Photo by Ditte Isager
By Katherin Wheelock, GQ
Ina Garten has thrown more dinner parties than Martha, written six cookbooks, and spent forty years making meals for one man: her husband, Jeffrey. She knows a few things about crowd-pleasing food. She knows, for instance, that even if you like your eggs organic and your stock homemade, you might not pass up a bowl of Kraft mac and cheese at 2 a.m. on a boozy night. She also knows you'd be similarly powerless to resist an adultified version of that meal-a creamy, crunchy, oven-baked dish you can proudly serve to a tableful of grown-ups.
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The rules, like Ina, are gentle but firm. Use pasta the cheese sauce can cling to, like corkscrew-shaped fusilli or cavatappi, or good old elbow macaroni. The cheese is pretty much your prerogative; Ina likes a combination of Gruyére and aged Cheddar. Blanket the pasta with real breadcrumbs and a layer of thin tomato slices. If you think the tomato part is sacrilege, ask yourself what a juicy slab does for a grilled cheese sandwich. Same principle. Serve the resulting triumph with a green salad, and if anyone ribs you for lack of sophistication, just say what Ina says: "If you don't like macaroni and cheese, you don't know how to have a good time."
Serves 6 to 8
- Vegetable oil
- 1 lb fusilli, cavatappi, or elbow macaroni
- 1 qt milk
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 12 oz Gruyére, grated
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3/4 lb fresh tomatoes, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (made from 5 slices white bread, pulsed in a food processor)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drizzle the oil into the boiling water, add the pasta, and cook according to package instructions. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not allow it to boil. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour all at once. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Whisk in the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Arrange the tomato slices on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter; toss with the fresh breadcrumbs to coat evenly, and sprinkle all over the top of the casserole. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on top. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
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