Looking for an upgrade to your basic mac & cheese? I like to think of this as the grown-up version of that all-time favorite comfort food. It is based on a recipe that I discovered in an old issue of Cottage Living, dated September 2006. In the original version, bits of browned prosciutto were thrown into the mix. Turns out we prefer the vegetarian version. There’s so much going on as it is with the three varieties of cheese that you won’t miss the meat. Unless you want it all …add about 3 ounces of browned prosciutto bits to the dish before baking.
If you prefer a milder dish, don’t use aged Gouda. You could choose regular Gouda or replace it with Monterey Jack. And the Gruyère is rather strong …which is so good. But you can switch it out with basic Swiss or even Cheddar. Sometimes, the little ones like the milder version but I must tell you that my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson loves this just as it is written! He has such discriminating taste, that little guy!
This is totally optional but I like to add the subtle flavor of fresh herbs to this dish. When the butter is melting (over low heat) add your favorites to the mix. In my house, that includes rosemary, sage, thyme and bay leaf. Let them hang out for just a minute or two until their fragrance is released. Be sure to remove the herbs from the pan before adding the flour.
Once the butter, flour, and milk have thickened, the seasoning is added. The pot is then removed from the heat and the cheese is added to create a thick, rich sauce. You’ll find that the sauce will be only slightly thickened before the cheese is added.
The cooked pasta is then mixed with the creamy sauce. Once combined, it is transferred to your prepared baking dish.
This recipe, as presented here, makes enough to serve three to four people. We enjoy the crunchy edge that forms on the top of the casserole. So I usually choose to use a larger 13″ by 9″ baking dish …one that you would typically use for a more sizable amount of prepared pasta. I think my favorite for this dish is my Le Creuset Oval Au Gratin Baking Dish. The hearty stoneware holds the heat well so that the crispy edges are easier to achieve. If you prefer more of the creamy pasta filling, use an 8″ by 8″ high-sided baking dish. Delicious both ways.
And keep in mind that this is easily doubled for that larger crowd. When doubled, it will all fit nicely in the 13″ by 9″ dish.
Before going into the oven, a layer of cheese is added. Who doesn’t love more cheese, right? The timing will vary depending on the chosen baking dish. If the sauce is bubbly and it appears to be done, but the top layer hasn’t browned …you can always place the finished dish under the broiler for just a few minutes.
baked cavatappi & three cheeses
For a milder flavor, substitute white Cheddar for the Gruyère and Monterey Jack for the Gouda.
- 8 ounces cavatappi or other short, spiral-shaped pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- several sprigs and/or leaves of fresh herbs (optional)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk (or 2% milk)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- pinch of ground red pepper (optional)
- 1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated and divided (4 ounces)
- 3/4 cup Gouda cheese, shredded (3 ounces)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (1 ounce)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cook pasta al dente or according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Lightly grease a 13" x 9" or 8" x 8" baking dish, and set aside.
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over low heat. If using, add fresh herbs. Let them hang out for just a minute or two until their fragrance is released. Be sure to remove the herbs from the pan before adding the flour.
Increase heat to medium. Add flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until smooth mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly.
Whisk in salt, black pepper, and, if desired, red pepper.
Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of the shredded Gruyère, whisking until smooth. Add the Gouda and Parmesan, and whisk until smooth. Add the pasta, and stir to combine.
Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded Gruyère. Bake at 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
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