Big Mac

gourmet "grown up" mac and cheese
gourmet "grown up" mac and cheese

We might have been a little hungover in Philly one morning a few years ago, when visiting good friends – friends who might have taken us to a divey little bar that had a special on boilermakers, with a shot of god-knows-what whiskey and Yuengling as the chaser. Yuengling had just started creeping around the country with its newfound popularity. “Here they just call it a lager,” Eric tells me.

So yeah, the morning after was a little rough. And me and my wife, and Eric and his wife are glancing at newspapers and trying to figure out what’s good for lunch around here on our stomachs.

We decided on a place downtown whose name I forget that had a gourmet macaroni and cheese dish with three cheeses on the menu. It sounded like the perfect meal. Except the place wasn’t open for lunch on this Sunday, which we discovered after what felt like a 2-hour quest for a parking space. And, because it’s a big city and big cities have more jackasses in them, the parking guy docked us a full hour for a 3-minute park. They hadn’t even moved our car out of the entry ramp yet.

So this is probably why I can’t remember the name of the restaurant.

I never forgot the missed meal, though, and I scoured the Web for a recipe that could supplant the one on that menu.

Cooks.com’s Macaroni & Cheese for Grown-Ups has become a mainstay. It’s got the required number of fancy cheeses, with Gorgonzola, Gruyère and Parmesan. (It’s like the United Nations of cheeses. Um, if two of the nations are Italy.) But otherwise the ingredients are things you’re likely to have around. It’s my go-to offering when I’m heading to a festival, covered-dish dinner or holiday party. I’ve already whipped it together twice this season.

I modify the recipe just a little, upping the macaroni to cut what I think is – gasp! – over-richness. I sub half-and-half for heavy cream and do some other noodlings. Here’s my take. Oh, and not to state the obvious, but this recipe will pretty much kill anyone who’s lactose intolerant, but at least those poor fools have other options now:

Grown-Up Mac & Cheese

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1/2 Tbs. oregano (fresh or home-dried makes a big difference if you’ve got it)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 lb. macaroni
  • 2.5 oz. Gorgonzola (or, often I just use bleu cheese)
  • 2 Tbs. cornstarch
  • ground black pepper
  • 4 oz. Gruyère, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Saute the onion in oil until soft. Add garlic, oregano, stock and half and half. Bring to boil and simmer on low for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Cook pasta al dente. Add Gorgonzola to sauce. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons starchy pasta water and add to sauce. Rub oil over bottom and sides of 2-quart baking dish. Spread drained pasta in pan. Pour sauce evenly and arrange sliced Gruyère in single a layer on top. Load the top with grated Parmesan and heavy shakes of black pepper. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

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