Total time: 1½ hours
Note: Adapted from Michael Ruhlman's "Ruhlman's Twenty."
1/4 cup (½ stick) butter, divided
1 onion, sliced
1 shallot, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 or 7 gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or smoked paprika
1. Melt half the butter in a medium pan over medium heat and add the onion and a four-fingered pinch (about one-fourth teaspoon) of salt. Cook, stirring until the onion is nicely caramelized, about 20 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the remaining butter. Add the shallot and a three-finger pinch (about one-eighth teaspoon) of salt and cook until some of the water has cooked out of the butter and it has stopped foaming, about 1 minute. Add the flour, stir to mix it with the butter, and cook until the mixture has taken on a toasted aroma, a few more minutes.
3. Gradually whisk in the milk and stir with a flat-edged wooden spoon or spatula, to make sure the flour doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce comes up to a simmer and thickens, a few minutes more.
4. Stir in a three-finger pinch of salt, the white wine vinegar, sherry, fish sauce, dry mustard, black pepper, nutmeg and cayenne or smoked paprika.
5. Add the onion to the sauce and stir until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a blender and process until pureed, or puree in the pan with a hand blender.
6. Keep the sauce warm over low heat. You should have about 2 cups soubise.
3 tablespoons butter, melted and divided
3/4 pound macaroni, penne or other short tube pasta
1 pound Comté, Gruyère, Emmentaler, cheddar or a combination of these cheeses, grated and divided
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 ounce)
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1. Brush the inside of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cook the pasta just until al dente, drain, then place in a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle half of the Comté cheese into the soubise and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and pour over the pasta. Toss the pasta to mix well and pour it into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining Comté. (The dish can be prepared to this point up to 3 days before serving and refrigerated tightly covered.)
3. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta. Stir the bread crumbs into the remaining melted butter and spread over top of the casserole. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes (longer if it has chilled in the refrigerator).
4. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese is nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 758 calories; 34 grams protein; 56 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 43 grams fat; 25 grams saturated fat; 129 mg cholesterol; 5 grams sugar; 697 mg sodium.