Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Penne Au Gratin

Let's talk summer food. There's certainly something to be said for eating light when it's hot outside. You don't wanna eat macaroni and cheese and then throw on a bathing suit, nor do you wanna eat a roast and go weed your garden when it's about 100F.  On the other hand, summer is also a great time to be very active outside. With that said, if you've just come in from swimming all day, or doing hours of hard work in the sun, you will likely be famished.

Such is the case for my 14 year old daughter who is going to band camp from 7am until 7pm every day this week. On the blacktop, in direct sun, with her trumpet, being active all day long.  Not looking at her phone.  For those of you who are fluent in the dramatics of teenage girls you know this means one thing. Tears. Lots of them.

A wise man (sometimes I give my husband credit) said, "Just have the macaroni ready and waiting and then send her straight to her room."

Macaroni and cheese, otherwise known as penne au gratin, has the ability to heal the inconsolable teenage girl. It's pretty much magic. Easy to eat penne noodles, a smooth cheesy sauce, pretty chunks of fresh ripe summer tomatoes, and a crunchy Parmesan and paprika topping.  Comfort food for anytime of year.
Penne Au Gratin
Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 4

6 ounces (2-1/4 cup) penne
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups milk
4-1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2" dice (1 cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 400F.  Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the penne, stir well, and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente. Drain the penne in a colander.  Set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until hot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 10 seconds, then add the milk, stirring it in quickly with a whisk so the mixture doesn't scorch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 seconds. Add the cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper, mix well, and cook over low heat, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth.

Mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and transfer the mixture to a 6-cup gratin dish (I like to use my cast iron skillet).  Scatter the tomato on top of the pasta. Combine the Parmesan and paprika in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture on the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes at 400F.  Serve immediately.
Theme: The Mother Of All Sauces!


  1. This is a great family dish-perfect for a teenager who needs comfort after a hot day in the sun. Perfect for an adult who enjoys a good meal too!

    Happy hot summer to you.


  2. Aww...I'm sure in the end, she will realize that band camp is WAY better than texting all day. And in the meantime, at least there is this gorgeous mac and cheese!!

  3. Gratins are just so lovely! Delicious, cheesy, comfort food!

  4. Great choice for a comfort meal after your daughter had been out in the sun all day. I sure remember those days when Tristan would melt into the car after a day of marching practice. He played saxophone.
    Make sure she stays hydrated!!

  5. I feel for you and the agony of a teenager. A dish like this will melt away all the tears and trouble. Counting on you to find more dishes like this. You work magic!

  6. Yep! Been there, done that. Trumpet. Marching Band. Hot. Concrete. But boy instead of girl. Grumpy is not a strong enough word!! But this would definitely make life better. Looks GREAT!! Thanks for sharing!!


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