Thursday, February 12, 2015

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

Let's just pause for a minute and think about the amazing goodness that warm melted cheese and thick smoky bacon can bring to a multitude of recipes. Mmm....

When I brought the two together for this smoky bacon mac & cheese, it was pretty much perfect. I love everything about this recipe. The combination of sharp cheddar and aged gruyere with a little parmigiano-reggiano is just the right mixture of cheeses. The bacon, which comes from Benton's Smoky Country Hams, is so smoky it will make you think someone built a campfire in your kitchen.

When making the béchamel, I've recently learned that it works better to add the milk in small increments rather than all at once. I've noticed that you don't end up with that "flour film" in the pan that I've experienced before. Otherwise, I think I can just let the pictures do the talking on this one (scroll all the way down for the recipe).

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

8 oz. thick hickory-smoked bacon, cut into lardons (1/4- to 1/2-inch wide strips)--I strongly recommend using Benton's hickory smoked country bacon
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
1 tbsp. plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Dash of grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. shredded aged gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan) cheese

1. Cook bacon in a medium frying pan over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the bacon grease or save for another use.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to packaged directions for al dente. Drain and set aside in the pot.

3. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a small nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add panko and stir to coat evenly with butter. Cook for about 2 minutes. Don't brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan (I recommend using a shallow saucepan) over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes (do not brown), stirring frequently with the whisk to form a roux. Add 1/4 cup of milk and immediately whisk into the roux until smooth. Add another 1/4 cup milk and repeat. Keep adding the milk in 1/4 cup increments, whisking each time until the mixture is smooth, until all the milk is added. Increase the to medium heat to bring the mixture to a bubble, then reduce heat to medium low. Season with nutmeg and white pepper. This is white sauce, sometimes called béchamel.

5. Add the cheese by handfuls to the béchamel, whisking in each handful until smooth until all the cheese has been incorporated. Turn off the heat.

6. Preheat the oven broiler with the rack about 6 inches from the broiler.

7. Add the cooked bacon, grated parmigiano-reggiano and cheese sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta. Stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 9 X 13 baking dish. Smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the buttered panko evenly over the top. Place the baking dish under the broiler and broil until the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes (watch carefully, do not do this unattended as it can burn very fast). Remove from oven and serve immediately in shallow bowls.


Smoky Mac & Cheese

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Basic Macaroni & Cheese

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