A buttery version of the weeknight special based on the classic from Napa Valley’s famous restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn.
Three-Cheese Mac & Cheese, Mustards Grill, Yountville, Calif.
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn grew up enduring Minnesota's frigid winters and fondly remembers taking a pan of macaroni and cheese out of the oven, wrapping it tightly in foil, then trudging into the nearby woods to devour it with her dad. “It was 20 below and you could hardly move your arms,” she says. “But the dish retained its heat and was so good to eat.”
Is it any wonder that mac and cheese has a place of honor on her menu at Mustards Grill on the edge of Yountville in California’s Napa Valley (707-944-2424, mustardsgrill.com )? Indeed, it became a staple side dish—and the best-selling one—a few years ago. Diners go through as many as 45 orders a day, even during the balmy summer.
“Everyone relates it to childhood memories,” says Executive Chef Dale Ray. “You take a bite and you instantly go there.”
Mustards’ version gives Ray a chance to showcase California cheeses. Throughout the year, he’ll switch up the cheeses and pasta. Most of the time the pasta is penne, but now and then it’ll be rigatoni or orecchiette. Gruyère is a staple, but goat cheese has proved a real crowd pleaser. His newest interpretation incorporates Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Toma, a cow’s-milk cheese with a buttery texture and a grassy tang.
Sometimes, however, the dish is made with a mix of white cheddar, Gruyère, and Parmesan. It also incorporates a classic béchamel sauce for richness. Sure, making mac and cheese from scratch takes more time than just opening up the familiar blue box. But the creamy, dreamy results speak for themselves.
Mustards Grill's Three-Cheese Mac & Cheese
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
Adapted with permission from the recipe by chefs Cindy Pawlcyn and Dale Ray of Mustards Grill
1 ¼ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Rest of the dish:
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup béchamel sauce
¾ pound penne pasta
½ cup grated white cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Gruyère cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan
Butter for greasing the dish
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
Snipped chives or chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish
To make the béchamel:
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a gentle simmer just below the boiling point.
2. In another medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes until the raw flour smell dissipates. Do not let the mixture color; it should stay pale looking.
3. Whisk the flour-and-butter mixture into the scalded milk, allowing it to cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
4. Season the sauce with salt, nutmeg, and cayenne, then strain it through a fine sieve to remove any lumps. Measure out ¾ cup of the sauce and return it to the pan.
To assemble the dish:
1. Add the heavy cream to the saucepan of béchamel, and heat the mixture over medium heat until warmed through.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Cook the penne in a large pot of salted water over high heat until it is just a little firmer than al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot of béchamel-cream. Add the cheddar and Gruyère, and mix well. Taste the seasonings and adjust if necessary.
4. Butter a gratin dish. Add the pasta to the dish. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs.
5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Garnish with snipped chives or chopped fresh parsley.
Photograph by Dustin Garibaldi, courtesy of Mustards Grill
This article was first published in April 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.