It’s been raining in L.A. lately, and rain always makes me want to make warming comfort foods like soup, or stew, or mac & cheese. But not just any mac & cheese…
Some recipes are just too good to make in single quantities. And some recipes are worth the trouble to make – even if they’re a bit complicated. This recipe falls into both categories. My grown-up mac & cheese treats your palate to the grown-up flavors of white wine, shallots, and gruyere and chevre cheeses. It is full of adult flavor, but retains the nostalgic comfort food quality that makes you feel like a kid.
My recipes are usually pretty simple, because let’s face it – I’m a lazy cook most of the time. And like most single girls, I lead a very busy life and don’t have a lot of time to hang out in my kitchen. But my grown-up mac & cheese is worth the extra effort. And because of its complicated nature, I make a full batch and freeze it in single-serving portions so I have plenty on hand for that rare rainy SoCal day.
Start by cooking 1 lb of macaroni (or pasta of your choice – I like fusilli) in a Dutch oven until just shy of al dente. (Al dente if a fancy Italian word that means “to the tooth.” Essentially it means the pasta should be firm, not crunchy but not overly soft either.) The pasta will cook more when it bakes, so you want it to be just underdone, so it doesn’t get over-done in the oven. Drain and set aside.
Grate cheeses and set aside. I used gruyere, cheddar, fontina, and chevre. But you can use whatever mix of cheeses floats your macaroni boat.
Chop onions. I usually use a medium yellow onion. Today I didn’t have a yellow onion, but I did have two large shallots. You can use whatever you’d like, or leave the onions out completely. It’s mac & cheese freedom, baby!
Cut bacon into lardons – which is just a fancy French word that means little pieces of bacon.
In same Dutch oven, cook bacon until cooked, but still soft. It will continue to cook in the oven. Remove bacon to drain on paper towels. If you’re a snacker, you may want to cook an extra slice of bacon. (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.) Pour off most of the grease, but reserve 1 tablespoon of grease for use later, and leave about 2 teaspoons in the pan.
In same pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter with bacon grease. Add onions and sauté on medium-low until brown and caramelized. Place onions in a small bowl and set aside.
Deglaze Dutch oven with wine, and simmer until reduced by about half. Use a dry white wine that you’d like to drink. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but you’ll have wine leftover, so a glass of wine with dinner is almost mandatory. Be sure to scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to release the fond (fond is just a fancy word that means the brown bits) that has formed from the bacon and onions. Once reduced, pour off and set aside.
Add reserved bacon grease and 3 tablespoons of butter to Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle flour in pan and whisk for about a minute. This will create a roux – which is another fancy French word that means a thickener made with fat and flour. Look at me using my high school French and stuff. Mrs. Scrimshire, my high school French teacher, would be so proud.
Whisk in milk, cream, and reduced white wine. Continue cooking over medium-low until sauce is fully combined and thickened. Add salt, pepper, and other seasonings of your choice to taste. (Be careful of adding too much salt – the cheese is pretty salty.)
Beat egg yolks in a small bowl and temper with 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture. (Temper means to drizzle hot liquid very slowly into eggs while whisking quickly to bring the eggs up to temperature without scrambling them.) Pour tempered eggs back into sauce, whisk until combined, and cook another minute or two. Remove from heat.
Add cheddar, fontina, gruyere, and chevre cheeses and stir until melted. Or, if you’re like me, put in 90% of the cheese and munch on the remaining 10% while you’re stirring. Set aside 1 tablespoon each of bacon and onions. Add remaining bacon and onions to sauce.
Add macaroni and stir until macaroni is completely coated.
In medium sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add panko, plus additional seasonings of your choice, and toast, stirring constantly, until panko is golden brown. Be careful – it can go from 0 to burnt in seconds.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add reserved bacon, onions, and the parmesan cheese and mix to combine.
Add pasta to baking dish (or dishes). I’m using a mix of large and small dishes. I’ll have the large dish if the mac & cheese will be my main entrée. I’ll use the smaller dish if the mac & cheese is intended to be a side.
Top with crumb mixture. (Try your best not to eat all the crumb mixture before you top the pasta. It’s that good.)
If you plan to eat right away, place baking dish in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise, let the mac & cheese cool and freeze for future use.
Here’s the complete recipe. Enjoy!
1 lb uncooked Macaroni
7 Tablespoons Salted Butter, divided 3-3-1
1 Medium Onion, or two shallots, diced
5 Slices Regular Bacon
1 Tablespoon Bacon Grease (reserved From Bacon Slices)
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup All-purpose Flour
2 cups Whole Or 2% Milk
1/2 cup Half-and-half
2 whole Egg Yolks, Beaten
Salt And Pepper, to taste
3/4 cup Grated Gruyere Cheese
3/4 cup Grated Fontina Cheese
3/4 cup Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 4-ounce package Chevre (soft Goat Cheese)
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
Seasonings of your choice
1) Cook macaroni in salted water until just shy of al dente (4-5 minutes). Drain and set aside.
2) Fry bacon until cooked but still soft (this will go in the oven, so it will get a little more cooking later). Set cooked bacon aside to drain on paper towel. Pour off most of the grease, reserving 1 tablespoon to use later and keeping about 2 teaspoons of grease in pan.
3) Add onions and 3 tablespoons of butter to pan and sauté on medium-low brown and caramelized. Set aside.
4) In same pan, pour white wine into pan and cook on medium heat until reduced by about half. Be sure to scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to release fond that has formed from bacon and onions. Once reduced, pour into small heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
5) In same pan, add reserved bacon grease (should be about a tablespoon) and 3 tablespoons of butter until melted. Sprinkle in flour and whisk, cooking about a minute on medium.
6) Whisk in reduced white wine, milk, and half-and-half. Continue cooking over medium-low until sauce is fully combined and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7) Beat egg yolks in small bowl, and temper with 1/4 cup hot cream mixture. (Temper means to drizzle hot liquid slowly into eggs while whisking quickly.) Pour tempered eggs back into sauce, whisk until combined, and cook another minute or two. Remove from heat.
8) Add cheddar, fontina, gruyere, and chevre cheeses to pan and stir until melted. Set aside 1 Tablespoon each of bacon and onions. Add remaining bacon and onions to sauce. Add macaroni and stir until macaroni is completely coated. Pour into large baking dish, or individual baking dishes.
9) In medium sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add panko, plus additional seasonings of your choice, and toast, stirring constantly, until panko is golden brown.
10) Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add reserved bacon, onions, and the parmesan cheese and mix to combine.
11) Top mac & cheese evenly with crumb mixture.
12) If eating right away, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise, let mac & cheese cool and freeze for future use.