Tom’s Gruyère Mac and Cheese
While visiting the Château de Gruyères in Switzerland in 2003, the skies opened with such a torrential downpour that we had to duck inside a nearby quaint restaurant for lunch. On the menu was an incredible Gruyère Macaroni and Cheese served in a large wooden bowl that I have continually tried to replicate over these many years (constantly evolving).
The entire success of this dish depends on the quality and type of cheese you use. Use a good quality Gruyère cheese; don’t use the American version of Swiss cheese as it is missing the buttery, nutty flavor of the Gruyère. I know it is a pain (literally when I scrape my knuckles on the grater), but grate the cheese yourself … the pre-grated cheese lacks the creaminess and tastiness of freshly grated cheese.
This recipe is pretty close to what we tasted in Switzerland, and on a cold evening, it is the perfect dinner. However, be careful! After two helpings, you might have the urge to yodel!
8 oz. pancetta, diced
2-3 large shallots, diced
2 t. Herbs de Provence (or dried Italian seasonings)
12 – 14 oz. good quality Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 package (16 oz.) small Elbow Macaroni
1 ½ c. milk
1 extra-large egg
2 T. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 T. fresh chives, chopped
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until crispy, remove from pan and let drain on a paper towel. In the same skillet, if necessary, add the remaining olive oil to the pan drippings and sauté the shallots with the Herbs de Provence until translucent. Remove from heat. Return the pancetta to the shallots and combine them. Season to taste with a couple of twists of fresh ground black pepper and one teaspoon Kosher salt.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions. Drain well.
In a deep casserole dish (9X9 or larger) or Dutch oven, alternate layers of one-third of each ingredient in the following order: macaroni, the pancetta mixture, Gruyère, followed by a thin layer of the Parmesan cheese (not as much as the Gruyère, so you will have some Parmesan left over for the topping), repeat. Depending on the depth of your casserole dish, it will make three or four layers.
Once layered, whisk the egg in the milk with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a couple of grounds of pepper. Slowly pour over the mac and cheese, being sure to distribute it over the entire casserole evenly, so it soaks into the pasta (don’t just pour in one spot). If it looks too dry, add more milk. Top the casserole with a thin layer of Parmesan cheese.
When finished, it should be slightly browned, bubbly, cheesy, and ready to eat. Garnish with chopped chives to serve. Great tasting the next day, too!