This ultra-creamy mac and cheese recipe is topped with crispy panko and herbs and is a favorite of Jenn Segal, Once Upon a Chef. The crispy panko and herb topping was inspired by the mac and cheese served at Maple Ave, a little gem of a restaurant near her hometown.
This recipe uses three different kinds of cheese: Gruyère, extra-sharp Cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Using more than one type of cheese adds dimension to the dish. Be sure to use an authentic Swiss-made Gruyère that bears the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) seal, which shows that the cheese is made according to strict government-mandated quality standards.
Similarly, it’s important to use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. You can always tell if it’s the real deal by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. (If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”)
Any pasta that has lots of nooks and crannies will work well with this recipe. The is to use a shape that catches and holds onto as much of the cheesy sauce as possible.
SHOPPING LIST FOR THIS CREAMY MAC AND CHEESE
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) macaroni, cavatappi
or penne pasta
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 cups whole milk
- 6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
- 4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme
HOW TO MAKE IT:
Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Grease a 2-qt baking dish with butter.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you don’t want it fully cooked.) Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, gradually add the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add the panko and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Stir in the herbes de Provence or thyme. Sprinkle the toasted panko mixture over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.
Note: To double the recipe, bake it in a 9×13-inch baking dish and increase the cooking time to 30 to 35 minutes.
Reheating instructions: To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300°F oven. Do not microwave.
Freezer-Friendly Instructions: This can be frozen unbaked for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the baking instructions in the recipe.