This recipe is also known in our house as ‘fancy mac and cheese’. It serves 4-6 people.
My family loves when I make this dish. The recipe has evolved over the years – starting as a classic mac and cheese with fine cheese, later enhanced with elements borrowed from a veggie bake and Tartiflette. We don’t have the Ultimate Pasta Gratin very often (it is rather rich), but when we do it is always a treat that we savour.
This recipe will seem like a lot of hard work, especially the first time you make it. It will also look like you’ve used every single saucepan and frying pan in the house. But it is worth the trouble!
It is heart-warming, comforting and delicious, especially if you do not skimp on the quality of the cheeses used.
Take it slow the first time you make it, and if you can, enroll some help with boiling, chopping, grating, crumbling, and washing dishes. The crucial element of the dish is making the cheese sauce, so make sure to assign it to the most experienced cook, but the rest of the tasks can most certainly be delegated. Many hands make light work, but also think of this dish as an exercise in good communication and family bonding time. Have fun!
- 250–300g dry pasta (penne or fusilli)
- 500g broccoli and cauliflower
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 150g smoked lardons
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 100ml white wine
- 600ml of whole (or semi-skimmed) milk
- 30g butter
- 30g all-purpose flour
- 100g grated Parmigiano Reggiano (24 months)
- 150-200g grated Gruyère (12 months+)
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 0.25 tsp white pepper
- 2 slices stale bread
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 20–30g flaked almonds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the pack. Drain, toss with some olive oil and set aside.
- In a separate saucepan, boil medium-sized florets of cauliflower and broccoli for about 4–5 minutes (or until tender). When ready, add to the cooked pasta.
- Meanwhile, heat a frying pan and fry the lardons and shallots for 4–5 minutes until golden-brown. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and continue to cook until most of the wine has evaporated. When ready, add to the pasta and veg mix.
- Heat the milk (either on the stove or in the microwave). In another medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until foamy. Remove from heat and whisk in the flour, stirring until a smooth roux has formed. Return the saucepan to medium heat, and begin to add the hot milk to the roux. You should add milk slowly, 100 ml at a time, completely incorporating it before adding more (do not rush here as it’s crucial for creating a smooth sauce).
- After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk the sauce for another 2–3 minutes until it thickens. Then add the grated cheese (reserving some for the top), salt and pepper, and stir until the cheese has completely melted.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta, lardon and veg mixture and then pour into a gratin dish.
- Optional (but an absolute must for me): crumble the bread by hand (or blitz in a food processor), add thyme, almond flakes, some reserved cheese and olive oil. Mix it all together and scatter evenly over the pasta mixture.
- Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes (depending the strength of your oven) until golden and crunchy. When it’s ready, enjoy slowly and share with your favourite people.
The Cheese Lady x
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