The secret to the best mac and cheese is in the sauce. This four cheese penne pasta recipe with figs makes a cheese sauce in a flash—it uses the starch from the pasta water to fuse with cream sauce and cheese. When combined in a large bowl and covered for a few minutes, the result is a four cheese penne pasta that’s silky and utterly decadent. We use Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid Mission Dried Figs in this dish but you could also use Golden Figs too. Either way, the figs cut through the rich cheese sauce.
Creamy Baked Four Cheese Penne Pasta with Figs
Bread Crumb Topping
- 8 slices white sandwich bread with crusts torn into quarter-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 ounce
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pasta and Cheese
- 4 ounces fontina cheese shredded (about 1 cup)
- 3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese 1 ounce
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 ounce
- 1 cup chopped Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid California Figs about 6 ounces
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- FOR THE TOPPING: Pulse bread in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Transfer to small bowl; stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Set mixture aside.
- FOR THE PASTA: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.
- Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in stockpot.
- Combine cheeses and figs in large bowl; set aside.
- Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water; stir to separate pasta.
- While pasta is cooking, melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in cream, increase heat to medium, and bring to boil, -stirring occasionally; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 minute to ensure that flour cooks. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper; cover cream mixture to keep hot and set aside.
- When pasta is very al dente (when bitten into, pasta should be opaque and slightly underdone at very center), drain off almost all the water, leaving pasta slightly wet. Add pasta to bowl with cheeses and figs. Immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl with foil or large plate and let stand 3 minutes. Uncover bowl and stir with rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl, until cheeses are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.
- Transfer pasta to 13 by 9-inch baking dish, then sprinkle evenly with reserved bread crumbs, pressing down lightly. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Serve immediately.