The Pasta Queen’s “400-Year-Old” Mac and Cheese Bake Is Old-School Delicious

published Sep 11, 2021
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Credit: Sara Tane

Every time The Pasta Queen graces us with a new TikTok video, I’m always on the edge of my seat. What will she do next? Between her assassin’s spaghetti, snappy harlot, and devil’s kiss pasta, I am already a huge fan of her culinary work. So when her Italian mac and cheese bake hit my #fyp (as the kids say), I knew that I had no other option but to give it a whirl. Legend has it that the recipe is 400 years old. Time to see if this centuries-old recipe holds up.

Credit: Sara Tane

How to Make Italian Mac and Cheese Bake

Other than this very informative TikTok, there does not appear to be a formal recipe with exact measurements and cooking times. That’s okay! I don’t think that they were Googling for recipe specifics 400 years ago, so we’re not going to worry too much about it now either. The first thing you need to do is make a basic bechamel sauce. To do this, melt some butter in a large, oven-safe saucepan or skillet over medium heat, then add the exact same amount of flour and whisk it in. Gradually add warmed milk, whisking constantly, until you see the mixture start to thicken. Season it with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Then add cooked pasta (I used rigatoni), cubes of Fontina cheese, and grated Parmesan, tossing everything in the warm bechamel sauce. Then top it all off with some more Parmesan and a few cubes of butter. Bake it in the oven until the top is bubbling and golden-brown. Serve that cheesy masterpiece immediately.

Credit: Sara Tane

My Honest Review of Italian Mac and Cheese Bake

Upon watching this recipe video, my immediate thoughts were that it didn’t seem like she did anything too revolutionary here. Classic bechamel tossed with some cooked noodles and baked with lots of cheese and butter? Yep, that checks out. The mac and cheese was, of course, delicious. If you make a pasta dish with boatloads of cheese and butter and it doesn’t taste amazing, well, that should be deeply concerning.

I think the real epiphany about this recipe is that simple techniques and ingredients can yield flawless results. Sure, trailblazing modern culinary ingenuity can be fascinating and inspiring, but using classic, tried-and-true techniques that we as a society of home cooks know work and love to use? I think that can be pretty great, too, and this recipe is a perfect example. Nothing too jaw-droppingly unexpected going on, but the results are rich and delicious. 

In our current TikTok age, we’re so obsessed with the never-before-seen cooking technique (i.e., baking a whole block of feta, cooking eggs in pesto, baking cooked pasta into crunchy chips, folding up a tortilla in a new way) that it’s easy to lose sight of the textbook techniques that actually work.

Credit: Sara Tane

2 Tips for Making Italian Mac and Cheese Bake

  1. Use your best judgment. Because there aren’t any formal measurements here, you’ll need to use your best approximation. I cooked a half-pound of pasta and made a bechamel sauce with four tablespoons each of butter and flour and about two to three cups of warmed milk. As far as the cheese measurements, that is entirely up to you, but you really can’t have too much. I baked mine in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400°F. That said, I wouldn’t concern yourself too much with precise measurements and cooking times because you can get away with eyeballing things.
  2. Get creative. This is a rather streamlined version of mac and cheese, so feel free to use the basic method (cooked pasta tossed with bechamel, cheese, and butter cubes) as a starting point for ingredients. You can add different cheeses besides Parmesan and Fontina (Gruyère, mozzarella, and white cheddar would all be great) and you can also play around with any additional toppings, like breadcrumbs or crispy shallots. If you want to add more spices to your bechamel, like a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne, that’s never a bad idea. Use your ideal pasta shape — anything from macaroni to penne to ziti to rotini would all work the same.