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Pasta and Three Cheeses

Okay, guilty as charged, The Pioneer Woman has her recipe for Macaroni and cheese on her site today. But I have been sitting on this one for a while and I just couldn't wait to share it. I am a shameless copycat!

This is adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2002 issue.

I consider this more of a cold weather-type dish. As a child, my mother would make us homemade macaroni and cheese and, of course, my brother and I would turn our noses up at it. We were much more partial to the kind from a blue box with a convenient envelope of powdered cheese. The humanity!

I found this recipe and fell in love immediately. I have always found using cheddar exclusively to yield greasy results (no offense Pioneer Woman). This blend of cheeses yields a lovely creamy, yet tangy sauce. Also, the panko breadcrumbs are a very nice touch and are much more crunchy that plain breadcrumbs.

The cheeses can be a bit pricey, but once in a while, it is just worth it. Isn't it? Just look at that golden brown crispy Panko top. Wow, so very worth it.

Pasta and Three Cheeses

1 pound medium pasta shells (or what ever shape you have)
2 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more if desired)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups (packed) grated white cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
3/4 cup (packed) grated Gruyère cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup (packed) grated Fontina cheese (about 3 ounces)

6 tablespoons panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)*

Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water just until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Meanwhile, bring milk to simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Melt butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. When butter foams, add flour. Stir until pale golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in hot milk. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbling, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in salt, black pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. Add cheeses and stir until melted and smooth.

Preheat broiler. Add pasta to cheese sauce and toss to coat.

Divide pasta mixture between six 1 1/4-cup custard cups. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs. Broil until crumbs are golden brown, about 1 minute. Serve.

*Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs that can be found in the ethnic food section of most grocery stores. They may also be found with the regular breadcrumbs.

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