Mac & Cheese is one of our favorite meals, and it goes into heavy rotation in the cooler months of the year. I used to bake mine in a regular ceramic baking dish, but one night a craving hit while my baking dish was on loan to a neighbor, so I decided to build the cheese sauce in our trusty cast iron skillet and just bake the mac & cheese right in it. My husband and I liked the result so much that I haven’t made it any other way since, and as an added bonus, we have one less pan to wash. This is in no way a light dish, but I like to offset the richness by serving it with plenty of sautéed greens or a leafy salad with a sharp vinaigrette. This recipe is scaled for an 11-inch cast iron skillet. —lastnightsdinner
dry chunky pasta (shells work great here)
unsalted butter (1/2 stick), plus an additional 1-2 tablespoons for topping
unbleached all-purpose flour
Colman’s dry mustard, or to taste
hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco), to taste
grated sharp farmhouse Cheddar cheese
grated cave-aged Gruyere
grated Parmagiano Reggiano, plus ¼ cup for topping
grated Pecorino Romano, plus ¼ cup for topping
coarse fresh breadcrumbs
chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, sage or savory
Cook the pasta in an abundant amount of boiling, salted water until it is just short of al dente. Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400.
Melt ¼ cup butter in the iron skillet and whisk in the flour. Cook briefly and then whisk in the milk and cream until smooth.
Whisk in the dry mustard, hot sauce, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
Add the Cheddar, Gruyere, ½ cup of Parmagiano Reggiano and ½ cup of Pecorino Romano a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is well coated with sauce.
Combine the chopped herbs, breadcrumbs, and the remaining cheeses and spread evenly over the top of the pasta and cheese. Crumble another tablespoon or two of butter and scatter it over the top of the crumb mixture.
Place the skillet into the oven and bake uncovered until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling (20-25 minutes). Allow the mac & cheese to sit 5 minutes before serving.