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.
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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
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.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 55 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hours 25 minutes
- Yield: 10 servings 1x
- 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
Our family loved this meal and each of my boys had second and third helpings!!! Kim love all your delicious recipes and love having your website to go to for new meals!!! Thank you!
Sooo glad everyone enjoyed it!
So I have to say, it wasn’t a great success the first night…I think it was too runny for my family…but the leftovers the next night were fantastic!! It needed time to soak in and absorb all the flavors…I am sure I did something wrong but it turned out right in the end.
This mac & cheese is more liquid than your standard mac & cheese because you do not use any flour or thickeners to make a roux. Still, it should not be runny. Variations can be caused by the absorbency of the pasta you are using, the temperature of your oven, the thickness of your creme fraiche, and whether you are using whole or skim milk. Next time you might want to cut back on your milk by 1/4 to 1/2 cup, and/or, leave the pasta in the oven another 5 minutes or so. If the top has already browned cover it with a bit of foil. It will look more liquid than most mac and cheese when you first pull it from the oven. Let the pasta sit 10 minutes before serving. Also, DO NOT rinse your pasta after cooking it. This will decrease its ability to absorb sauce. Drain your pasta and immediately mix it with the other ingredients.
Thank you for your feedback! All comments help the next person who tries a recipe.
Kim, never since my mom made me choke down blue box Mac and cheese have I been able to eat Mac and cheese. My husband is always asking me to make it for him, so finally after 3 1/2 years I made your recipe….knowing full well I wouldn’t eat any, so I made chicken noodle soup and salad for myself. WELL the aroma from the Mac and cheese filled the house so beautifully I had to try it and WOW I now love YOUR Mac and cheese!
I am so happy you have found a way to enjoy mac & cheese! My problem is that I enjoy it too much! Two other recipes you might try, that are also cheesy comfort foods are my Potatoes gratin and French onion soup. Thank you for sharing!
I made this mac & cheese to have at a cocktail party I hosted last weekend. It was incredibly easy to make up ahead of time, and then pop in the oven 1 hour before the party started. I left the pot on top of the stove all night long and let people serve themselves – needless to say, it disappeared very quickly. People were literally scraping the bottom of the pot. I highly recommend this recipe for special occasions or times when you’re trying to impress (and feed) a large crowd.
Hi Caitlin, I’m so glad my Mac and Cheese went over well with your guests. I’ve learned if you want leftovers you need to squirrel away a serving or two in the fridge where no one can find them. : )
Can I omit the sausage to have a vegetarian dish, would there be an modifications in other ingredients and what’s the best way to make ahead.
Hi Meghan, of course you can omit the sausage and it will still be delicious. Make the dish as directed, allow to cool, cover and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve allow it to sit on the counter until room temperature, then return it to the oven until it is heated through, about 20 minutes. Good luck and enjoy!