BACON MACARONI & CHEESE

This past Friday night, I got the chance to revisit the very first recipe that I posted onto this blog: macaroni & cheese. Armed with a better understanding of how to execute the dish’s primary component, the cheese sauce, I gave it another go. I’ve updated the recipe from my previous one a little bit to incorporate some new approaches I took this time around.

Bacon Macaroni & Cheese
Makes 3 – 4 servings

~ 2 cups macaroni
~ 4 tbsp butter
~ 3 tbsp flour
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1/2 tsp pepper
~ 2 cups warmed milk
~ 2 cups (sauce) + 1/2 cup (topping) shredded cheese
~ 1 tsp yellow mustard
~ 6 strips of bacon

With a recipe like this, proper timing is involved, because you want to have the sauce to be done very closely to the time that the pasta is finished cooking. Therefore, we’ll take a few steps to see if we can streamline the whole process.

Start off by cooking the bacon to your desired crispiness. I decided to use turkey bacon instead of the conventional bacon to cut down on the fat content. Once the bacon is finished, dry it off on a paper towel before taking it to the cutting board to chop it up into little chunks. Set that aside for now.

Since the sauce will likely occupy almost 100% of your attention while cooking here, this time in between is where you can start to take some steps to start cooking the pasta very quickly. Take another pot and fill it with water, placing it onto the stove after you have done so, but don’t turn out any heat. Measure out your macaroni and put that into a container next to the pot. Now, during some point while making the sauce, you can just reach over and turn on the stove to start boiling the water for the pasta without having to take your attention away from the sauce.

Start up on cooking the sauce. I’d suggest using at least a medium saucepan to make it in, one that can at least hold 3 cups and still feel comfortable stirring stuff around without spilling over the edge. Melt 4 tbsp of your butter over on medium heat. Once that is all melted, slowly add in the flour, while stirring continuously. Don’t let any dry flour sit on the bottom of the pan, or else it runs the risk of burning.

It is very important that for the remainder of making the sauce you continue stirring. This will help the sauce to thicken and prevent any clumps from forming while adding ingredients. It will definitely give your arm a good workout.

Add in the salt and pepper to your sauce concoction that you have going on in the pot. At this point, it will either look very light-colored if you used white flour or brownish if you used whole wheat flour. Not to worry, though, as the color will change after our next step of adding in the milk. Heat up your 2 cups of milk for about 20 seconds in the microwave and then incrementally add it into the sauce. A good rule of thumb would be at each step of adding into the sauce stir the mixture until the milk has fully blended in.

Once the milk has been fully added, bring the heat back up to high and continue to stir. Take the sauce all the way up to a boil (it might take a minute or two). During this time, you’ll feel that the milk is starting to thicken a little bit; that’s a good sign that the consistency is headed in the right direction. At this point, go ahead and turn on the stovetop for your pasta water. Depending on how long it takes your oven to preheat, I would also turn on the oven around this time period as well. Set your oven to 350 degrees.

With the milk boiling, start to add in your two cups of shredded cheese. I used an Italian blend package from Sargento that had mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan, but also threw in some cheddar as well. Feel free to use whichever kind that you prefer (if you’re looking for the traditional rich, yellow color, you’ll want to go with all shredded cheddar). Add in it a bit at a time, stirring to allow for it to melt into the sauce. Once you’re done adding in your cheese, throw in that teaspoon of mustard to give it that little edge to its taste. Go ahead and try the sauce with how it is, adjusting with salt / pepper / cheese until you feel satisfied with how it is.

Hopefully, if things were timed right, the cheese sauce got finished before the pasta was done. Leave the sauce on medium-low and then attend to the pasta. To bake it in the oven, I used a 7″ x 11″ casserole dish, but if you have something that is of similar size, that would work too.

Put a layer of sauce on the bottom, followed by the pasta. Pour the remainder of the cheese sauce all over the macaroni and spread it out nice and evenly. Mix the bacon into the macaroni and cheese on the dish, layer the shredded cheese over that, cover it with aluminum foil, and throw it into the oven for 20 minutes. What you’ll end up with is a nice, rich, and tasty mac & cheese that goes great by itself or as a side dish for a main course.

Potential Adjustments:

  • I decided to try to broil the casserole dish uncovered after baking to get a nice, golden glow on the top with the cheese. All I ended up with was a solid wafer layer of cheese, which doesn’t blend well with the rest of the macaroni. Learn from my mistake and avoid doing that.
  • Another way to incorporate the bacon more completely would be to add 3/4 of it directly into the cheese sauce. Save the rest to put onto the top of the dish along with the shredded cheese.
  • If you want a bit of color contrast in the dish, sprinkle a light layer of basil and oregano leaves before putting it into the oven, right on top of the cheese and bacon.

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