Poole’s Diner Macaroni au Gratin

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Photo: Molly De Coudreaux

Recipe and text from Feed Your People: Big-Batch, Big-Hearted Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around by Leslie Jonath with 18 Reasons and photography by Molly De Coudreaux. It’s part of our feature on Jonath’s tips for an easy Friendsgiving. The following recipe is by Ashley Christensen.

Ashley Christensen is known for her epic macaroni and cheese Since opening her original restaurant, Poole’s Downtown Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, she estimates that she has served roughly ten thousand orders of the rich, gooey, cheese-capped dish every year.

Featured in her cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories om a Modern Diner, Ashley’s macaroni is simple yet luscious. With only a few ingredients it is truly a revelation, making it known far and wide.

Ashley now owns several restaurants in downtown Raleigh and giving back has become a big part of her business model, from supporting local farms to raising funds for important causes to figuring out how restaurants can play a bigger role in making a difference. Ashley does a lot of work for Share Our Strength and with a number of local organizations trying to be a positive voice in the community. “And when I say community,” says Ashley, “I don’t mean a special zip code. It is everything that our work and our friendship touch.” This is the way a community grows, around a shared table and one plate of mac and cheese at a time.

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Serves 12 (single batch); Double batch serves 24Prep time: 40 minutesCook time: 10 minutesTotal time: 50 minutes

INGREDIENTS, SINGLE OR DOUBLE BATCH

Elbow macaroni, 1-1/4 lb or 2-1/2 lb

Vegetable oil, 1 Tbsp  or 2 Tbsp

Grana Padano cheese, grated, 6 oz or 12 oz

Jarlsberg cheese, shredded, 6 oz or 2 oz

White Cheddar cheese, shredded, 1-1/4 lb. or 2-1/2 lb

Heavy cream, 6 cups or 12 cups

Fine sea salt, 1 Tbsp or 2 Tbsp

MAKE AHEAD

One secret of Ashley’s macaroni au gratin is its freshness—it doesn’t hold well. The macaroni can be boiled several hours in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature. The cheese can be shredded or grated, packed in ziplock plastic storage bags, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

EQUIPMENT

Large stockpot for parboiling the pasta and then cooking it further in the cream; two or three half sheet pans for holding the boiled macaroni; at least two flameproof baking dishes, each measuring about 9 by 13 inches (be sure they are flameproof, as the gratins will be broiled).

BIG BATCH NOTES

You can make one giant pan of macaroni and cheese in a hotel pan, or divide the mixture among a few baking dishes and broil them one after the other. They will not fit in the broiler all at once, but they do cook quickly, especially if the macaroni mixture is freshly mixed and warm.

SERVING SUGGESTION

Incredibly rich, creamy, and filling, this macaroni gratin needs little in the way of accompaniment, though a green salad or other green vegetable is always welcome.

INSTRUCTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water (about 8 quarts) to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and return to a boil. Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta until barely al dente, 5 to 7 minutes, then drain well and divide between two (or more if making a double batch) half sheet pans. Drizzle the macaroni evenly with the oil and mix well to keep the noodles from sticking together. Let cool completely.

Position a rack about 4 inches from the heat source and preheat the broiler. Combine the grana padano, Jarlsberg, and Cheddar cheeses in a large bowl and mix well. Set aside 60 percent of the cheese mixture for the topping. Reserve the remaining 40 percent for mixing with the macaroni.

In the same large pot used for boiling the pasta, combine the cream and salt and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes; the cream will foam up and then subside into a simmer. Add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream starts to thicken just slightly and coat the macaroni, 2 to 4 minutes. Start adding the reserved 40 percent of the cheese mixture in small handfuls, stirring and waiting for each addition to melt and incorporate into the sauce before adding more.

Divide the mixture between two large, shallow, broiler-safe baking dishes, each about 9 by 13 inches if making a single batch or among four dishes if making a double batch. Mound the reserved cheese over the top, dividing it evenly.

Place a filled baking dish on a half sheet pan to catch any drips, then place under the broiler and broil, rotating the dish as needed to brown evenly, until the cheese melts and caramelizes into a golden brown crust, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the gratin carefully, as every broiler is different. Remove from the broiler and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining filled dish(es). Serve immediately.

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