comfort food: four cheese macaroni and cheese
My husband was born and raised in the deep south, and the flavors of Southern cuisine run deep in his blood. Not only did his family own a traditional barbecue restaurant when he was little, forever ingraining in him a love of slow-smoked meats slathered in barbecue sauce, but his grandmother’s influence provided him with taste memories of her food that continue to this day.
Back when he was in high school, his weekly ritual – and almost daily ritual in the summer months – included lunch at Grandma’s house. Grandma was a famously good home cook, and she lived for feeding her family. She was the type of cook who did not use recipes. She had been doing it for so long that the act of preparing a dish just happened automatically, without any specific measurements or written recipes to guide her. Because of some careful detective work by my sister-in-law, we now have some of Grandma’s recipes documented – like her sweet potato casserole and her famous cornbread dressing.
Sam and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to food. I’m more open to experimenting with different flavor profiles and ethnic cuisines. He’s perfectly content to stick with meat and potatoes. He is wonderfully patient with me, though, and he now tries most anything I put before him.
Except for tomatoes. Never tomatoes.
When I told him we were having macaroni and cheese as part of Easter dinner, Sam’s face lit up with excitement. Macaroni and cheese is his kind of dish, the type of food that he can relate to and understand immediately. It’s a dish that feels like home to him.
And who doesn’t like mac-and-cheese? Sure, I like to think of it as Southern, but its appeal as a comfort food crosses all state borders. Macaroni and cheese shows up at potlucks and church dinners, funerals and baby showers – occasions where we gather to socialize and share our lives, and our meals, with those we care about most.
At its most simple, macaroni and cheese is simply that – noodles and cheese, with a white sauce binding it all together. My husband’s favorite recipe is this one by Giada De Laurentiis. This is the one he requested for Easter dinner. I made it, of course, but I couldn’t help but mess with the recipe some. I added an extra cheese to her version, and I played with the spices a tad. Because I can’t leave a recipe well enough alone, you see.
Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. I like to let this sit for about 30 minutes prior to serving, just to let it firm up some.
Butter, for greasing dish
12 ounces rigatoni or wide egg noodles
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 cups (packed) grated Fontina
3/4 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan
3/4 cup (packed) grated mozzarella
1/2 cup (packed) grated Gruyére
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and set aside. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite (al dente), according to pasta box directions. Drain well, but do not rinse.
Whisk the cream, milk, flour, grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and white pepper in a large bowl to blend. Stir in 3/4 cup Fontina, 1/4 cup Gruyére, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup mozzarella, and parsley. Add the noodles and toss to coat. Transfer the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish. Toss the remaining 3/4 cup Fontina, 1/4 cup Gruyére, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and 1/4 cup mozzarella in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the cheese blend over the noodle mixture.
Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese is melted and begins to brown on top, about 20 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes prior to serving.