As I mentioned yesterday, I was having our friend Karen and her daughter Mandy over for dinner. Mandy turned 2 this past weekend, and since our husbands were on a business trip together, I thought it would be a perfect time to have them over for a girls dinner celebration. Mandy is a cheese lover, so as a treat, I made some mac and cheese. This wasn’t any ordinary mac and cheese – this was “grown up” mac and cheese. Didn’t matter though, Mandy ate it and liked it. So did we.
I had a mix of random cheeses in the fridge and decided that together, they’d make for a rich, creamy and delicious baked pasta. Sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and the dark horse, Teleme cheese, all blended really well. The result was exactly what I was looking for. It had the classic bit of cheddar that we all love in mac and cheese, but with a nuttiness from the Gruyere and a tang from the soft Teleme cheese. If you haven’t tried Teleme, I highly recommend it. I had paired it earlier in the week with an heirloom tomato salad drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. Texture wise, it is like a combination of Brie and fresh mozzarella. Taste wise, it is like a tangier Brie or Camembert. As such, if you can’t find Teleme, you can definitely use one of those as a substitute. In fact, there is a Bon Appetit recipe that uses cheddar, Gruyere and Brie (of which this recipe is loosely based).
Anyway, back to the sauce. It was fabulous. I admit that after I had mixed the pasta with creamy sauce and put it in the baking dish, I licked the pot clean. I think I could have been happy having just a bowl full of cheese sauce, although my stomach may feel differently. The nutmeg added a comforting, subtle depth that completed the sauce. I’d say it was a success.
For the pasta, I used Ancient Grains quinoa pasta. I’ll be honest, I’ve never had quinoa pasta. Ever. Christian doesn’t like quinoa, which kind of makes me sad because I really love it. So, because I want him to enjoy what I make for dinner, I never event attempt to sneak quinoa into the mix. For pasta, I usually use a corn – rice blend that was consistently good. I’m not a fan of the brown rice only versions since they get really mushy, no matter how careful I am during cooking. Having the corn in there adds the bite that makes for great al dente pasta like I had in the old days. I must say, the quinoa pasta did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente, without any trace of being a wheat pasta impersonator. Plus, the extra protein and other nutritional benefits that come along with quinoa made me slightly (and I mean slightly) less guilty about eating such a rich dish.
The last bit that really threw this over the top was the bacon. Did you think I’d go this long without posting a recipe without a pork product of some kind?! Sure, it isn’t the main ingredient, but in my opinion, it is a crucial ingredient that really makes this mac and cheese truly wonderful. I used a thick cut uncured applewood smoked bacon. Yum. The smokiness mingled with the crispy, buttery breadcrumbs and really complemented the creamy sauce. I mean, really, is there anything better than bacon and cheese together? I’m not so sure there is. The smell of this casserole cooking was amazing. I’d make this for the smell factor alone.
So basically, if you can’t find beauty in a medley of flavorful cheeses, rich whole milk and smoky bacon, then I’m not sure we’d get along. If you do, then you must give this a try. I imagine on a cold winter night this would be the perfect dish to warm you up. There is also no reason why someone couldn’t make this with regular pasta and flour – it is divine no matter what.
Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon Breadcrumb Crust
Serves 4 – 6
- 8 oz gluten free pasta (macaroni, rotelle, penne, etc)
- 1/4 lb bacon
- 2 tbsp shallots, diced
- 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs from gluten free bread
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 tsp fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 4 tbsp gluten free flour (I used 2 tbsp sweet rice + 2 tbsp all-purpose GF flour)
- 2 cups whole milk (you can use 1%, but don’t use nonfat)
- 3 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 3 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
- 1 oz Teleme cheese (or Brie)
- pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – you’ll want to cook it for less time than the box suggests. Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, cook the bacon. When done, drain on paper towels and set aside. Chop or crumble once it is cool enough to handle. Keep the bacon fat in the pan to cook the shallots – if there is a lot of fat, pour some off – you’ll want about 1 tbsp total.
Using the bacon fat in the pan, cook the shallots for about a minute or so over medium-low heat. Add 3 tbsp butter and saute until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes until it thickens and starts to turn brown. Turn up the heat to medium and slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the cheeses in handfuls and stir to melt. Remove from heat and add in the salt and pepper to taste, along with the nutmeg. Combine the pasta with the sauce, then pour into an 8×8 baking dish.
Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. While it is in the oven, melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter. Combine the breadcrumbs, crumbled / chopped bacon, Parmesan and thyme; add the melted butter and stir until breadcrumbs are evenly coated.
After 15 minutes, remove the foil and evenly cover the pasta with the breadcrumb topping. Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes until topping is crispy and the mac and cheese is bubbly. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.