D' À Côté in the 17th Arrondissement, I Americanize it with a little turkey sausage and peas.
- 1 pound rigatoni or other ridged pasta tubes
- 1 pound turkey sausage, casings removed
- 3 cups creme fraiche
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cups gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1/2 bag (8 ounces) frozen peas, thawed
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- Heat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a 12" cazuela or a 13 x 9 x 2" baking pan.
- Remove the skins and crumble the sausage into a hot frying pan and brown. When sausage is cooked through, remove and drain on a paper bowl.
- Cook the rigatoni al dente to package directions. Drain and put pasta in a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk together the creme fraiche and milk and add to pasta bowl with sausage, gruyere, peas and pepper. Spread mixture in cazuela or baking pan. Sprinkle top with parmesan cheese and bake for 50 - 60 minutes until browned and most of the liquid is absorbed. It will be a little runny but will set up as it cools. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
THIS SERVES WELL WITH