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Mac & Cheese Meets Grilled Cheese (The Ultimate Comfort Food)

From Laura Werlin’s “Mac & Cheese, Please!”

Imagine using a gooey, cheesy sandwich to scoop up its fork-friendly kindred spirit, mac & cheese. This recipe represents the best of the two in one bowl. All you need to do is make sure you get your sandwich nicely crisped in order to create the perfect textural contrast with the creamy macaroni. Can you spell comfort?

Preheat the oven to 300˚F.

To make the pasta, fill a 4- to 5-quart pot about ¾ full with water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm, 4 to 6 minutes, and drain.

Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and stir constantly until a paste forms, 30 to 45 seconds. Continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes more or until the mixture starts to darken slightly and smell a bit nutty. Continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture starts to darken slightly and smell a bit nutty. Slowly whisk in the milk and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and cook until the mixture starts to thicken and is just beginning to bubble around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the cheddar, the Fontina, and the cayenne, and cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth but not too runny. It should be similar in texture to cake batter. If it’s soupy, continue cooking until it thickens. Add the pasta and mascarpone, and stir to combine. Cover and keep on the stovetop on the lowest setting, stirring once or twice while you prepare the sandwiches.

To make the sandwiches: In a small bowl, mix the butter with the cayenne. Butter one side of each slice of bread with the butter mixture. Turn 4 slices of bread, buttered side down, on your work surface. Distribute the cheddar on the bread and top with remaining bread slices, buttered side up.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to flatten slightly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the undersides are well browned. Turn the sandwiches once more, press firmly with the spatula again, cook for 1 minute, and remove from the pan.

Turn the heat to medium under the mac & cheese just to warm it through.

To serve, cut each grilled cheese sandwich into 4 triangles. Ladle the mac & cheese into bowls and insert 2 grilled cheese triangles on either side of each bowl. Serve right away.

Serves 8


Add-ins

Tomatoes: Top the cheese in each sandwich with a lightly salted center-cut tomato slice before cooking,
Or,
And, or,
Smoked paprika: Replace the cayenne pepper in the sandwich
And, or
Pancetta: Cut a 4-ounce piece of pancetta into 1-inch long and ¼-inch wide “sticks” or batons ¼-inch long, and cook in a skillet until crisp. Drain and add to the mac & cheese along with the pasta.