There’s nothing quite like elevating a classic.
Macaroni and cheese, cheekily named “Kraft dinner” in Canada, is a boxed-meal standby in North America. It is inexpensive comfort food, easy to acquire in large quantities and easy to prepare on short notice. It can tide people over between occasions when more involved cooking is an option and a staple for low-income situations.
This macaroni and cheese recipe is none of those things.
Based on Vincenzo Prosperi’s recipe, this macaroni and cheese is decadent, labor-intensive, and a cut above the experience of its boxed kin. It is a rich and flavorful treat for friends who forget that macaroni and cheese can be as fancy as the fanciest cheeses, best paired with a white wine and garishly over-the-top cinema. It is less ideal for those eating alone or cooking ahead for multiple meals, for although this recipe serves four generously, it does not reheat especially well, its components tending to separate in the microwave. Reheating in the oven might be more effective.
Note that the cooking process involves managing the pasta and the cheese sauce simultaneously until the former is completed.
Yes, I am freely mixing metric and imperial measurements down below. Live with it; I work with the measuring tools I have.
You will need a stove or similar source of bottom-up heat, an oven, a pot and strainer for pasta, a mug or measuring cup able to handle sudden exposure to very hot water, two wooden spoons, a small mixing bowl, a kitchen scale, your favorite cutting tools, and an oven-safe pot. I found my cast-aluminum caldero satisfactory and Prosperi recommends a cast-iron casserole pot. You may benefit from organizational aids for the various components of this dish, such as small plates.
- Salt and water for pasta
- Cheese, Havarti, 100 g.
- Cheese, provolone, 70 g
- 2% milk, 2 cups. Use less if you are using milk with higher fat percentages, down to 200 mL for full-fat milk.
- Salted butter, 100 g
- Short pasta, 1 454g package. Pasta with surface texture is recommended.
- Cheese, pecorino romano, grated, 6 tablespoons.
- Rosemary, a light sprinkle.
- Cheese, mozzarella di bufala, 120 g. Mozzarella di bufala typically comes in large balls packaged in brine; one of these will be at or near the desired amount and does not need to be reduced if it is higher.
- Additional pecorino romano for a surface sprinkling.
- Variations: For the Havarti, any creamy cheese will have the required consistency and Prosperi recommends taleggio, brie, and gorgonzola as usable alternatives. For the pecorino romano, parmiggiano reggiano is a workable substitute but avoid anything labeled “parmesan.” For a creamier topping, double the provolone.
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free if gluten-free pasta is used.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: Use a low-carb pasta alternative.
- Low-FODMAP: This recipe is very high in lactose but is otherwise FODMAP-friendly.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: This recipe is vegetarian. Removing dairy would require the entire recipe to be reworked accordingly.
- Fill your pot with water, add salt, and start it toward boiling. Preheat the oven to 180 °C or 350 °F.
- Cut the Havarti and the provolone into small cubes no more than 1.5 cm on a side. If your pecorino romano is not already grated, grate it now.
- You can perform Steps 5 and 6 while the pasta water approaches boiling and while the pasta is cooking.
- Prepare the pasta according to package directions, including any cold-water rinses, being sure to stir enough to keep it from sticking to itself or the pot. Cook to al dente and do not overcook. The pasta will cook further in the sauce during later steps. Reserve some pasta water using your mug or measuring cup.
- To begin making the cheese sauce, place your caldero on the stove at a low heat and add the butter, letting it melt.
- Once the butter has melted, add the milk and Havarti to the caldero and stir frequently. Continue until the Havarti is uniformly melted rather than still in discrete chunks.
- Mix half the pasta water and the pecorino romano in the mixing bowl until it becomes creamy and dense. This step prevents the pecorino romano from becoming stringy and adds depth to the cheese sauce.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and mix gently.
- Add the pecorino cream and a light sprinkling of rosemary into the pasta.
- Break the mozzarella di bufala into rough chunks by hand and add it to the pasta.
- Add the rest of the reserved pasta water and mix everything together. Since the cheese sauce is hot and the caldero is still being heated, this should help the various cheeses melt and mix together, though some chunks will likely still remain. This is part of the character of the dish.
- Dust the top of the macaroni with more pecorino romano. This will turn crunchy in the oven.
- Top the pasta with cubes of provolone cheese. Variation: This recipe calls for relatively little provolone to make sure it does not smother the pecorino and prevent the formation of a proper crunchy top. Use more provolone if this is not a priority, resulting in a layer of provolone on top instead.
- Bake the caldero uncovered in the oven for 25 minutes
- When serving, try to get both the crispy surface and creamy lower layers into each serving and add black pepper to taste.
I don’t anticipate making this often, due to its combination of cheeses I don’t typically buy, high effort, and low reheatability. But the occasions when I do will be special and memorable, because this is macaroni and cheese worthy of a restaurant price. Happy cooking!