To me, the classic macaroni & cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Its creamy cheesy sauce and crunchy breadcrumb topping echo all things comfort and homeliness. It’s the kind of dish you crave when life has kicked your butt and you simply want to run home, curl up on the couch and be consoled with a lovely bowl of warmth and comfort. Really, macaroni & cheese, is the food equivalent of a cuddle from mum.
I’ve cooked mac & cheese a million times and have experimented with endless twists to the traditional recipe, this recipe however is by far the best version of the classic I’ve ever cooked and eaten. It’s a seriously delish dish. The genius in this particular recipe lies in the topping. Let me spell it out for you, crispy crunchy panko bread crumbs spiked with golden juicy chunks of bacon, all held together with molten melted golden cheddar. And I know just like me you also save the topping of the macaroni & cheese until the very last bites.
I also adore this particular recipe because it ensures lovely leftovers, my favourite words. And once you’ve tasted this macaroni & cheese you’ll also be so very grateful you’ve got a lovely stash of leftover mac and cheese nestled happily in the fridge. A.K.A comfort on standby.
This recipe begins by roasting three rashers of thick cut bacon. I’ve said it before but I really prefer roasting my bacon in the oven rather than the frying, the bacon is far more juicier and I love the fact that I can pop it in the oven, set the timer and get on with the rest of my cooking with no stirring or attention needed.
With the bacon happily roasting away in a hot oven I turned my attention to the pasta and set a big saucepan of salted water on the stove top to bring it to the boil. Once furiously bubbling away I added my pasta, today I chose rollini but you can use the pasta of your choice. The reason I opted for rollini rather than traditional macaroni is that the shape of the rollini is far easier for Grace to grasp with her little hands.
I sat the drained and cooked pasta in the oven dish I was using and made my way to the béchamel sauce. Once you’ve mastered this simple white sauce recipe, I promise you’ll never buy shop bought béchamel again. It really is simple…
In a saucepan I started by melting the butter.
Once the butter had melted I added the flour and stirred using a wooden spoon over the heat for a couple of minutes.
I then started to add the milk, bit by bit and really slowly, whisking as I added just to ensure the sauce didn’t get any lumps. Once the milk was added, I threw in a big cup of beautiful cheddar cheese as well as a good pinch of lovely nutmeg.
I whisked the sauce until the cheese had beautifully melted and the sauce was once again smooth and luscious.
I then poured the pale, creamy and luscious béchamel over the cooked pasta and got to work on my crunchy and crispy bacon topping.
In a medium bowl I added my chopped bacon, parsley, grated cheddar and panko breadcrumbs, mixed to combine and spread generously over the creamy pasta.
I then whisked the gorgeous oven dish filled with creamy pasta, bacon, cheese and breadcrumbs off into a hot oven and watched as the cheese started to melt, the bread crumbs turned golden and crispy and the sauce bubbled beautifully underneath it all.
As I excitedly retrieved the delicious dish from the oven I could see the pasta was joyfully bubbling, the topping was gorgeously golden and the edges were molten and slightly charred and I instantly knew those charred pieces would be my hubby’s favourite. We could hardly wait for the mac & cheese to cool just enough for us to tuck in. Grace was such a happy little bubby nibbling away on her pieces of cheesy pasta. Another baby led weaning triumph I thought.
Crunchy mac & cheese with bacon
Adapted from Delicious Magazine, June 2013
3 rashers bacon
400 grams short pasta (macaroni, penne or rollini)
50 grams butter
1/3 cup plain flour
3 cups milk
250 grams strong cheddar, grated
½ cup pure cream
Pinch ground nutmeg
½ cup parsley, chopped
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place bacon on an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast for 10 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Cut into small pieces.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour, then cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes . In 5 batches, whisk in the milk until smooth. Stir in 200 grams of cheddar, cream and nutmeg. Season to taste. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to combine, then transfer to an oven proof dish.
In a bowl combine cooked bacon, parsley, breadcrumbs and remaining cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle over pasta. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and crisp. Enjoy!
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