Mini Macaroni & Cheese All'Italiana

Macaroni and cheese is the quintessential comfort-food supper; this version, while even simpler to make than the nursery staple, is altogether more elevated. The cheese sauce is almost instant: no roux at its base, just grated cheese mixed with a little cornstarch whisked into wine-lightened chicken broth. For this method, I have the maestro Heston Blumenthal to thank. The broth base stops the sauce-with its three cheeses and truffle butter or oil-from becoming unmanageably rich; the portion size helps, too. My decision to bake the pasta in little ramekins was originally made to speed up cooking time, certainly not to be chichi. Indeed, I usually avoid the individual-portion approach, feeling it not suited to eating at home. Here it works: cute meets cozy and becomes chic. Of course, it's partly the pennette that make it-think enchanting little pixie penne-but if you can't find them, use the small bulging crescents that are chifferi, or indeed regular elbow macaroni, instead.

TOTAL TIME: --
Prep: --
Inactive Prep: --
Cook: --
 
YIELD: Makes 6 ramekins
LEVEL: --

ingredients

  • Soft butter for ramekins
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (not buffalo), chopped
  • 8 ounces pennette, or use chifferi or elbow macaroni
  • salt for pasta water, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth or wine
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon truffle butter/paste or a few drops
  • Truffle oil
  • 3 tablespoons grated
  • Parmesan
  • freshly ground white pepper, to taste
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Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, or heat the broiler. Butter the 6 ramekins, and put a pot of water on to heat for the pasta. While you're waiting for the water to come to a boil, toss the grated Gruyere with the cornstarch in a bowl, and chop the mozzarella and let it stand somewhere to lose any excess liquid.

Salt the water once it's boiling, and cook the pennette until on the firm side of al dente: read package instructions and start checking 3 minutes before the pasta's meant to be ready.

Meanwhile, heat the vermouth (or wine) in a saucepan big enough to hold the pasta later, and let it come to a boil before adding the chicken broth. Let it come to a bubble again, then take it off the heat and whisk in the cornstarch-tossed Gruyere. The cheese will melt into a mass of gooey cheese strings.

Add the mascarpone to the pan and whisk again, then add the truffle butter/paste or oil-go slowly and taste-stirring it into the sauce.

Tip the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce and stir to coat. Then tumble in the chopped mozzarella, and stir again so that it is distributed throughout.

Ladle the cheesy pasta into the ramekins, trying to get an even amount of pasta and sauce in each. The sauce will seem very liquid but don't panic, as the pasta sucks it up in the oven. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top, dividing it equally between the 6 ramekins, and give a good grinding of white pepper to each one. Don't worry if black pepper is all you've got. It's more a matter of aesthetics (mine) than taste.

Bake for 10 minutes in the hot oven, or broil until golden on top, and let stand for 5 minutes, at least, before eating.

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