Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese

Once realizing I’d never posted this recipe, I truly could not wait for this to be baked and photographed before sharing it.  So please imagine that buttery panko topping browned and crispy, and the cheeses just oozing a bit from beneath that crunchy blanket.

Yes, I do unabashedly declare this to be the ULTIMATE mac and cheese recipe, adapted from what I enjoyed years ago at Stephanie’s on Newbury in Boston’s Back Bay.  The restaurant is still there, having grown up into much more than the bistro it was in the ’90s, but still featuring this signature dish on their extensive menu.  You can make a reservation and pay $19 for a lunch portion of this dish, or you can make a batch serving  6  for about $9 in ingredients.  Easy, and yet truly sophisticated.  Never go back to elbows and orange cheddar again.

ULTIMATE MACARONI & CHEESE

(adapted from Stephanie’s on Newbury Street, Boston)

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(oven-ready, not yet baked – imagine crispy browned topping!)

8 ounces penne, rotelli,  cavatappi, or similar pasta shape, cooked al dente and drained

For sauce:

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

2 cups  half & half  or light cream

1-1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

8 ounces shredded Vermont sharp cheddar

4 ounces Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio blend , or 2 ounces shredded romano & 2 ounces shredded asiago

For topping:

1 cup panko (do not substitute – this is essential for crisp topping)

4 tbsp melted butter

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in large saucepan, add flour and simmer 2-3 minutes on medium heat.  Add cream and whisk until dissolved.  Continue cooking on low-medium until thick & bubbly.  Add all the cheeses, and S&P – cook until cheese is melted.  Add to the pasta and place in buttered 2-quart baking dish.

Mix together the panko & melted butter, sprinkle evenly on top, and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Top with parsley.(optional)

For added depth of flavor, add 1/2 tsp truffle oil, or embellish with chopped broccoli, lobster meat, or prosciutto.

Wonderful winter comfort food, and a real crowd-pleasure on Superbowl Sunday.  This is a half-recipe, enough for 6 hearty portions.  Double it for a crowd and – of course – use a larger baked pan, but no need to increase the baking time.

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