This macaroni au gratin is no ordinary macaroni and cheese. Not at all. It’s still pasta in cheese sauce but blanketed with a layer of ooey, gooey blend of three cheeses. Easy and on the table in less than an hour.
Macaroni Au Gratin
- Quick Glance
- 40 M
- 45 M
- Serves 4 to 6
Combine 2 quarts (1.8 liters) water and the kosher salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and return to a boil. Cook the macaroni until barely al dente, about 5 minutes from when it returns to a boil.
Drain the macaroni in a colander and shake it dry. Dump the macaroni on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the oil, and gently toss until it’s evenly coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another. Let cool completely. You should have about 3 cups.
Set a rack in the oven about 4 inches (10 cm) from the broiler and preheat the broiler.
Toss the grana padano, Jarlsberg, and white Cheddar in a large bowl until well combined. Then separate the mixed cheeses into two piles, one slightly larger than the other. [Editor’s Note: Ideally you want the smaller pile to be 40% of the whole and the larger pile to be 60%.]
In a large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream and sea salt, if using, to a boil. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. The cream will foam up and then subside into a simmer. Add the macaroni and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 90 seconds. The cream will start to thicken just slightly and coat the noodles.
Start adding the 40% pile of cheese in small handfuls, stirring and waiting for the first handful of cheese to melt and incorporate into the sauce before adding the next handful. Transfer the contents of the pan to a 2 1/2-quart (2.4 liter) ovenproof skillet or baking dish. The mixture will be runny but that’s okay. Mound the reserved cheese on top of the macaroni and place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and broil, rotating the skillet or dish often, until the cheese melts and caramelizes into a golden brown crust, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch it carefully as every broiler is different and your cheese can go from not-quite-golden-brown to charred-as-charcoal in a matter of seconds.
Remove the macaroni au gratin from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Devour immediately. Originally published December 15, 2016.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This macaroni au gratin is one of those rare recipes with only a few ingredients that turns into heaven on a fork. In over 30 years of cooking, this is the first time my family actually clapped. I couldn't understand how this would come together with no butter, no flour, no roux. It's magical.
I broiled it for the full 5 minutes to a perfect caramelization. It’s very rich so it made 6 to 8 servings.
This macaroni au gratin is comfort food taken to a whole new level. Unctuous, rich, creamy—the combination of cream and the mix of cheeses makes this dish what everyday macaroni and cheese aspires to be!
I used Parmesan, old Cheddar, and Jarlsberg and found it to be perfectly balanced—the Parmesan added salt, the Cheddar was creamy, and there were a few stretchy strands studded throughout from the Jarlsberg. The macaroni was perfectly al dente and the cheese crisped up to a crunchy crown on top. Bonus points for the fact that all of the ingredients can be on hand all of the time and, start to finish, the dish can be on the table in well under an hour! Just 45 minutes from "I think I'll make this" to "I think I'll eat this"! It took only 20 minutes to boil the pasta, grate the cheeses, and tidy up—very quick.
I was doubtful that the pasta would be done at 5 minutes but took it off at that point as per the recipe and it ended up perfect. I baked it in a shallow oval pan that was 11 by 7 by 2 inches and the macaroni filled nicely and there was lots of surface area for the broiled cheese on top.
It’s very rich. Although the portions didn't look overly large, this is so filling that it easily fed 4 of us with a little salad on the side. The second time I made this—yes, I made it twice in one week!—I used half and half in place of the cream, Emmental in place of the Jarlsberg, and folded in some sautéed mixed mushrooms. It wasn’t quite as rich but was also very nice.