CHEESE & PASTA GRATIN
Best of the Best Vol. 11
from the editors of Food & Wine
The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters
This gratin (macaroni and cheese by another name) is good to make when you find yourself with the ends of several types of cheeses. Almost any cheese works, except mozzarella, which gets a little stringy, and blue cheeses, which can take over the dish. I love Gruyère for macaroni and cheese, and cheddar, Jack, and Cantal are all good, too.
Melt, in a heavy skillet:
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 3 tablespoons flour
Cook over very low heat, stirring with a whisk for 3 minutes.
The roux should bubble gently.
Whisking constantly, add, little by little:
• 2½ cups milk
Continue whisking until the sauce has the consistency of thick cream.
• Salt to taste
Raise the heat to medium, switch to a wooden spoon, and stir continuously until the sauce begins to simmer. Lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
To make fresh bread crumbs, simply pulse fresh bread in a food processor. Leave the crumbs larger if you like a fluffier texture. Toasting the buttered crumbs before sprinkling them over the unbaked gratin, as done here, makes for an especially crispy topping.
Melt in a heavy ovenproof skillet:
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1½ cups fresh bread crumbs
Toss the crumbs to coat with butter and toast in a 350°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring them every 5 minutes, until lightly browned.
Turn off the heat under the white sauce and stir in:
• 8 ounces grated cheese
Cook al dente in abundant salted boiling water:
• 3/4 pound short-cut pasta (macaroni, fusilli, penne)
Drain and pour into a buttered gratin dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix until it is well coated. Taste for salt, and adjust as needed. Scatter the toasted bread crumbs over the top and bake in a 400°F oven for 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.
Stir together the pasta and the sauce and serve right away instead of finishing in the oven.
Stir in diced ham or prosciutto.