When Bobby Flay decided to tackle mac and cheese for one of his Throwdown! challenges, he set off for Philadelphia to go head-to-head with soul food queen Delilah Widner, of Delilah's. While Flay proclaimed her famous mac and cheese to be outrageously delicious, it's not for the faint of heart. She folds in seven cheeses (Velveeta!), half a dozen eggs, a stick of butter, and three cups of half-and-half. Instead of going the traditional mac route, Flay decided to add a few ingredients from an equally starchy, rich dish, pasta alla carbonara.
Flay threw crisp pancetta and thyme into his custardy, cheesy béchamel with Asiago, Fontina, American and Irish cheddars, and Parmesan. But it was the crisp, lightly browned crust plus intensely cheesy flavor that won the judges over and ended up clinching the victory for Flay.
I whipped up panful of Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara at home recently, adapted from Bobby Flay's Throwdown!, and I loved the notes of garlic, pancetta, thyme, and parsley in the dish. Those little extras took it from a basic casserole of cheesy baked pasta (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and transformed it into a dish that was deeply flavorful, a bit more sophisticated, and much of a main than a side.
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Bobby Flay's Throwdown! to give away this week.
- Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 (1-inch-thick) slice pancetta, cut into small dice
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 cups whole milk, or more if needed, hot
- 4 large egg yolks, lightly whisked
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups (8 ounces) grated Asiago cheese, plus more for the top
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Irish white cheddar, plus more for the top
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated American cheddar, such as Goot Essa Mountain Valley, plus more for the top
- 1 cup (4 ounces) grated aged fontina cheese, plus more for the top
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the top
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked just under al dente
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 375oF. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 × 10 × 2-inch baking dish and set it aside.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
Add the garlic to the fat in the pan and cook until light golden brown, 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the thyme, cayenne, and all the different cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture appears too thick, add additional warm milk, 1/4 cup at a time.
Put the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, add the cheese sauce, reserved pancetta, and the parsley, and stir until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Combine an additional 1/4 cup each of Asiago, cheddars, Fontina, and Parmesan in a bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake until the dish is heated through and the top is a light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.