We love macaroni and cheese (who doesn’t?), but sometimes we want a more adult version. Enter the classic Italian iteration of macaroni and cheese, pasta ai quattro formaggi, or four cheese macaroni and cheese. We wanted a make-ahead version of this dish that still delivered creamy sauce, properly cooked pasta, and a crisp bread-crumb topping. For the best cheese flavor and texture, we used Italian fontina, Gorgonzola, pecorino Romano, and Parmesan cheeses. We started with a classic roux-based béchamel—cooking butter with flour and then adding heavy cream—but the amount of cream needed to keep the sauce creamy for reheating left the dish too rich and dense for our tasters. Instead, we swapped out most of the cream for evaporated milk, which delivered a silky texture without being too heavy. To preserve the flavors of the cheeses, we stirred them in off the heat, then cooled the sauce to room temperature before combining it with the pasta. Knowing the pasta would rest in the sauce and then bake in the oven, we cooked it just shy of al dente, then rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking. This allowed it to turn perfectly tender as it baked in the sauce. To keep the sauce from turning gloppy or separating during reheating, we kept the oven temperature low and gave the mixture a thorough stir a few times during baking. Topped with toasted panko bread crumbs and a little more Parmesan, our pasta dinner was silky smooth and rich but not heavy.–America’s Test Kitchen
LC Too Much Of A Good Thing Note
This four cheese macaroni and cheese recipe makes us think of that quote about how too much of a good thing can be wonderful. Indeed.
Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese
- Quick Glance
- 40 M
- 1 H, 30 M
- Serves 8 to 12
- For the topping
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup (1/2 ounce) Parmesan cheese, grated
- For the macaroni and cheese
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for the aluminum foil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) fontina cheese, shredded
- 1 cup (4 ounces) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup (1 ounce) Parmesan cheese, grated
- Make the topping
- 1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- 2. Toss the panko with the melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet, slide it in the oven, and bake, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the panko mixture to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
- 3. Combine the cooled panko mixture and 1/4 cup Parmesan and transfer to a resealable storage container.
- Make the macaroni and cheese
- 4. While the panko mixture cools, bring at least 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water and then drain the pasta. Rinse with cold water and drain again, leaving the pasta slightly wet in the colander.
- 5. Dry the now-empty pot used to cook the pasta. Add the 4 tablespoons butter and melt over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, cream, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and bring to barely a simmer, whisking often. Pull the pot off the heat and gradually whisk in the fontina, Gorgonzola, pecorino, and the 1/2 cup Parmesan until melted and smooth. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- 6. Preheat the oven to 300°F (149°C). Stir the reserved cooking water and pasta into the cooled sauce. Dump everything into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. (You can wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and then refrigerate the pasta and panko mixtures separately for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. If you refrigerated the pasta mixture, stir it thoroughly to recombine before baking it.)
- 7. Cover the dish tightly with buttered aluminum foil and bake, stirring thoroughly every 10 to 15 minutes, until the mac and cheese is warmed through, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and stir the pasta once more. Sprinkle it with the panko mixture and bake, uncovered, until the topping is heated through, about 3 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes and then serve immediately.
Recipe Testers Reviews
Finally, a mac and cheese recipe that worked for me. I've not had much success making macaroni and cheese, and I've tried so many times. It either curdles, or it's too soupy, or it has no taste, or there has always been something...until now! Wow! This is a great recipe! I melted the butter in the oven and added the panko crumbs. I baked it at 350°F for about 3 minutes and then stirred it. I baked it another 3 minutes, stirred again, and the panko was just beginning to brown. After 8 minutes, the crumbs were nice and crisp and beautifully browned. The pasta cooked until it was just under al dente. The butter melted in the warm pasta pot, and I added the flour and cooked the roux for about 4 minutes until it finally browned to a golden color. It's important to add the evaporated milk slowly as it will spit and sputter at you. In went the cream, salt, and pepper. The combination of cheeses was added off the heat and it became a lovely, silky, smooth sauce. It cooled for 30 minutes, and then I added the pasta and half the pasta water and mixed it thoroughly. I didn't add all the water at once as I wanted to see how soupy it was going to be. It was liquidy, but I added the rest of the pasta water since it was going to be refrigerated for the next 6 hours or so. The pasta absorbed some of the liquid while in the fridge, but it was still loose. It sat out for about an hour before I put it in the 300°F oven. Dang, it was rich and creamy and gooey and full of down right tasty goodness. The cheeses had great flavor. I was a little concerned about the Gorgonzola being too strong, but it wasn’t at all. The blend of flavors was perfect. I think the star ingredient— besides the cheeses, of course—was the evaporated milk. I’ve never seen it used in other mac and cheese recipes, so it must have been the secret to my success! I’m a believer. This four cheese macaroni and cheese serves a lot! Four of us ate and ate as much as we could. It wasn’t the only food on the plate, but still, it could easily feed 8 or more people. I sent a quart container home with my guests, and there was still a lot left over. I ate it for 2 days then decided to put it in the freezer. It was too good to toss. And it kept getting better and better! It’s a definite keeper and a great make-ahead meal.
As the description states, who doesn't like mac and cheese, right? I have to say, I have made baked mac and cheese before, but never with this combination of cheeses or the use of evaporated milk. All I have to say is it is great. This four cheese macaroni and cheese would be a conversation stopper at any potluck party. I followed the recipe as directed and did not have to change anything. I used the microwave to melt the butter, mixed it with the bread crumbs on the baking sheet, and put them in the oven until toasted and golden. I let it cool while I continued with the rest of the recipe. I went ahead and used that last remaining bit of butter to grease the dish. So far so good. Then a panic attack—the pasta is cooked and drained and waiting as the cheese sauce is being put together. It looked like I had made pasta soup. I proceeded with the recipe, thinking there needs to be more flour to thicken it, but once it was in the baking dish, I thought, oh well. I found that it had thickened after 30 minutes. All looked good. I topped it with the bread-crumb mixture and baked it an additional 10 minutes. After the initial "oh no," it turned out great. I made the whole recipe for just the 2 of us but we took the rest to work to share, and everyone said it was great. Gonna have a bit more tonight. I made this using Barilla gluten-free pasta to meet others' needs and could not tell the difference. Have a go at this one with the specified blend of cheese—its a definite winner. The cheeses blend together perfectly, and the fact that the macaroni and cheese can be prepared over the course of 2 days makes it a special weeknight treat. Bon appétit.