Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Pot Bacon Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese is comfort food, pure and simple.  Gooey, creamy and loaded with carbs.  I don't often make this cheesy bowl of guilt at home...but it is a rare treat when Ross and I go out to eat.  You can learn a lot about a place based on how they prepare and present a simple bowl of noodles and cheese sauce.

The perfect mac and cheese is a highly debated topic.  One I typically avoid.  Favorite variations run the gamut from classic blue box, thick and creamy breadcrumb topped baked casseroles, straight forward one-cheese-wonders, and complex combinations of exotic dairy.  Some like shells.  Others swear by elbows.  Occasionally a rotini fan jumps in.  And the add ins...or they are endless.  Bacon, chilies, tuna, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, chicken...really, it's whatever strikes your fancy.  One of the most unique combinations I've had was at a restaurant in Madison...smokey with a spicy kick...piled over a generous mound of savory pulled pork and baked with a crumb crust....Ross is bound and determined to replicate the recipe one day.

This mac and cheese is not that mac and cheese.

What I do love about this particular dish is its simplicity.  No boiling and straining the pasta.  No béchamel sauce.  One pot.  Simple ratios to remember...equal parts milk and pasta.  Half as much cheese.  Mustard powder, salt and pepper to taste.  And add in extras to your hearts content.  

A few things I've learned making this...rontini pasta works fine, as do elbows, but I adored the way the shells cooked up the best.  Your preference may vary.  But stick with regular pasta...not whole wheat, not protein-enriched or extra-fiber or whatever other clever marketing gimmick is out there to sell 'healthy' pasta right now.  This dish is all carbs and fat.  Embrace it.  The other pastas will not cook up as tender or plump.

Any combinations of cheeses will work.  I love to mix it up with at least three.  Cheddar, jack and gouda are sort of my stand by.   Cheddar/Romano/asiago is grand.  Cheddar/fontina/Gruyere yields and extra creamy sauce.  Pepper jack, Parmesan, blue cheese, Gorgonzola or anything aged or smoked will lend a wonderful depth and a bit of bite.  Of course, the whatever-is-in-the-fridge method works wonderfully too!

One cheesy caveat, though...do not use pre-packaged shredded cheese.  These contain additives to keep the cheese from clumping and will create a grainy texture in your otherwise wonderful dish.  Hand grated is much, much better...

adapted from the White on Rice Couple

serves 3-4 (but only if you know how to share)

The Ingredients:
4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cups elbow or shell pasta
2 cups milk (whole yields the creamiest result, skim will work)
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, fontina, Gruyere, Romano, Parmesan,Gouda, etc, etc)
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mustard powder
pepper to taste
cayenne pepper to taste.

The Process:
In medium saucepan, stir together the milk, pasta butter, mustard powder and salt.

Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat, stirring constantly.  Stir, stir, stir!  Allow to simmer until most of the milk has been absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.  Add additional milk in 1/4 cup increments as necessary if the pasta has not cooked fully.

Season with pepper and cayenne to taste.  Sprinkle in the shredded cheese and fold in until the cheese has melted and blended.

Add the bacon.  Cover and rest for 5 minutes off of the heat.  Stir and thin with additional milk, if desired. 


1 comment: