Fancy Mac & Cheese: a favorite crowdpleaser that’s quick to prepare

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Need a quick, tasty, and filling dish for your next family gathering or potluck meal?

This upscale version of Macaroni & Cheese is scratch-made with top quality ingredients and complex flavor, without being too fussy or complicated.

This recipe was adapted (and greatly simplified) from The Savory Way by Deborah Madison

Fancy Mac & Cheese

Serves 12 as a side dish or 6 as an entrée.


  • 1 pound penne rigate dried pasta
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 8 ounces Gruyère, Fontina, or other Swiss cheese, grated
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, grated
  • 1 ounce smoked Gouda or mozzarella, grated
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 springs fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp. dried and finely ground
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste


If you are making breadcrumbs from scratch, toast the bread, crumble it, and toss with the melted butter. Or, use store-bought crumbs and toss these with butter and set aside.

Fill a large cooking pot 2/3 full with water for the pasta and begin heating. Grate all of the cheeses and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Next, in a microwave, heat the milk and spices for 2-3 minutes, until steaming hot but not boiling. Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes to steep.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add the flour, stirring with a whisk to combine and make a roux. Adjust the heat until the butter is foaming but not scorching and cook for 5 minutes to remove the raw flour taste and bring out the nuttiness of the butter.

Pour the herb-infused milk through a fine mesh strainer to remove the peppercorns, then add a few tablespoons of the warm milk to the roux. The mixture will immediately tighten up. Remove the sauce pan from the heat and stir vigorously with a whisk for 10-20 seconds, then add another small quantity of milk and whisk again. Repeat this process until all of the milk is incorporated into the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and ground pepper to taste. Set the pan aside (off the heat).

When the pasta water is boiling, add a teaspoon of salt to the water and add the pasta. Cook for half the recommended time (about 4 minutes) and drain immediately into a colander.

Spray a baking dish with cooking oil or rub with butter to prevent sticking. Toss the drained pasta with the cheese (you can either use the baking dish or the cooking pot to do this – whatever gives you enough room). Spread the cheesy pasta into the baking dish. Pour the milk sauce over the noodles and top with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Published by Sarah Scully

Sarah is a librarian as well as an avid knitter and occasional knitwear designer. She also enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking, reading, painting, and writing with fountain pens.