Fontina mac and cheese

Use fontina cheese, and maybe even toss in a little gruyere to make this baked pasta dish even cheesier. Add chicken or meatballs for protein, or a vegetable like broccoli or peas, and top the whole thing with breadcrumbs and grated parmesan. 

By , The Pastry Chef's Baking

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    Easy to make after work, with plenty of leftovers to use for lunches, this rich and creamy mac and cheese dish is perfect for a weeknight dinner.
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This is a recipe I found on Pinterest that isn't very low calorie or particularly healthy but is easy enough for me to cook and portion control. I chose it primarily because it uses up the rest of the fontina cheese I had bought for the Gnocchi Mac and Cheese I made earlier (boy, that cheese was good for three recipes). I also threw in some of the remaining gruyere from the same recipe since, to me, cheese is cheese and my taste buds aren't that discerning when it comes to rich, creamy pasta. Lastly, I added some diced chicken breast for protein and some thyme for flavor.  

I liked this recipe in that it's quick enough to make on a weeknight after work and it's easy to pack for lunches for the rest of the week or freeze in individual containers for later. When I don't want to eat takeout or processed frozen Lean Cuisines, this is the type of dish I'll cook. For more creative cooks with a wider array of tastebuds, this easily lends itself to more add-ins like broccoli, peas, carrots, meatballs, sausage, ham, etc. 

I made a couple of modifications to this recipe. The original recipe called for a pound of pasta shells but I thought that might be too much given the amount of sauce so I only made about 12 ounces. I'm glad I cut back on the pasta as this didn't make as much sauce as I expected. I also skipped the Panko and parmesan cheese combination on top and simply grated Parmesan Reggiano over it. It turned out OK.

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I'm not the best cook (I prefer baking) and my taste buds for real food are somewhat bland so this suited me. It does make a lot though so I portioned all of it out and put half of the containers in the freezer for later.

Fontina mac and cheese

12 ounces small or medium pasta shells
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup heavy cream (I used 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup whole milk)
8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (I used a combination of fontina and gruyere)
Salt
1 cup cubed cooked chicken breast 
pinch of grated nutmeg
fresh thyme, to taste (optional) 
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions just until 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente.

Meanwhile, dice 4 tablespoons of the butter and place in a large mixing bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan or the microwave. Cover to keep warm.

Once the pasta is cooked, add to the bowl with the butter and toss to coat well. Stir in the warm cream and the Fontina until the cheese starts to melt.  Mix in salt to taste, add the chicken, nutmeg and thyme.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. In a small bowl, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Mix in the Panko breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan. Toss with a fork to coat evenly with the butter. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the pasta in the baking dish.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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