Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb alternative. It’s much lighter and crunchier than regular breadcrumbs. I use it exclusively instead of breadcrumbs.
If you can’t find campanelle, try to pick something with curves and ridges. Curves provide more nooks and crannies for the sauce to hide in and the increased surface area of the ridges gives the sauce more to hang on to. As I mentioned in Epicurious’ Mac & Cheese video, the pasta is really just a cheese delivery device.
You can substitute other cheeses for the ones provided below. To preserve the sauce texture, use the same category of cheese. If you don’t have Parm-Reg, use another aged hard cheese, such as Grana Padano. Instead of mascapone, use another cream cheese, like…cream cheese [who would have thought?!] or crème fraîche. Instead of Havarti or white Cheddar, try Taleggio or Emmental.
While we’re on the topic of cheese, try to find real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Anything labeled “Parmesan” or that doesn’t say “D.O.P.” is not real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. DO NOT BUY KRAFT. I have strong opinions here because real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is so good and so flavorful you’ll wonder how any of the knock offs ever made it to market [hint: legal loophole]. Here’s an entire book on the subject that I found fascinating.
1 cup [I can’t remember the weight] panko
1/2 pound (250 g) dried campanelle pasta
1 pint heavy cream
4 ounces (125 g) Havarti, grated
4 ounces (125 g) Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated [I LOVED using Gruyère in place of parm though…]
4 ounces (125 g) mascarpone
4 ounces (125 g) white Cheddar, grated
Heat the oven to 350 ̊F.
Toast the panko in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once it’s good and toasted, transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook the pasta in well salted water per package directions for a few minutes less than al dente. If the package doesn’t have directions for al dente, subtract 2-3 minutes from the full cook time. Drain, and reserve.
Bring the half-and-half to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cheeses to the saucepan and stir until completely incorporated. You shouldn’t see huge chunks of cheese floating around.
Add the pasta to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce on top. Top with panko.
Bake for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking the pasta. The sauce will firm up as the pasta absorbs some the sauce. If the panko is getting too brown, or the pasta looks like it’s drying out, cover the casserole dish with a piece of foil.