With bacon. I probably should have stressed this in the title but anywho, this is Mac and Cheese with bacon. Some versions of this dish are quite dry but mine is probably more Mac with Cheese Sauce. I know some people like to keep their Mac and Cheese as plain as possible, I’m not one of these people. For me garlic and bacon make everything better so I use them at any chance I get.
Recently I was home alone and craving some artery clogging, stodgy carbs. As himself doesn’t like Mac and Cheese – I know, I don’t how what we talk about either – I decided it was the perfect time whip up a batch. I’m not going to lie, there are a few pots involved in making this. Personally I think it’s worth it but I have seen short cuts where people put the dried pasta straight into the sauce to cook in the oven. I’m not a fan of this as I think you run the risk of the sauce drying up completely.
Having road tested Mac and Cheese recipes from Chrissy Tiegen, Kelis and Jamie Oliver, Jamie’s with lobster no less, I’ve decided this is my ideal recipe. It is very rich so even though there is only 400g of pasta in it it would easily stretch to feed 6. Nigella has a popular recipe in Simply Nigella which has sweet potato in it. It’s not for me but I know others love it.
Useful tips & links:
- This dish is best eaten on the day it is made. Having said that I have often taken the leftovers for lunch and it reheats fine. When I make it again I want to experiment with the leftovers, deep fried Mac and Cheese is something I saw on TV, possibly on Masterchef, and only in the last couple of days I saw a pic on Instagram of a place in Scotland that serves Mac and Cheese Toasties!
- I use bacon in this dish, feel free to leave it out. If you want to make this vegetarian, be very careful with the cheese you choose, e.g., parmesan and comté are not vegetarian.
- I use comté here as I just love the nutty flavour. Use gruyere or a smoked cheese if you prefer. I pair it with a mild cheddar so that the comté shines through.
- If you can’t get Macaroni pasta use penne instead.
- For another dish showcasing my love of a good cheese sauce, have a look at this Cauliflower Cheese.
- For more Mac and Cheese recipes see Conor Bofin’s Goats’ Cheese Mac ‘n’ Cheese, Kate from Flavour.ie’s Lobster Mac n Cheese or Kristin Jensen’s Irish Farmhouse Mac and Cheese. I sampled Kristin’s dish at the Cheese up Your Life competition and it was delicious!
Mac and Cheese
- 400g of macaroni pasta
- 100g of unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 100g of plain flour
- 1 litre of full fat milk
- Black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of mustard powder
- ⅓ of a fresh nutmeg grated
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 200g of comté or gruyere cheese, grated
- 200g of cheddar, grated
- 50g of freshly grated parmesan
- 100g of smoked streaky bacon
For the breadcrumb topping
- 1 clove of garlic lightly smashed
- 15g of butter
- 75g of breadcrumbs
- 30g of freshly grated parmesan
- Start by boiling the kettle to have a large pot of water to cook the pasta. While the kettle is boiling prep all of the other ingredients. Pour the water into a large pot and add salt to the water. Pour in the pasta and bring the pot back up to a boil. Follow the packet instructions for cooking the pasta but I like to cook for a minute less than instructed so that there is still a little bite to the pasta. You will be finishing the dish in the oven so the pasta will continue to cook then.
- While the pasta is boiling make the white sauce which is the base for the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a large heavy based saucepan over a low-medium heat. Add the shallots and cook in the butter for a few minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
- Add the flour and keep stirring until the flour has cooked into the butter and you have a smooth paste.
- Gradually add the milk to the butter and flour mix (called a roux) and keep stirring the whole time. Once one lot of milk has been incorporated into the sauce add some more and stir again. If the mixture becomes lumpy, take it off the heat and stir vigorously until it is smooth again before adding any more milk.
- Once all of the milk has been incorporated, add the pepper, mustard powder, nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme. Keep the white sauce simmering over a low-medium heat stirring occasionally until it has thickened. Do this for about 15 minutes to allow all of the flavours develop and infuse the sauce.
- Meanwhile, drain the pasta and mix though a little oil to stop it sticking together as it cools. Keep a little of the pasta cooking water.
- Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4.
- Put a dry non stick pan on a medium heat and fry the bacon until it is crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen paper but keep the oil in the pan.
- Add the smashed clove of garlic and butter to the bacon fat and lower the heat. Allow the butter to melt and then add the breadcrumbs. Fry them until they are golden and starting to crisp a little.
- Taste the sauce to make sure the flour has been cooked fully, if it is gritty allow it to simmer a bit longer. Remove the bay leaf and thyme from the sauce and add the three types of cheese. Stir well until all of the cheese has melted.
- Crumble the bacon and stir it through the sauce. Taste it now to see how much seasoning it needs, if any.
- Pour the cooked pasta and a little of its cooking water into the sauce and stir well together. Pour this into a roasting dish or shallow casserole dish.
- Remove the garlic clove from the breadcrumbs and stir through the second lot of parmesan. Sprinkle this over the pasta and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the pasta is piping hot and the breadcrumb topping is crispy.
- Serve with a simple salad of rocket and tomatoes dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to cut through the richness of the Mac and Cheese.