This recipe was published in Ashley Christensen's first cookbook, Poole's: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner (purchase a signed copy here).

Since opening the flagship Poole's Diner in 2007, chef Ashley Christensen's work—both in the kitchen and the community—has earned the attention and admiration of foodies everywhere.

Proof of that? Proprietor of five eating and drinking establishments in downtown Raleigh, Ashley was named America's best chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2019 (the industry's highest honor for a chef).

It's also possible that she makes America's most famous macaroni and cheese.

At Poole's—a modern diner with retro-chic charm—the macaroni au gratin was one of the very first dishes dreamed up for the chalkboard menu more than a decade ago. Today, it's far and away the most popular item in the restaurant. More than 16,000 orders—using 10,000 pounds of cheese—are sold each year.

After her James Beard win in May 2019, Ashley made the dish on ABC's "Strahan & Sara" (jump to the video below).

"...when a Macaroni au Gratin is walked through the dining room at Poole's, heads turn, and the phrase 'I'll take one of those' echoes through the joint."

Ashley Christensen in Pooles: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner

And while the mac at Poole's Diner is perhaps America's most famous, it's almost certainly the most well-known dish in Raleigh (the header photo above, taken by Angie Mosier, has appeared in countless magazines and news stories about both Ashley and Raleigh over the years). 

Decadent but not fancy, this dish is made up of just a handful of ingredients—noodles, heavy cream, three types of cheeses and salt—and is best shared with friends and family. 

Below is the full ingredient list and a condensed write-up of the recipe found in Poole's: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner


Ingredient list

  • Kosher salt
  • Sea salt
  • 6 ounces of dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 ounces Grana Padano*, shredded
  • 2 ounces Jarlsberg**, shredded
  • 6 ounces white cheddar, shredded
  • 2 cups heavy cream

*An Italian cheese similar to Parmagiano-Reggiano, less expensive and more mild in flavor
**A mild, buttery Norwegian cheese that melts wonderfully (Gruyère​ or Havarti could be used as a substitute)



  • Bring 2 quarts water and 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil
  • Add macaroni and cook until barely al dente, then drain
  • Transfer macaroni to rimmed baking sheet and mix in oil, then allow to cool completely
  • Set a rack in the oven about 4 inches from broiler and preheat the broiler
  • Combine 40% of all cheeses into a bowl
  • In large, deep saucepan, bring cream and 1 teaspoon sea salt to a boil then simmer for 2 minutes
  • Add noodles and cook for 90 seconds while cream begins to thicken
  • Start adding the 40% of cheeses in small handfuls, stirring and waiting for each batch to melt before adding more
  • Transfer contents of saucepan to a baking dish and pile remaining cheese on top
  • Place baking dish under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, rotating throughout, until cheese melts and forms golden-brown crust
  • Remove from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve


Watch: Ashley Christensen makes macaroni au gratin on "Strahan & Sara"

After earning Most Outstanding Chef honors from the James Beard Foundation in May 2019, Ashley joined ABC's "Strahan & Sara" to walk them through the easier-than-you'd-think process of making this cheesy staple. If the video is not displaying below, you can click here to watch



Header photo by Angie Mosier


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