Macaroni and cheese you say? How tres ordinaire. But there is a crisp chill in the air and I don’t know about you, but I say comfort food is my plat du jour. Yes, I know that you can no doubt find a recipe for macaroni and cheese on the back of a pasta box, but as with all food favorites, there is a palatable version and there is an ethereal version. The best macaroni and cheese I have tasted is the Croton-on-Hudson, NY Umami Cafe’s award-winning white truffle oil laced dish and, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the restaurant Zee’s creamy version.
I have put together the best features of both and added, what I think is the crowning feature, an abundant crusty topping of buttery fresh breadcrumbs.
Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups coarse crumbs from good quality bread, crusts removed
5 T butter (divided)
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
3 T all-purpose flour
1/8 t smoked sweet paprika
2 t Dijon mustard
1 quart whole milk
½ t freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni or corkscrew pasta
4 cups cheese, grated (combination of sharp cheddar, gruyere and colby)
½ cup finely grated Parmegiano reggiano
(white truffle oil optional)
Lightly sauté the breadcrumbs in 2 T butter and set aside. Sauté shallots and garlic in 3 T butter in a 4-quart saucepan just until translucent. Add flour and stir over medium heat for two minutes. Add smoked sweet paprika and mustard. Slowly add and stir in milk. Add pepper. Grate cheese on grating disk of food processor or large holes of box grater.
Cook macaroni 2 minutes less than package directions instruct. Set aside ½ cup of cheese mixture for topping. While macaroni is cooking, add remainder of cheese to milk mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly. Taste for salt. You may not need any as the cheese is salty. Stir well-drained macaroni into cheese mixture and pour into an oven-proof casserole dish. Sprinkle reserved cheese over macaroni and then the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes until there is a light crust on top. Guests can sprinkle a few drops of white truffle oil on top if they like.