This was the first recipe that was my "thing," the first dish that my friends specifically requested that I make, and the one that I had memorized really well in the event that it needed to be busted out after a long night of Jameson shots. Everyone needs at least one of those recipes, even if it's just a really good toast. Other people associating you with nourishment and tastiness rather than puke all over their floor is your primary goal in college.
This recipe follows the same framework as my mom's mac and cheese, but the Gruyère and Swiss have been subbed out for smoked Gouda and pepper Jack to give it some sass. To further the smokiness, bacon fat is used instead of butter in the roux. I thought I was a mega food genius when I came up with that. Head-to-toe bacon! Or something.
Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
- 8 ounces medium shells
- 12 ounces applewood-smoked bacon
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 pound smoked Gouda cheese, chopped
- 1/4 pound pepper Jack cheese, chopped
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 1/4 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Ketchup, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.
2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
3. In a large pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Chop the bacon and set aside. Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the fat in the pan. Heat it over medium-high heat and add the flour, whisking until combined, and then cook for 1 minute. Add half the milk, whisking continuously until thickened, about 5 minutes and then repeat with the other half of the milk. Add the Gouda, pepper Jack, and all but 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, and salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Fold in the shells and bacon and transfer to the greased baking dish. Top with the panko, a pinch of salt, a few turns of pepper, and the reserved 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until the top is browned, about 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and enjoy with ketchup, if desired.
Adapted from Molly on the Range