Melt: The Art of Macarni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti.

Melt: The Art of Macarni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord. Photo by Matt Armendariz.

My friends Stephanie Stiavetti, who writes  The Culinary Life blog, and Garrett McCord, who writes the blog Vanilla Garlic, are publishing their very first book, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, on that all-but-infallible pairing of pasta and cheese. When they asked me to write the foreword, I groaned. This is exactly the kind of cookbook we don’t need more of, I thought to myself. But then I read it, and thought this is exactly the kind of cookbook we need, this nation that has so readily accepted orange flavoring packets to stir into their food. Stephanie and Garrett attempt to raise this often thoughtlessly prepared dish to its highest possible level by asking us to take more care with it, to use excellent pasta and excellent cheese. This is not only a book filled with excellent info on cheeses and pastas and great recipes (photography is by Matt Armendariz), it’s yet another hopeful example of the way American cooks are raising the quality of the food we eat.

To promote this book, the publisher has sent me three copies to give away. All you have to do is tell me in the comments what your favorite or most exciting version of mac and cheese you’ve ever had and why it was so memorable (include a working email, obviously). Winners will be chosen at random, but I’m genuinely eager to hear what your best mac and cheese was (mine, it should be no surprise, was the lobster mac and cheese at the French Laundry in 1998).

Congrats, Stephanie and Garrett! Melt is terrific!

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni


Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni

  • 1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
  • 4 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Fontina is a creamy, woodsy, Alpine-style cheese . There are m any varieties of Fontina, from Swiss to Italian, with some fine specimens even coming out of Wisconsin. Each has its own unique profile, so be sure to taste them all and pick the one that you like best. Regardless of which you choose, you will get a nice semihard texture and subtle mushroomy flavor. It just so happens that Fontina pairs beautifully with the sugary flavors of a good baking pumpkin. This recipe, baked inside the pumpkin—a trick inspired by Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, both famous for their stuffed-pumpkin recipes (among other things)—simply knocked our socks off with flavor and a stylish yet homey presentation.

Although best with Fontina and a touch of Gruyère, another Alpine favorite, this recipe is flexible and can use whatever cheeses, meats, onions, or extra pasta you have on hand. Feel free to experiment. We particularly like Valley Ford’s Estero Gold or its Highway 1 Fontina, as well as Roth Käse’s MezzaLuna Fontina. If you want to try something radical, a creamy blue cheese like Buttermilk Blue or Cambozola will do nicely too.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.
  3. Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.
  4. In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.
  5. Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4

Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne

Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts


Winners of the Melt giveaway are:

  • Susan B, of New York City
  • Mildhe of Texas
  • Terry S., of Clinton NY

Thanks all for reading and taking the time to comment!

If you liked this post, take a look at these links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


145 Wonderful responses to “Melt, a Giveaway, and Pumpkin Mac & Cheese”

  • Dean

    My favorite mac&cheese was for my daughters, neice and myself as a “staff meal.” We had made an elaborate multi-course meal for my parents’ anniversary; the kids were dressed as waitstaff and I in a chef’s coat and we served my folks. While they were dining on real consomme, seared scallops, duck and fine wines, we ate a really tasty mac and cheese in the kitchen. The cheeses used were Gruyere and Cheddar and it had fried onion mixed in the bread-crumb crust. At the end of the meal we all had dessert together. I still have great memories of seeing the kids dressed in starched white blouses and black bistro aprons gobbling down the mac and cheese and eager to serve the next course.

  • Adam

    My favorite Mac and Cheese is from Lottie and Doof. It’s decadent, rich, and full of bacon. It’s one of my favorites because it’s one of the first recipes that my girlfriend and I put in to our regular rotation.

  • Heather C.

    When I had my first child, we received lots of gifts, but good friends who had their first only eight months before came to visit and brought a homemade mac & cheese with Fontina for us. I had never had homemade before, just the boxed stuff occasionally in graduate school. A day or two later, we had a pipe burst downstairs and our basement was flooded. My mom and husband spent the day cleaning while I cared for our nine-day-old son. That night, we had the mac & cheese, and it was perfect: warm and gooey and comforting and made with love, and it was just what we needed after a rough day.

  • pd

    Way before the often banal, insipid cooking contest TV fare of today, we played our own cooking game. Typically, one group would buy ingredients for the other group and each group was tasked with different courses. It was three against two, and the two of us had my infant godson in tow.

    We had used all of our items save for an herbed goat cheese and shallots and still had to produce an appetizer. Both teams had approved a common pantry beforehand and, lo and behold, there was the elbow macaroni. Staying in the tradition of naming our other dishes, that was the best Mac et Fromage I have had to date!

  • Troy

    My favorite mac and cheese will always be a homemade version that my grandmother made. It was always a staple at our dinners at her house. Nothing can beat the toasted edges, those were always the best.

  • Steve

    Shamefully, bleu cheese and hot sauce mac and cheese (Buffalo Wing Style)

  • annietiques

    My favorite mac & cheese is the one I make for my family!!! Cheesy goodness, topped with bread crumbs, parsley and garlic!! My kids friends would beg to be invited to dinner on “Mac & Cheese” night!

  • ryan

    I whipped up some serious hangover mac and cheese at work one day. Using my own cured bison tongue pastrami, sauerkraut, and gruyere cheese. I topped it with chives and brown buttered rye crumbs. Reuben Mac! Yes it was delicious.

  • A.S.

    Favorite mac & cheese is my mom’s. And I have NO IDEA how she makes it. It’s nothing special – no lobster or bechamel or what have you. But somehow it’s better than everything I’ve ever made or had out. I really have to remember to ask her some time how she makes it.

  • Ryan scav

    Hi Michael! Mac and cheese has always been my favorite dish in times of crisis. It’s just the best comfort food you’ll ever have! So the most memorable time I had it was when my mom made me some after I had my ACL rebuild surgery (I hadn’t been able to eat in days!). But the best tasting Mac was from an off the path restaurant in Cleveland called … Krazy Macs (I think). It’s where spice is now located. They shut down a few years ago, but they had wild choices. My favorite one was a Black Forest Mac with wild mushrooms and Gouda. YUM! There is a place in Cincinnati called Keystone that makes some excellent dishes as well.

  • Sandra

    I’ve never tried making anything really fancy; usually it’s just cheddar, probably with peas or broccoli, and maybe some ham. But it’s tasty, and there’s always enough for leftovers.

  • Michael

    My biggest wish for Mac and Cheese is that it gets baked and crusty. I love the texture difference of the chewy top and the creamy bottom. After that, I’m a firm believer of the ‘law of good ingredients.’ Put good quality stuff in it and it’s bound to be yummy.

  • Marcus

    My family has a tyradition of taking our travel trailer to the Oregon coast every Thanksgiving for a 10-day vacation. The menu planning is extensive as we’re all “foodies” (we visited Scotland last year and my son’s favorie foods were chicken liver pate and steamed mussles – go figure). One thing we make every year during that vacation is lobster mac and cheese, buying the lobster from a local seafood shop who sources locally. Gruyere and emmentaller cheese all oozey and gooey in a creamy dance all over the steamed lobster chunks – divine! Enjoyed especially right out of the oven on a cold Oregon (usually rainy) day…

  • Denise

    My favorite mac and cheese is one that a friend made as an experiment, using saffron in the bechamel. Sounds crazy, but it’s really good!

  • Susan

    My favorite mac and cheese was the gratiné served with braised veal breast at one of the Paul Bocuse offshoot bistrots in Lyon about 10 years ago. With a hearty meat dish I was surprised at such a rich accompaniment, but it was perfect, more creamy than sharply cheesy, and nicely crusted. I was never able to reverse engineer it.

  • Cheryl

    My favorite mac ‘n cheese is a version made at a local restaurant with four white cheeses and a panko crumb topping!

  • Peter

    I never make or order macaroni and cheese so the boxed, yellow powder kind we made when I was a kid is the best/only one I’ve ever had. After reading these posts and that pumpkin mac recipe, I’ve decided that I need to win or buy that book to help rectify my unfortunate situation.

  • Bird

    I am all about food from scratch – quality ingredients – the love of cooking – and exposing our young son to that from day one. Mac and Cheese is his favorite – of course. But me in my ‘of all the dishes in the world’ snobbery always return to the thought that Mac and Cheese has to be neon orange and come from a box. NOT TRUE. I love the idea of this book. So – most memorable – we have become total ‘Vitamixers’ and get a total hoot that beyond the every day veggie smoothie we use it for – there is actually a cook book with all sorts of food one can make in their Vitamix. My 9 yr old and I have together made the mac and cheese from there! That mac and cheese memory stands strong both for him and I.

  • lark

    The best I ever had was some homemade but utterly ordinary (made with Velveeta) mac ‘n’ cheese. What made it special was the gluten-free pasta. After learning that I’m gluten-intolerant I thought my favorite comfort food would be a thing of the past so it was wonderful to have it.

  • joeinvegas

    Mine was here in Vegas. They have a yearly ‘restaurant week’ of special meals that benefit our local food bank. One year we hit Andre’s French restaurant, and ordered a special mac & cheese with truffles – it was magnificent! And unfortunately only a special and not made again. ug. At least we got to have it once!

  • Kerrey Reyes

    My favorite Mac and cheese was the ham, onion and Dijon that I made when I had my first kitchen many years ago. It was the first time I felt confident and cooked without a recipe.

  • Stephanie Harley

    just came across the chocolate pasta recipe for my chocolate business, would love to try several more of the recipes Thanks for being so creative!

  • Amy Nelson

    Made the recipe for the macaroni and cheese in the pumpkin last night! OMG! It was SO GOOD! Going to have to make it again before pumpkins are gone! Read the first few pages and recipes of my copy of MELT I got yesterday for my birthday gift from my daughter. Can not wait to cook some more!

  • Chris Ostoich

    My favorite Mac and Cheese is from the Walnut Brewery in Boulder, CO. (Which I think is the same as Rock Bottom Brewery, chain). I had it first at Walnut, and so associate it with that place. It is not as cheesy and a little more spicy. It is topped with Parmesan breadcrumbs and contains chicken. I want it now. A close second is my grandma’s oven baked. Simple and delicious, with that crusty top mentioned in an earlier comment.

  • Stephen

    This dish has been ingrained into me over the years. I lost my father at age 6, at that time my uneducated, single mother faced one of the biggest challenges I could ever imagine to be in; how to feed herself and her two children, and find a job with a high enough pay and respectable hours to work, all on a high-school education. Eventually, she decided she wanted to go for schooling at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, to become an interior designer. She spent 3+ years commuting into the city to get her degree, while working a job and taking care of her family. Nearly every night she would take us out to King’s Family restaurant for $.99 kids meals, or she would make spaghetti with jarred sauce. After several years of the jarred sauce, i could barely look at tomato sauce. One night, while staying at my grandmother’s, I had finally had enough and asked for buttered noodles. Macaroni, specifically. It was like i’d never tasted anything in the world that could somehow be better than this dish. After a few times eating the dish, I decided to add pepper and the Kraft (green label) shaker cheese. This may not even count as macaroni and cheese…macaroni and dairy, at least. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a reminder of where my life once was, and where I’m at now. My mother has now owned her own successful interior design business for over 10 years, and she hasn’t looked back. Today is my birthday, and I’m giving my mother a present, rather than her giving me one, to tell her how important she has been to my life, and that I wouldn’t be here without her.

  • margaret

    Sadly, my favorite mac and cheese recipe was from a box; however, it was made with REAL butter. So you see I am deserving of a copy of Melt to elevate my M & C palate.

  • Braydon

    For me it was easily the first time I ever had real homemade mac n cheese. Sadly growing up we were only fed the stuff in the blue box with the frozen trays of the stuff reserved only for special occasions. But one night I spent the night at a friends house and his mom made home made mac n cheese! I remember being confused by how good the it smell and the fact it was served in a big glass dish rather than spooned from a pot. But most important was the fact it had a golden crunchy crust that basically reinvented my entire idea of what mac and cheese was. Ever since that night, mac and cheese has always been about the crust for me.

  • Jacob

    My favorite is the cauliflower mac and cheese from Heston Blumenthal at Home. I absolutely love everything that’s in it – high-quality cheddar, Gruyere, brown butter, and fried-raw-and-pureed cauliflower. It’s the first mac and cheese that my toddler ever ate, and he loves it, too.

  • Sarah

    AnllI have a picky eater in my house so we pretty much eat the standard basic cheddar baked kind. But I do a pretty good job – no one is ever disappointed!

  • Naomi

    The first time I made the mac and cheese from Modernist Cuisine at Home using good sharp cheddar and sodium citrate and it didn’t break, even after baking, I was so happy. I’ve never had any luck with bechamels staying emulsified after baking, but I kept trying until I found that recipe and stopped wasting good cheese.

  • Gail

    My most memorable Mac n’ Cheese was the 4-cheese recipe from the Silver Palate because from that I finally realized Mac n’cheese could actually be good! Even as a child I LOATHED the boxed stuff.

  • Dan

    My favorite mac and cheese is from Michael Symon. Goat cheese, rosemary, garlic and roasted chicken. It was the first time I ever used goat cheese. My wife still raves about it.

  • Sharon

    My favorite mac and cheese was my grandma’s that I had as a kid …I’ve never been able to really replicate it though. Lots of different cheeses, cream …and lots of grandma love!

  • Jess

    I was well into adulthood before I learned that Mac and cheese didn’t always come in a box. I love a classic, but my favorite has diced Spanish chorizo and caramelized onions. And a nice crispy top.

  • Matthew

    When I was a small boy, I loved the ubiquitous Kraft dinner, and it killed my dad (a former high end restaurant cook from the days before it was cool). he spent a insider able amount of time failing to convince me that the original Joy of Cookig recipe was better.

    A few years ago, I mentioned this to him and expressed a desire to have the version he’d tried to sell me on when I was preschool age. I have to admit that I was a little nervous. Early taste memories have a way of betraying the actual dish, but I was relieved that his version tasted both exactly as I remembered it and world’s better than Kraft’s. Even after eating many, many haute cuisine interpretations, his is still the one I like best.

  • Matthew

    Edit above: he spent a considerable amount of time. iPhone autocorrect strikes again. That’s not the only one, but it is the most egregious.

  • Tery

    I have to agree with Dan- favorite mac and cheese I’ve had was a rosemary goat cheese mac and cheeses at one of Michael Symon’s restaurants. I’ve tried to mimic it lately by combining both fresh, as well as aged goat cheeses. As I’m making my bechamel sauce, I throw in a few twigs of rosemary to get the flavor infused. And you can’t go wrong topping it with buttery, toasted panko.

  • Jeffrey

    I have never had great Mac and Cheese, Thus, I would love this book. I stopped letting my kids eat the box stuff a ling time ago. I tried to make it using a recipe online, but somehow it came out goopy. Please throw my name in the hat to give me a gastronomic rescue.. thanks.


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