I knew we were going to be busy out and about running errands today, so I prepared the dish before we left this morning and stashed it away, fully assembled, in the refrigerator. When we got home, all I needed to do was get the oven hot and bake it while we were putting stuff away and dealing with the pups!
The three cheeses in this recipe are sharp white cheddar, Havarti and Muenster - you could also use others if you can't find these or just don't like them. Try using mozzarella, Monterey Jack or even fontina for any of the above. As you wait for the shells for this dish to cook (be sure to under-cook the pasta slightly - about 2 minutes before al dente), the white sauce is made - to boost up the flavor, dry mustard, along with a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, are added when you add the flour to melted butter. Nutmeg may seem like an unusual addition to some, but it just seems to bring out all the flavors in a white sauce - don't forget to add that pinch! Once milk has been whisked in and the sauce thickens, hearty handfuls of the cheeses are gradually added off heat until it is very creamy. For added depth, a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce is also stirred in.
After the pasta and sauce are combined, they are poured into the baking dish and topped with a generous dose of panko breadcrumbs that were mixed with melted butter. The original recipe called for fresh breadcrumbs (which you could certainly do - you'll need about 4-6 slices worth), but we love the crunch that panko brings. At this point, you can either bake it right away, or you can cover it well and place it in the refrigerator for up to a day. If you do chill it, be sure to add about 15 more minutes or so to the total baking time. We loved the combination of all those cheeses - mixed together, they brought a rich (yet not coma inducing), sharp and buttery flavor. To get neat slices when you are serving, try to let it sit for about 10 minutes once it comes out of the oven. While it is not swimming in sauce like some recipes, it is still pretty moist and creamy, which was a nice textural contrast to the crunch of the golden panko on top.
Macaroni and Three Cheeses