Friday, February 7, 2014

Ina Fridays: Mac & Cheese

*First of all, please forgive me if the spacing in this post and recent posts is crazy.  Blogger seems to be spazzing out and keeps changing my spacing in already published posts.  How I have it right now looks fine in Firefox and Internet Explorer on my computer, but I'm not sure how it looks on others*

I've joined a new cooking group!  This is a small group that prepares an Ina Garten recipe once a month.  There are guidelines for the type of recipe each month (such as main dish or appetizer), but other than that, we're free to pick whatever recipe we want.  I'm quite fond of Ina Garten's recipes and a couple of them I've been making for half my life (like Rosemary Roasted Carrots and Parker's Split Pea Soup), so am excited at the prospect of trying a new one of my choice each month.  The fact that I can choose which recipe to make is very nice since I can either choose something that fits my dietary requirements, or else pick something to make as a special treat. 

This month's assignment was a main dish recipe.  It only took about 3 minutes of digging through recipes on the Food Network website to find Ina Garten's recipe for macaroni and cheese.  What better first recipe to make for a mac and cheese devotee like myself?  I haven't cooked a pasta dish since September, so was pretty excited to make this! 

The recipe was quite easy to make, not any more complicated than other baked mac and cheeses.  I'd never used gruyere, tomatoes, or fresh bread crumbs in mac and cheese and was curious to try them out.  The only thing I changed about the recipe was to cut it in half so we wouldn't have tons of leftovers.  It ended up making a good amount anyway! 

The recipe came together very well and looked great, but I was a bit nervous when I tasted it before sticking it in the oven.  I have an extremely low tolerance for processed cheese/Velveeta, and to my surprise, the sauce had a processed cheese taste and texture.  It gave me the "Velveeta shudder", never good! 

Luckily, it was much better after the stint in the oven, and I ended up enjoying the mac and cheese pretty well.  I think my gruyere was to blame.  There were two varieties to pick from at the store, one was $10 a pound and the other $20.  I really didn't want to spend $10 on a little hunk of cheese, so picked the less expensive one, which was softer.  When I tasted it before grating it, it actually tasted like American cheese to me rather than gruyere!  Now I really want to make it again with the firmer, pricier gruyere in spite of the cost, because I'm sure it will taste better.

The verdict:  Cheese issues aside, this was a really nice mac and cheese, creamy with good flavor.  I didn't need to adjust the seasonings or amount of milk or cheese at all.  The sauce was pretty darn thick, but I wonder how it would be with the better gruyere.  I personally enjoyed the tomatoes on top and the fresh, buttered bread crumbs were really nice.  My husband picked off his tomatoes but thought the bread crumbs were fine, which is a first for him- he usually does not like bread crumbs on pasta.  He rated it 6 stars out of 10, but was raving over it as he ate and had two servings.  I think he'd actually give it a higher rating except that he's extremely devoted to my "signature" mac and cheese recipe (the one the blog was named after, and that he rates "9,000" stars) and was stubbornly opposed to me even making this one.

All in all, this is definitely a mac and cheese worth making if you want something a little different!  My one suggestion would be to buy good gruyere.

Ina Garten's Mac & Cheese

8 oz cavatappi or macaroni
4 T butter, divided
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz gruyere (by weight), grated
4 oz cheddar (by weight), grated
1-2 small tomatoes, halved and sliced thinly
2-3 slices bread, crust removed and made into crumbs in the food processor

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.  Boil pasta in lightly salted water until tender, and drain.  Make the sauce while the pasta cooks.  Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until smooth.  Cook and whisk for another minute or so, then whisk in the milk in small additions of about 1/4 cup each, making sure sauce is completely smooth before you add more milk.  Cook sauce, whisking frequently, until thickened, then about a minute more.  Remove pan from heat (this is important so the cheese doesn't get gritty), and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, then whisk in the cheese a handful at a time until smooth. 

Stir the sauce into the cooked pasta and spoon into the greased baking dish.  Top with the sliced tomatoes.  Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and mix it with the bread crumbs, then sprinkle it evenly over the pasta and tomatoes.  Bake until the crumbs are golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Yield:  About 6 main dish servings (I halved the recipe which supposedly would make 3 servings, but those would be truly gigantic servings!)

Here's a list of the other bloggers that participate in Ina Fridays!
Chaya at Bizzy Bakes sadly lost her daughter recently.  Chaya, my heart goes out to you and your family!


  1. I adore Ina's mac and cheese recipes! I've never made the one with tomatoes, but the lobster mac and cheese I posted ages ago still gets hits!
    Looks sooooo good!

    1. I'll bet the lobster version is awesome, too! In general I am pro-mac and cheese and always order it if we're at a restaurant that makes it. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to have both lobster mac and cheese AND Dungeness crab mac and cheese on the same visit to Seattle. They were both really good :) The crab one was at the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, and the lobster one at a restaurant overlooking Lake Union, so we had great views both times!

  2. I almost made the mac and cheese too and gruyere is one of my favorite cheese. I quite like the texture of your mac and cheese. Creamy and Delicious!

    1. You should give it a try! It was indeed very creamy. I just hope you're better at selecting gruyere than I am. My store doesn't have the best cheese selections.

  3. That' the way my mother made mac 'n cheese, with bread crumbs and sliced tomatoes. Tell your husband he can put the tomatoes on my plate. They're the best part! Welcome to the group.

    1. Thanks, Mireya :) I really like your name, so pretty! I love tomatoes so happily ate his. He'd never had tomatoes on mac and cheese before and just thought they were really weird.

  4. First, a heart welcome to the group Anna! I love experimenting with mac and cheese, and tomato and breadcrumbs possibly give it a great texture. Great choice!

  5. Welcome to the group. I am sure, you will enjoy yourselves, based on your love of Ina recipes and the wonderful women who make up the group.

    Thanks for linking up. I made this mac and cheese, a number of years ago, and it became my favorite because of the tomatoes. I thought, I wouldn't like that addition but we loved it and I add tomatoes to other mac and cheeses, as well. I am glad you found it creamy which is what I love about mac and cheese.

  6. Welcome to Ina Fridays! This looks absolutely perfect!!!!

  7. Welcome, Anna! I think the idea of Mac and cheese with tomatoes sounds lovely. I'd be interested in hearing what another version with the aged Gruyere tastes like. Let us know if you make it! Sorry I'm late in getting here...just starting to catch up and am traveling again. Happy Valentine's Day!