Funny, I was running on a treadmill when this wonderful gut-bomb of a recipe came into my life. Naturally, I was watching The Barefoot Contessa and she was planning a romantic weekend with Jeffrey, prepping the meal ahead so they could spend the day at Sag Harbor and have a montage of Ina laughing (what a laugh!) while Jeffery awkwardly asks, as if it’s spontaneous, “How are you going to make dinner tonight if we’ve been running around all day?” Ina winks at the camera because we know, like she knows, that the mac and cheese is already made. It’s in the refrigerator next to the lemon curd for the lemon tart. Jeffery has no idea what’s coming and the whole thing is so riveting, I’ve gone three miles and don’t want to stop. Such is the power of watching Ina at the gym.
The mac Ina makes in that episode is so compelling–three cheeses: Cheddar, Gruyere and Roquefort–I immediately moved it to the top of my personal “MUST MAKE” list that I keep in my head. On Friday, I was hosting a dinner and a screening of our friend Luke’s favorite movie, Joe vs. The Volcano…this would be a perfect opportunity to cook up Ina’s mac.
Only problem: Ina’s mac recipe on Food Network’s site only serves 2. Would I just triple it and make that work? I thought about it but that made me nervous. Which is when I turned to the Addictive Mac and Cheese from The New York Times. That recipe has 26 ounces of cheese; Ina’s, if tripled, would have 27. So I could use the NYT recipe as a base and then add an Ina amount of cheese.
Ina specifies Roquefort but that got too expensive. I ended up using Maytag blue which offered more cheese for the dollar, though the cheddar and Gruyere added up quite a bit. Tripling an Ina recipe is a pricy endeavor.
Once you have your cheese grated, though, it’s really just a question of making a white sauce (with butter, flour, and warm milk) and flavoring it with nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper. Then you add all your cheese a little at a time…
…and cook your pasta (I used cavatappi, like Ina, which is one of my favorite pastas) just until very al dente, stir it into the sauce and pour it into a buttered pan, topping it all with basil breadcrumbs.
At that point you can cover it and refrigerate for your day in Sag Harbor. When you’re ready to eat, pop it into a 400 degree oven and bake until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling. When your friends come over for Joe vs. The Volcano, serve it up with a green salad (I made a mustard bottle vinaigrette) and a bold red wine and you’re all set. Look at this happy crowd.
And look at this blurry plate.
Going to the gym may not have given me six-pack abs, but it has given me this killer mac and cheese recipe, contributing to my one giant ab aka my belly. Ina is the best personal trainer of all time.
Recipe: Mac with Cheddar, Gruyere and Blue Cheese
Summary: A mash-up of Ina’s recipe with a recipe from the NYT.
- 6 slices white bread, crusts removed cut into large cubes
- 6 to 7 fresh basil leaves cut into strips
- 5 1/2 cups whole milk
- 6 tablespoons butter (plus more for buttering the pan)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- About 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- About 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- About 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 9 ounces Cheddar cheese
- 12 ounces Gruyere cheese (you can do 9 of Gruyere and 12 of Cheddar if that’s cheaper)
- 6 ounces blue cheese (Roquefort, if you can afford it; I used Maytag blue)
- 1 1/2 pounds cavatappi (about a bag and a half)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Butter a 9 X 13 pan with softened butter (about a tablespoon). Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
- In a food processor, add the bread and the basil and a pinch of salt and pulse until you have green-flecked bread crumbs. Set aside.
- Now make your white sauce. In one pan, heat your milk until bubbles form around the edge. Meanwhile, in a large, wide skillet, melt your butter; as it begins to foam, add the flour and stir together, cooking for about a minute, to get rid of that raw flour flavor. Now carefully whisk in the warm milk, keeping the heat on medium, until all of the milk is incorporated. Cook for several minutes, whisking all the while, until the sauce is nice and thick. Turn off the heat. At that point, add the nutmeg, cayenne, and black pepper to taste; then add your cheese, handful by handful, whisking all the while and tasting at the end for salt, pepper, etc. It should taste like heaven.
- Cook your cavatappi in the salted water a minute or two less than the package instructions; it should taste very chewy, not at all soft. Drain and stir into the white sauce. Pour the mixture into your baking pan, top with the breadcrumbs and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is brown and the sauce is bubbling. Let it cool for 5 minutes and serve it up with a salad.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6