Adding truffles to mac and cheese may not have been a strictly French innovation, but it certainly had a moment in Paris.
And with good reason: the funky mushroom earthiness of the truffle (in this case a combination of truffle oil and truffle cheese) adds depth to mac and cheese without doing anything to alter its inherent comfort factor.
Try to find a truffle oil that uses real truffles rather than synthetic flavoring; it will tell you on the bottle.
You can use either white or black truffle oil here. Though their flavors are different (black truffles are more intense, white ones more ethereal), both work gorgeously with the pasta and melted cheese.
If you can’t find truffle cheese, you can substitute a young pecorino or a sharp white cheddar, then add a few tablespoons of chopped canned, frozen, or preserved truffles.
It will be more expensive than the cheese, but more deluxe as well.
Topping: You can prepare the topping 3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cover the macaroni mixture evenly with the topping right before baking.
Mac and cheese: You can prepare the topping and the mac and cheese (through step 4) 2 days in advance. Pour the macaroni mixture into the buttered casserole dish and keep it, well wrapped, in the refrigerator. Before serving, cover it evenly with the topping and bake.
SERVES 10 TO 12
You will need
FOR THE TOPPING
2 cups panko bread crumbs
¾ cup (3 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese
¾ cup (3 ounces) grated truffle cheese (such as truffle pecorino)
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
3 tablespoons truffle oil
FOR THE MACARONI AND THE CHEESE SAUCE
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the casserole dish
1 pound elbow macaroni
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
3 cups (12 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated truffle cheese (such as truffled pecorino)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more for the pot
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the topping: In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon or your hands, combine the panko, Gruyère, truffle cheese, garlic, and truffle oil until uniformly mixed (make sure the garlic is well distributed).
Heat the oven to 400ºF. Butter a large (2-quart) casserole dish or a 9 × 13-inch baking pan.
Cook the macaroni: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, add the macaroni, and cook until 2 minutes before al dente. (It should be firmer than you’d want to eat it.) Drain and reserve.
While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, whisking until it smells nutty, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil (keep whisking). Reduce it to a simmer and continue to whisk for about 3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the Gruyère, truffle cheese, salt, mustard, cayenne, and black pepper. Then stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce, taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed. The mixture will be very, very loose, but don’t worry—the sauce will get absorbed as the macaroni bakes.
Pour the macaroni mixture into the buttered casserole dish and cover it evenly with the topping. Place the dish on a baking pan (to catch drips), and bake until the mac and cheese is golden and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Mac and Cheese with Roquefort and Gruyère
This golden-topped dish has a lot more oomph than your average mac and cheese, partly due to the piquancy of the Roquefort and Gruyère, and partly because of all the garlic I grate into the crunchy bread-crumb topping. It’s still got all the gooey allure of the more classic casserole, but with an added French panache.
For the topping, substitute ¾ cup extra-sharp cheddar for the truffle cheese and 4 tablespoons melted butter for the truffle oil.
For the mac and cheese, substitute 2 cups (8 ounces) Roquefort cheese for the truffle cheese.