There are recipes for macaroni and cheese springing up all over the place and with good reason, who isn’t comforted by warm, cheesy goodness? This particular recipe is a keeper, for two primary reasons: my family loves it and it includes bacon. I always round out the meal with a nice green garden salad.
I recently learned some great mac n’ cheese tips from a chef friend:
To achieve that creamy, cheesy texture avoid the temptation to combine your ingredients and then bake it all in the oven, casserole style. This method will make your cheesy goodness hard as a brick as it cools.
Instead, mix your cooked pasta and warm cheese sauce together right before serving. All of it can be prepared in advance— be sure to cover your cheese sauce with a layer of plastic wrap (lay it down on the actual sauce) and then remove prior to reheating. If you want that crunchy crust, mix your pasta and warm cheese mixture, then simply sprinkle breadcrumbs and a little cheese on top of your gratin and place under the broiler for just 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Adapted from The Balthazar Cookbook
1 16-ounce box of elbow macaroni (I love Pipe Rigate from whole foods!)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces lightly smoked thick slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
5 cups whole milk
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (divided)
1/2 cup panko style bread crumbs
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Juice of half a lemon
Set oven to broiler setting.
Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the box (make sure to add a fair amount of salt to the water). Drain, toss with the olive oil, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
Add the bacon to a small skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and add to the cooked macaroni.
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a foamy boil and then reduce the heat to very low to keep warm.
In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring until a smooth, pale roux has formed. Return the saucepan to medium heat and, while still whisking steadily, begin ladling the hot milk into the roux, 1 cup at a time, completely incorporating each cup before adding the next. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and bubbles gently, about 2 minutes. Add the Parmesan, 2 cups of the Gruyere, the salt, cayenne and pepper, the lemon juice and stir until the cheese has completely melted and creamy. Taste for seasoning.
Pour the sauce over the macaroni, mix thoroughly, and pour into a warm 10 X 14-inch gratin dish or six small ramekins. Toss the remaining cup of Gruyere with the panko and sprinkle over the top , and broil for a couple of minutes until the top is brown and crunchy.