Not your mothers’ mac and cheese. This has heavy cream, several cheeses and a proper French au gratin topping. What I love about this recipe for a dinner party is that it’s an adult version of the mac and cheese that most of us loved as kids. It’s a great way to treat your guests with flavor and fond memories.
In France pasta and melted cheese is for all ages. I hesitated at using the word “macaroni” in the title of this recipe. Later I realized there is a rich history of the pasta called macaroni with rich cheeses being served as a high dish at many famous and historically important functions.
History of Macaroni and Cheese
Combining pasta and cheese is documented as far back as the 14th century in Italy. Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper includes a recipe is for a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese over pasta. This is the first modern recipe of mac and cheese. Thomas Jefferson encountered macaroni and cheese in Paris during his time as ambassador to France in the late 1700s. He imported both the pasta and Parmesan cheese for his use at Monticello. In 1802, Jefferson served “a pie called macaroni” at a state dinner. This is the beginning of popularity for the dish in the US.
Kraft macaroni and cheese was introduced in 1937 with the slogan “make a meal for four in nine minutes.” It was an immediate success amidst the hardships of the great depression. Although it is a far cry from the original rich dishes that represent my inspirations.
We will work to bring back the high-dish version with this recipe. The pairing with Bistro braised beef is inspired by Sharon O’Connor’s Menu’s and Music: Bistro cookbook.
Makes 8-10 servings 30 minutes hands on time 1 hour total
- 1-pound elbow macaroni
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated Le Gruyere cheese
- 2 slices of white sandwich bread (or 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 pound of macaroni. Cook until barely al dente approximately 7 minutes. Note: the pasta will soften further in the oven.
- Meanwhile process the bread in a food processer for 10 one-second pulses to make breadcrumbs. Combine bread crumbs, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Drain pasta in colander for 15 seconds and return to same pot. Stir in 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, remaining 1 cup of parmesan cheese, 1 cup Le Gruyere cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir until everything is melted.
- Transfer the mixture to a 9” x 13” baking or similar sized casserole dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top. Place in 425F oven for 15 minutes. The top should be golden brown.
Notes from the Guy
- You can substitute grated Swiss cheese for the Le Gruyere cheese.
- You can double the amount of cheese. No one will complain.
- You can make the pasta and cheese mixture up the day before and then just heat the day of your dinner. It will take slightly longer in the oven.
- You can tell your guests the history of mac and cheese and how a large American food company stole a classic bistro dish, made it bland and suggested kids should like it.