Beware of the more complicated recipes that require broth, flour, crème fraîche, onions, mustard ... No, you need pasta and cheese. (OK, maybe a little Speck. If you happen to have it.)
1 lb elbows
16 oz. half & half
black pepper, freshly ground
a pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground
(for the baked version) breadcrumbs and parmigiano/pecorino, freshly grated
Now, for the cheeses:
* In America one uses cheddar, which when it is of a high quality (e.g., Cabot, but even Cracker Barrel is very good) is stupendous.
* I use one half cheddar and one half Swiss cheese. (What Americans call "Swiss cheese" is usually a type of Emmentaler.) Then, I use a little freshly shredded mozzarella or scamorza (but only a little — it's too stringy).
* To substitute cheddar for Italian cheeses, it's not so easy. It's important to understand which cheeses are not suitable. The ones listed below you cannot use:
- very sharp or salty cheeses (pecorino, parmigiano, Auricchio provolone)
- very soft cheeses (ricotta, mascarpone)
- cheeses that are too particular-tasting (chèvre, gorgonzola, brie)
Therefore, the choices would be semisoft cheeses that melt well:
- Bel Paese
- a cheese from your hometown similar to the above
* Then, if you want to add a pinch of something more sharp or salty (parmigiano, pecorino, provolone), for a little extra flavor, it won't do any harm.
Boil the pasta in the normal way. If you plan to eventually bake it in the oven, take the pasta out a minute or so before the normal cooking time.
While the pasta is cooking, slowly melt the cheeses in the half & half, nutmeg, and pepper, on a low flame.
Now, you have two choices: (1) Stovetop version: add the pasta to the pan containing the cheeses, and buon appetito! (2) Baked version: combine the slightly al dente pasta and the cheeses in a buttered baking pan, cover the top with a layer of breadcrumbs and parmigiano/pecorino, and bake uncovered at 375º for 25-30 minutes, until the cheeses bubble and the top is brown but not burnt.
Let it sit for a few minutes, to solidify a bit.
There is an advantage to preparing the first version, a gluttonous recipe that you can make with the leftovers: macaroni & cheese bites!
Put the mac & cheese in a cold part of the refrigerator. When sufficiently hard, remove from the fridge and cut it in cubes approximately 1 in³. Dip them in egg, bread them, and fry them in oil. Be careful of the temperature, high enough to brown them but not so high that the outside burns and the inside is still cold. This is a truly decadent recipe. I love it!
See also Hollow fusilli with five cheeses