In “Cooking up Comfort,” we’re walking you through all the classics, whether you want to curl up with soup on a rainy afternoon or bake something delicious to celebrate the weekend. This mac & cheese recipe featuring a three-cheese sauce from Abi Gunasekaran gets baked to perfection.
Macaroni and cheese, aka mac and cheese, is king of the comfort foods. Whether your preferred version comes from a box, a restaurant, or your nana’s kitchen, mac and cheese is universally adored for its ability to soothe the soul.
Traditional mac and cheese is a casserole and harkens back to the 1300s, when recipes for baked pasta and cheese first appeared in English and Italian cookbooks. It wasn’t until the late 1700s when macaroni pasta was first used and the recipe, as we know it today, made its way from Europe to the United States.
In 1937, during the height of the Great Depression, Kraft Foods launched a processed version of the cheesy meal. The corporation marketed it as Kraft Dinner for families in the first iteration of the now iconic blue and yellow box.
Did you know? Macaroni is the name for any type of tubular pasta, not just the elbow macaroni typically used in mac and cheese.
The key to an ooey, gooey forkful of mac and cheese is, of course, the cheese. A blend of sharp, tangy cheddar, creamy Gouda, and nutty Parmesan is Abi Gunasekaran’s go-to mix for her three-cheese baked mac and cheese recipe. Other cheeses to try are shredded colby, Gruyère, or goat cheese, as these also deliver a delightfully smooth texture with a slightly different flavor.
Gunasekaran adds a pop of color to her bubbly, baked mac and cheese by topping it with finely chopped of Italian, or flat-leaf, parsley just before serving. If bright, citrusy notes are your jam, you can substitute chopped cilantro for parsley. If you love a baked potato topped with sour cream and fresh chives, those same chives will do wonders for your mac and cheese, too, elevating even the boxed or frozen varieties to restaurant quality.
Any experienced chef will tell you that layered textures make any dish better. You can add a bit of crunch to your three-cheese baked mac and cheese by simply melting two tablespoons of unsalted butter in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. Then, mix in three-fourths cup of breadcrumbs and a dash of salt and pepper, and spread it evenly on the top of your casserole before baking at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes.
Three-Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 6 ounces Gouda cheese (grated)
- 4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (grated)
- 4 ounces Sartori BellaVitano Gold cheese (grated)
- Chopped parsley (to garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions, minus 1 minute. Once done, drain the water and set aside.
- In a 10-inch cast iron skillet add butter; once the butter is melted sprinkle the flour. Cook for one minute.
- Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until the sauce is smooth without any lumps and starts to thicken.
- Add in the spices — salt, pepper, paprika — and cook for a couple of minutes until everything comes together.
- Add in the three grated cheeses until melted. Reserve about ½ cup of cheese to use later.
- Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce. Mix until the macaroni is evenly coated.
- Evenly spread the reserved cheese over the skillet and place it in the oven. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.