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This is the richest, creamiest, most decadent and seriously addictive mac and cheese you’ll ever eat.
Okay. It’s comfort food weather and frankly, it’s comfort food week, month, year. So given the season and the emotional climate, it just makes sense that we should be talking mac and cheese.
First I’ll tell you everything that my mac and cheese is….rich, creamy, addictive, satisfying, uber-cheeesy, flavorful, salty, indulgent and straight-up comfort.
Now, let’s be completely clear on what it isn’t….low-fat, low-carb, healthy, vegetarian, or for the faint of heart.
This mac and cheese (and excuse the crassness) is the shit. This is drop the mic, shred all of your other mac and cheese recipes, pull on your elastic waistband sweats, “whoa, whoa, whoa, stop the clock”, mac and cheese. To be clear, I am not encouraging this for daily consumption. Nope…this is for “special” occasions.
This is break-up mac and cheese. This is nor’easter by the fire mac and cheese. This is watching the news and feeling hopeless mac and cheese. This is a baseball game losing streak, raining for a week straight, realizing that Game of Thrones won’t be back for a year mac and cheese. This is 11th birthday party, post-successful-talent show appearance, your team made it to the Super Bowl mac and cheese. This is drown your sorrows, celebrate your wins, screw your diet, I’m only eating salad for the rest of the week mac and cheese.
We are talking five (five!) cheeses, whole milk, heavy cream, curly noodles and a dab of anchovy (yep, anchovy) paste. We’re looking at a gorgeously cheesy sauce and a crunchy topping of buttery, herby bread crumbs. We’re talking decadence, escape, celebration, and mourning all in one drool-worthy bite.
This recipe is dedicated to my youngest son Max, my mac and cheese connoisseur. We celebrated his 11th birthday in New Orleans in the spring and he just about collapsed after tasting the mac and cheese at Cochon. He legit swooned. And damn if he wasn’t exactly right. Upon seeing his reaction, I immediately stole a bite of this cheesy goodness before he could stab my infiltrating hand with his fork. Woo-whee, this mac and cheese was everything. We prodded as much information as we could from our server about what exactly went into this dish of bliss and (at Max’s prodding) came back two days later to order it again. What we gleaned from our server was we needed an excess of cream, a pile of cheese, white wine, rendered pancetta, and loads of garlic.
So here we are six months later after careful recipe-testing and some very tasty trial and errors, I give you The Only Mac and Cheese Recipe You’ll Ever Need. It’s a ballsy title, but deserved. And because I believe I’ve done my sweet Max proud, I’m finally ready to share it with you. I love the look and presentation of baking this in four 6-inch cast iron skillets, but all of the magic will still exist if you make it in one large baking dish (just extend your baking time by 5-10 mins).
So whether you’re celebrating or mourning, escaping or gathering, this is the dish of comfort you’ve been seeking. Because sometimes calories don’t matter, but filling one’s belly and at the same time one’s soul, does. Thanks to Cochon for the inspiration and thanks to my darling Max for reminding me of what sheer joy looks like.
New to cast iron? Here’s everything you need to know about cooking in cast iron pans!
- 1 lb curly pasta such as cavatappi or elbow, cooked according to package directions
- 6 oz pancetta finely diced
- 8 oz shallots about 2 cups, peeled and minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp anchovy paste
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 8 oz mascarpone
- 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese 1 1/2 cups, grated
- 4 oz gruyere (1 cup) grated
- 4 oz fontina (1 cup) grated
- 1/2 cup parmesan grated
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp fresh thyme minced
- dash of hot sauce
- 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter melted
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp fresh parsley minced
- 1 tsp fresh chives minced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and butter a large baking dish or 4 - 6" cast iron skillets or ramekins.
Cook pancetta over medium heat in a dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot until golden brown, about 5 mins. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon to a plate and leave the drippings in the pan.
Add the minced shallots to the drippings in the pan and saute until golden, about 3 mins. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 mins minutes more.
Add the anchovy paste and dry mustard and stir well. Stir in the white wine and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until reduced by half, 4-5 mins.
Add the milk, cream, cheeses, salt, thyme and hot sauce and bring to a simmer. Puree with an immersion blender or blend in a blender until smooth.
Stir in the pasta and reserved pancetta and pour into the prepared dish or dishes.
Topping: Stir all ingredients to combine and sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese mixture.
Bake for 15-20 mins until breadcrumbs are browned and dishes are bubbling.