Macaroni & cheese is the ultimate comfort food…if you’re under the weather, feeling a little fragile the day after a late night out or just wanting something easy to warm your belly on a cold night, mac & cheese is the answer.
Although I have many fond memories of dining on Kraft Dinner while I was a starving student, it has been quite a few years since I have left that orange KD cheesiness behind. An ex spent two months one winter trying to find the perfect homemade macaroni & cheese recipe – I was the lucky taste tester and also the recipient of the ultimate recipe winner (which I have tweaked since with the addition of pancetta…because everything is better with bacon!)
As this is sinfully indulgent, I only make this recipe once a year – over the holidays; I have welcomed in more than a few years with a plateful of this and a glass of champagne…the bubbles are the perfect thing to cut the richness of the cheese sauce.
After the ice storm and power outages last week here in Toronto and Christmas dinner being off / on / off and then on again with eight hours notice, along with lots of holiday festivities, I took advantage of a quiet night at home last night to treat myself. This recipe can be made in the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta and cook it, and then after 30 minutes in the oven, you’ll never go back to Kraft Dinner again!
Gourmet Mac & Cheese (for four)
1. Roughly dice 3 slices of thick cut pancetta and cook over medium heat in a skillet until browned.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to boil. When boiling, add 1/2 lb. of macaroni or elbow pasta and stir occasionally until cooked.
4. While pasta is cooking, melt 4 tbs of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Separately, heat 2 1/4 cups of milk (either on stove or in microwave). When butter is melted, whisk in 1/4 cup of flour and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
5. Slowly pour hot milk into butter/milk mixture while whisking and allow to cook, while stirring, until mixture becomes thick. When thickened, remove pan from heat and stir in 1 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, a few shakes of cayenne pepper and 2 cups of grated sharp white cheddar and 1/2 cup of grated Gruyere or pecorino Romano until cheese is melted into the sauce.
4. Remove the pancetta from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
5. When cooked, drain the pasta in a colander. Shake off excess water and then return to pot, adding the cooked pancetta and cheese sauce. Stir well.
6. Pour mixture into a buttered 2 quart casserole dish. Top with 1/4 cup of Gruyere or Romano and 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (if you have breadcrumbs available) and bake in oven until browned (about 30 minutes).
There are lovely variations to this recipe such as substituting nutmeg for cayenne, adding a spoonful of garlicky Boursin to the cheese sauce, or a dash of truffle oil…basically whatever takes your fancy.
Happy New Year’s and best wishes to all for a wonderful 2014!