The following recipe is from the June 23 edition of our weekly recipe newsletter. To receive this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here!
There are certain dishes that an eager home cook can pull off and then there are those that require a bit of guidance from someone with a bit more kitchen expertise. I'd been hesitant to admit that Mac 'n' Cheese fell into that category, but this is one case where knowing your roux and embracing fancy bread crumbs and herbs really pays off.
Taking the time to whisk together the flour and butter and then incorporating the cheese makes for a sauce that won't break and become greasy during the baking. Mac 'n' Cheese is one of those dishes where the flavors are sometimes lost before it gets to the table, no matter how sharp the cheddar or Parmesan you use—somehow the elbows manage to dull the cheesy flavors. But that's where the bacon, herbs, and panko come in: The panko adds a buttery crunch to the top of the casserole, the herbs compliment the sharp flavors of the cheeses, and the bacon—well, it makes everything just a little bit better. The combination of the three makes this Mac 'n' Cheese into something a little different from the norm, but somehow so much better.
- Butter for the baking dish
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup Cheddar Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
- 10 slices bacon
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 3-quart ovenproof baking dish with butter, and set aside.
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the macaroni and salt, reduce to medium heat, and stir to prevent sticking. Cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and toss with the oil.
Heat the cheese sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. In a skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Line a metal tray with paper towels. Drain the bacon. Chop the bacon into bits.
In a bowl, combine the bacon, Parmesan, 1 cup of the breadcrumbs, the parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, and pepper. In another bowl, toss together the macaroni and heated cheese sauce, mixing well. Stir the macaroni-cheese mixture into the breadcrumbs mixture. Spread evenly into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with the remaining 1⁄2 cup breadcrumbs.
Place the baking dish on top of a baking pan to catch spills if the cheese bubbles over. Bake for 40 minutes, or until crispy and brown on top.
- makes 3 cups -
Heat the milk in a large saucepan over medium heat until you see bubbles forming on top. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan and stir in the flour to make a roux (see Note). Add the warm milk, whisking constantly, and continue cooking until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the cheese, whisking constantly to combine. Season with the cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Strain through a sieve to remove any lumps before serving.
Note: A roux, used in classical French cuisine, is a mixture of flour and fat, usually butter or oil.