I Tried Ina Garten’s Famous Mac and Cheese Recipe (& Here’s What I Thought)
After a quick glance at the recipe, I knew Ina’s classic mac would be good: There’s a paycheck’s worth of Gruyère in the sauce, it’s topped with buttery homemade breadcrumbs, and it has a five-star rating from almost 1,000 reviewers. But how would it compare to the other most popular mac and cheese recipes on the Internet? I headed to my kitchen to find out.
Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese
How to Make Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese
Out of all the Ina recipes I’ve made, this is one of the easiest. While the pasta cooks, you’ll make the béchamel sauce — a creamy white sauce that forms the base of most baked mac and cheese recipes. You’ll start by stirring flour into melted butter to create a roux (the foundation of a béchamel), then add warmed milk and whisk until the sauce is thickened and smooth.
Ina’s recipe was actually the only one that had me warm the milk before adding it to the roux, which is my preferred technique when making béchamel. It thickens the sauce in half the time, and prevents the spitting and splattering that often occurs when you add cold milk to hot butter.
You’ll then stir in the cheese, salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg (a classic addition to béchamel that lends a nice warmth and slight sweetness to the sauce), toss with the cooked noodles, and pour into a baking dish. You’ll finish it off with sliced tomatoes and homemade breadcrumbs, then bake until bubbling and browned on top.
What I Thought of the Results
I can totally understand why Ina’s mac and cheese is a crowd-pleaser. It’s rich and creamy, but not too thick, and the breadcrumbs offer nice crunch. Thanks to the all-white, Gruyère-based cheese sauce, it feels much fancier than your typical mac and cheese, making it worthy of a spot at a dinner party or holiday table. It also comes together quickly, and I appreciate that she uses the full box of pasta.
However, I personally found the flavor of the Gruyère overpowering. I can typically devour an impressive amount of mac and cheese in one sitting, but I could only muster a few bites of Ina’s. Plus, that stuff is expensive! Twelve ounces (about four cups) will set you back at least $15.
Even if you enjoy the assertive flavor of Gruyère, there’s another ingredient in Ina’s mac that I guarantee will stir up some controversy at your table: the tomatoes. While I’m actually a big fan of tomatoes, I actually don’t think they add anything here (in fact, they became sorta slimy as they baked), and they were a total turn off to my friends who don’t like tomatoes.
If You Make Ina’s Mac and Cheese …
1. Don’t bother adding oil to your pasta water. Adding oil to boiling water is thought to keep it from boiling over and prevent the noodles from sticking, but a big-enough pot that a quick stir after you pour in the noodles is just as effective. Plus, any residual oil left on the noodles will prevent the cheese sauce from clinging to the pasta. I’m actually surprised Ina endorses this technique.
2. Opt for half Gruyère, half cheddar. If I were to make Ina’s mac and cheese again, I would do a 50:50 Gruyère and cheddar split. (The recipe as written calls for twice as many cups of Gruyère as cheddar.) The resulting dish would be just as creamy and cheesy, but slightly milder — and more affordable.
3. Unless you really love tomatoes, omit them altogether. I can almost guarantee that in any group of six to eight people, the majority would rather not have slices of out-of-season tomatoes baked on top of their mac and cheese. It’s much safer to leave them off.
Overall Rating: 7 out of 10
Ina’s mac and cheese was certainly good, but it won’t become my new go-to.
Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Macaroni and Cheese