Fontina Mac & Cheese

Since I’ve gone back to work we haven’t been trying as many new recipes during the week.  Most nights we just throw together an old favorite – something quick and easy – or, even more likely, we grill.  Fridays, though, are special.  We’ve taken to calling them fun food Fridays and it’s something we both look forward to at the end of a long week.  I usually try a brand new-to-us recipe and sometimes, to take things up a notch, I’ll pick up a nicer, more expensive protein than I would generally buy.  I guess it’s sort of our alternative to eating out on Friday nights – minus the driving, the crowds and the cost!

Fontina Mac & Cheese

Shane’s been asking for homemade mac and cheese again for a while so last week I decided to try this Fontina mac and cheese for fun food Fridays.  I was intrigued by the fact that it only uses one kind of cheese as my other favorite recipe calls for both Gruyere and Cheddar.  As mac and cheeses go, this one is low maintenance, mainly because you don’t have to make a white sauce on your stove top.  Instead, the cooked pasta is added to a mixing bowl with warm cream, butter and the cheese which immediately begin to transform into a luscious sauce coating the pasta.  A combination of panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese top the pasta mixture and twenty minutes later, I pulled the most beautiful dish of macaroni and cheese from the oven.  The crust was perfect – crispy and browned – and just as importantly, plentiful.  I hate when I make mac and cheese but the topping is so skimpy that there’s not even enough for each dish to have some of the crispy goodness.  The sauce was creamy with a hint of nutty flavor from the Fontina.  A big hit with both of us, and definitely the perfect start to our weekend!  

Fontina Mac and Cheese
from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop (as seen on Ezra Pound Cake and Annie’s Eats)

1 pound medium pasta shells
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz Fontina cheese, shredded
salt
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.  In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions until it just about al dente. 

Meanwhile, add 4 tablespoons of the butter (cut into 4 pieces) to a large bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan (or in your microwave) and cover to keep warm. 

Once it is cooked, drain the pasta then add it to the bowl with the butter.  Stir to melt the butter and coat the pasta.  Add the cream and the cheese and mix until the cheese starts to melt.  Add the nutmeg and finally, the salt to taste. 

Transfer the pasta mixture to a baking dish (I used a 2 1/2 qt dish) that’s been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small bowl in your microwave then add the panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to the bowl.  Stir to coat with the melted butter.  Sprinkle the mixture over the pasta. 

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown.