Polar Vortex Survival Strategy: Comfort Food | Fancy Pants Baked Mac and Cheese

Full disclosure:  I don’t cook a lot.  My apartment doesn’t have counters, so most of the cooking I do on a nightly basis involves making a hearty salad or ordering in.  That said, I stumbled upon the easiest, most amazing baked mac and cheese recipe and made it for my family over Thanksgiving, because I like taking advantage of the fact my parents have a full kitchen! With counters!  It was such a huge hit, they asked for an encore at Christmas.

May I present:  Fancy Pants Baked Mac and Cheese.  I adapted the recipe from epicurious, and the original version appeared in the January 2013 issue of Bon Appétit.

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  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 cup sections
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups of whole milk
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 pound of elbow macaroni
  • 1 and a 1/4 cup of Gruyère, shredded**
  • 1 and a 1/4 cup of hard Mozzarella, shredded**
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup of Progresso Italian Style Panko Crispy Breadcrumbs  (this is the brand I used and loved, but feel free to go with a different Italian-Style bread crumb)

**buying good wedges of cheese and shredding it yourself is well worth the time, as most companies add all kinds of bizarre preservatives, like wood cellulose, to preshredded cheese.  


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
  • In a large saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of butter over medium high heat.
  • Add 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour.  Whisk constantly for 1 minute.
  • Keep whisking as you add in 3 cups of milk and 3 cups of water.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Cook until a thin, glossy sauce forms, whisking frequently.  This takes about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt.
  • Remove sauce from heat.

While you’re whisking the béchamel (yes, that’s what the sauce is called.  Look at you all fancy and French), take a moment to prep the pasta.

  • In a 13 X 9 X 2 (or a shallow 3 quart) baking dish, toss the elbow macaroni with 1 cup of mozzarella and 1 cup of gruyère.

Once the salt has been added to the sauce, and the sauce has been removed from the heat:

  • Pour the béchamel (sauce) over the pasta evenly.  The macaroni should be submerged.  Don’t stir.
  • Cover the baking dish with foil.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until the pasta is almost tender.  (The béchamel will be bubbling, so be careful when removing the foil!!  Trust me on that one!)

While the macaroni is in the oven, prep the panko crust:

  • Over medium heat, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the large saucepan.
  • Add the garlic and panko breadcrumbs.  Stir to combine as the breadcrumbs brown a bit.

Once the macaroni is out of the oven:

  • Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of mozzarella and 1/4 cup of gruyère.
  • Next, sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the pasta.
  • Place back into the oven, foil free, for 10 minutes.  The macaroni will be tender, the béchamel bubbling and the topping will be golden brown.
  • Let it sit 10 minutes to cool before serving.

What are your favorite cold weather comfort foods?  Let me know in the comments!!


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