I have a confession to make. I’ve never had mac & cheese from that iconic blue box. While eating the neon orange concoction was a childhood rite of passage for most of my friends, Kraft’s version was never very appetizing to me. However, this made-from-scratch mac & cheese, oozing with cheesy goodness, is a whole other story! Adding bacon to this is just pure genius! Thanks to my friend, Patti, who posted a photo of her mac & cheese on facebook, for reminding me that I had this recipe from Lori at RecipeGirl that I’ve been wanting to try.
The breadcrumb topping gives this dish just enough garlic flavor without overpowering it. I love the crunch it gives the creamy, soft pasta. The tanginess of the goat cheese and the sharp white cheddar helps cut through the richness and the red pepper flakes gives it a little kick. Then, last but not least, there’s the bacon to “gild the lily.” If you really want to send this over the top, a few dashes of truffle oil will probably do the trick. This is truly a great mac and cheese!!
I do have to warn you. While mac & cheese is definitely one of the all-time best comfort foods, this is not for the faint of heart. It is decadent and indulgent, and very necessary, every once in a while! The recipe calls for whole milk, not cream, so it does save a few calories. While I don’t recommend eating like this all the time, please try to resist the urge to make this recipe “healthy.” It just won’t be as good. Sometimes, you gotta live dangerously (just carry your own defibrillator)!
Bacon Mac & Cheese
Adapted from RecipeGirl.com
Yields 12 servings
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Mac & Cheese
12 ounces (1 package) bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces ( I used a package of Citterio brand diced pancetta, from Trader Joes)
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound pasta (elbows or shells), cooked very al dente (or 2-3 minutes less than the suggested cooking time on the box)
5 1/2 cups whole milk, heated until warm
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon paprika
16 ounces (or 4 cups) sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded & divided
8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3 to 4 quart casserole dish.
To prepare the breadcrumb topping, place garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Add the panko breadcrumbs and pour in butter and mix until well combined. Set aside.
In a large skillet (see note below), sauté bacon until it is almost crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings from the pan. Add 3 tablespoons butter to the bacon drippings and heat to medium. When butter sizzles, add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Slowly pour warmed milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles up and thickens. Remove pan from heat and stir in thyme, mustard powder, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and paprika. Then stir in 3 cups cheddar, goat and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses.
Stir cooked pasta and most of the cooked bacon (reserve some bacon to sprinkle on top) into the cheese sauce. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheddar onto the pasta. Scatter herbed breadcrumbs and remaining bacon over the top.
Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Check at 15 minutes and cover top loosely with foil if the breadcrumbs are browning to quickly. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.
Note: Use a large skillet or pot that is big enough to hold all the ingredients. This way you can use the same pan with the little bits of bacon stuck to it to make the cheese sauce for maximum bacon flavor.
P.S. Leftovers reheat very well in the microwave.