The foundation of this creamy casserole is a classic mornay sauce, a béchamel sauce to which cheese has been added—in this case, Comté, a French cheese with a complex, nutty flavor that melts beautifully. With lots of freshly grated nutmeg to season it and a golden, crunchy breadcrumb topping, it's a luscious, satisfying side dish for the Thanksgiving table. The dish comes from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, in the Napa Valley, where the staff makes it as part of their annual Thanksgiving dinner for veterans and their families.
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 medium yellow onion (1/2 minced, 1/2 whole)
- 6 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cups whole milk
- 1 lb. Comté, fontina, or Gruyère, grated
- 1 tbsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1⁄4 cup bread crumbs
Cook macaroni in a 6-qt. saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 2 tbsp. butter; set aside.
Heat oven to 375°. Add remaining butter to pan; melt over medium-high. Cook minced onion until golden, 6–8 minutes. Stir in flour; cook 3 minutes. Stud remaining onion half with cloves and bay leaves and add to pan. Add milk; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5–7 minutes. Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over macaroni. Stir in three-quarters of the cheese, the nutmeg, salt, and pepper; transfer to a 9" x 13" baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and the bread crumbs; bake until golden and bubbly, 40–45 minutes.