1 pound elbow macaroni (preferably with ridges)
8 ounces mascarpone
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup tightly packed grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/2 cup for topping
1/2 cup milk
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For variation add one of the following:
1 cup basic tomato sauce
1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup taleggio cheese,broken into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and turn it on to convection if that's a possibility. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni for 2 minutes less than indicated on the package.
Meanwhile, stir together the mascarpone, nutmeg and 1 cup of Parmesan in a small saucepan over a medium flame until the cheeses melt together, about 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and salt and pepper to taste and keep the sauce warm over a low flame.
Drain the pasta and combine it with the sauce.
In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan and the bread crumbs.
At this point, you can put the macaroni in a large baking dish, scatter the bread crumb topping over it, dot it with the butter, and bake it for 15 minutes and it will be great.
Or you can do any of the following variations, which can be done in 4-ounce ramekins to make individual servings:
1. Put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, then pour the macaroni over the sauce, sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, dot with butter and bake for 15 minutes.
2. Mix the mozzarella with the macaroni before pouring into the baking dish. Top with the bread crumb mixture, dot with butter and bake for 15 minutes. This is also particularly nice with the tomato sauce base as in number 1, above.
3 After you pour the macaroni into the baking dish, tuck in tiny bits of the crumbled gorgonzola, sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, dot with butter and bake for 15 minutes.
4. After you pour the macaroni into the baking dish, put a layer of taleggio on top, sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, dot with butter, and bake for 15 minutes.