- 1 pound cavatappi or elbow pasta with lines or conchiglie (small fat tube/shell shaped pasta with lines)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- 3 ribs celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- About 2 tablespoons thyme leaves (several sprigs), freshly chopped
- About 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked for shells and flaked
- 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 pound grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 1 rounded cup)
- 1/3 pound shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese (about 1 rounded cup)
- 3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot brand
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (a couple of handfuls)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat, then salt the water. Add the pasta and cook for 3-4 minutes (it will be undercooked). Cool, drain well and add it to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, in a medium size saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of EVOO, two turns of the pan, and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, red pepper, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper, to taste. Cook to tender, 6-8 minutes. Add the crabmeat to the vegetables and season liberally with seafood seasoning. Stir to combine, then remove from the heat.
In a medium size saucepot over low heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk and bring to a bubble. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste, and cook for a few minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Add the mustard and the cheese and stir in a figure 8 motion. Add the vegetables and crab and sauce to the bowl with the pasta and transfer the mixture to individual baking crocks or a large casserole dish. This can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.
Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
To complete the dish, melt a couple of tablespoons butter in a small skillet over low heat and add 3 tablespoons hot sauce. Warm through, then add the panko crumbs and toss to evenly coat the crumbs in the sauce mixture. Cool the crumbs, then toss in the parsley and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Top the mac 'n cheese with the spicy crumb mixture.
Arrange individual crocks on a baking sheet or put the casserole on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until brown and heated through, about 10 minutes. If cooking from cold, the mac 'n cheese will take 40-45 minutes, but add the crumbs during the last 10 minutes of baking.