Macaroni and cheese you say? How tres ordinaire. Au contraire. I don’t know about you, but the cold wintry winds are here and I say comfort food is my plat du jour. Comfort food at its best, that is. The most heavenly macaroni and cheese I have had is the Croton-on-Hudson, NY Umami Cafe’s award-winning white truffle oil-laced dish and, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the restaurant Zee’s creamy version.
My version features the best of both and adds what I think is the crowning feature, an abundant crusty topping of buttery fresh breadcrumbs. Then, there’s the combination of four cheeses to add complexity. Also, sautéed shallots, garlic and a soupçon of Dijon mustard and smoked sweet paprika provide a distinctive zest. Enjoy!
Ingredients (Serves 4)
2 cups coarse crumbs from good quality bread, crusts removed
5 T butter, divided
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
3 T all-purpose flour
1/8 t smoked sweet paprika
2 t Dijon mustard
1 quart whole milk
½ t freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni or corkscrew pasta
4 cups cheese, grated, divided (combination of sharp cheddar, gruyere and Colby) Use the grating disk of food processor or large holes of box grater.
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
(white truffle oil optional)
1. Lightly sauté the breadcrumbs in 2 T butter and set aside.
2. Sauté shallots and garlic in 3 T butter in a 4-quart saucepan just until translucent. Add flour and stir over medium heat for two minutes. Stir in smoked sweet paprika and mustard.
3. Slowly add and stir in milk. Add pepper.
4 Set aside ½ cup of cheese mixture for topping
5. Cook macaroni 2 minutes fewer than package directions instruct. While macaroni is cooking, add 3 ½ cups of cheese mixture to milk mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly. Set aside ½ cup for topping. Taste for salt. You may not need any as the cheese is salty.
6. Stir well-drained macaroni into cheese mixture and pour into an oven-proof casserole dish. Sprinkle reserved cheese, including Parmigiano-Reggiano, over macaroni and then sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes until there is a light crust on top. Guests can sprinkle a few drops of white truffle oil on top if they like.
Photographer Bill Brady