Mac-N-Cheese Gets a Face-Lift

Mac and cheese — it seems like a pretty basic meal. Take some pasta and some cheese and you're done, but the comfort classic has branched out beyond the blue box with which it's often associated.

The popular American staple has several varieties, including four chef Emeril Lagasse cooks up. Try his mac-and-cheese recipes, which are located below.

Macaroni and Cheese

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, Emeril's Food of Love Productions, 2006

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup diced pancetta

½ cup small-diced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups half-and-half or milk

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1 pound small shell pasta, cooked al dente

4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

4 ounces grated white cheddar

4 ounces grated Gruyere

4 ounces grated fontina

¼ cup bread crumbs

½ teaspoon Essence, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Set a large, wide-mouthed 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and pancetta to the pot and cook the pancetta until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the butter and flour to the pot and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the half-and-half to the pot and whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Season with the salt, white pepper and nutmeg and cook for 3 minutes. Add the pasta to the pot and remove from the heat. Add the grated cheeses to the pot and stir to combine well.

Transfer the contents of the pot to a 3-quart baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the Essence and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake uncovered until golden brown and bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes.

Go to next page for more recipes.

Macaroni With Four Cheeses

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, "Emeril's Potluck," William Morrow Publishers, New York, 2004

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups half-and-half

¾ teaspoon salt, plus salt for pasta water

¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

¼ teaspoon Emeril's Red Hot Sauce

8 ½ ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other good-quality Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)

1 pound elbow macaroni

½ teaspoon minced garlic

4 ounces grated cheddar cheese

4 ounces grated fontina cheese

4 ounces grated Gruyere cheese

¼ cup fresh bread crumbs

½ teaspoon Emeril's Original Essence or Creole Seasoning

Melt 4 tablespoons butter over low heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and whisk in the half-and-half, little by little. Cook until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, season with the ¾ teaspoon salt, white pepper, hot sauce, and 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste and, while stirring, add the macaroni. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to a low boil, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the macaroni is al dente (slightly undercooked). Drain in a colander and return the macaroni to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons butter and the garlic and stir to combine. Add the reserved sauce and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole with the remaining tablespoon of butter and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano with the cheddar, fontina, and Gruyere cheeses. Toss to combine. Place one-third of the macaroni in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with one-third of the mixed cheeses. Top with another third of the macaroni and another third of the cheese mixture. Repeat with the remaining macaroni and cheese mixture. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, remaining ½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the Essence and toss to combine. Sprinkle this over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the macaroni and cheese is bubbly and hot and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Go to next page for more recipes.

Kicked-Up Mac and Cheese

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, Emeril's Food of Love Productions, 1997

2 teaspoons butter

2 eggs

2 cups of whole milk

Salt and white pepper

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

2 pound bag of tatter tots, thawed

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-by-9-by 2-inch square baking dish with the butter. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, 1 cup of the white cheddar cheese and the tatter tots. Mix the mixture thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Place in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Kicked-Up Sausage Macaroni and Cheese

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, Emeril's Food of Love Productions, 2003

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ pound elbow macaroni

1 pound homemade-style spicy pork sausage, removed from casings and crumbled

1 cup chopped yellow onions

½ cup chopped green bell peppers

1 tablespoon Essence

4 teaspoons minced garlic

½ teaspoon anise seeds

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces)

½ cup fine dry bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter a large casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the onions, bell peppers, and 1 teaspoon of the Essence, and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and anise seeds, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Melt the remaining butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over medium heat until thick, 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown. Using a whisk, add the milk in a steady stream and cook, whisking constantly, until thick and smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne, and 2 cups of the cheese, and stir well. Add the noodles, cooked sausage and vegetables, and stir well to combine. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup of cheese with the bread crumbs and remaining 2 teaspoons of Essence. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings