Macaroni & Cheese with Pancetta
Lately I’ve noticed a renaissance for macaroni & cheese with many restaurants serving their own version of this classic dish - and it tastes nothing like mac ‘n’ cheese from a package mix. When I went out for my birthday dinner, we shared a delicious baked macaroni & cheese with stewed beef, kashkaval cheese, organic mushrooms and truffle oil. Although this was extremely tasty, at home I prefer to cook a more classic version.
When it’s done right, homemade macaroni & cheese is the ultimate comfort food. The white sauce gives the dish a rich, creamy texture while the cheddar cheese adds a sharp, nutty flavour, and helps to bind the macaroni together. My favourite part is the crispy, golden layer of breadcrumbs on top, made even crispier with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Here I’ve added pancetta to the dish to give the dish another dimension of flavour - and who doesn’t like bacon and cheese?!
Makes enough for 4
100g sharp cheddar, grated
100g gruyere, grated
50g parmesan, grated
Quarter teaspoon nutmeg
4 Tablespoons olive oil
100g pancetta, diced (optional)
250g elbow macaroni
Half cup of panko bread crumbs
For Béchamel sauce
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Half an onion, peeled
1 large garlic clove
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
What to do
Pre-heat oven to 180°C (or 350°F).
Fry pancetta in 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Remove from pan, drain and set aside.
In small saucepan on medium heat, simmer milk with onion, garlic and bayleaf for 15 minutes so that it becomes steeped with aromatic flavours.
Melt butter in pan on low heat, add flour and stir until mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Stir in milk slowly, whisking constantly until sauce is smooth and starts to thicken.
Add pancetta, nutmeg, all the cheddar and gruyere, and half the parmesan to the sauce. Add some more milk if sauce becomes too thick. Stir well and season with freshly cracked pepper.
Meanwhile, boil water in large pot with a teaspoon of salt, and cook macaroni in salted water for about 6mins until just before al dente ?. Drain well and stir macaroni into the cheese sauce.
Here it’s important that the cheese sauce is not too thick since the macaroni will absorb alot of moisture in the oven. Adding some more milk will help the dish stay smooth and creamy. The macaroni itself should be slightly underdone since it will continue to cook in the oven.
Pour macaroni and cheese into baking dish.
In a bowl, drizzle some olive oil over breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Sprinkle half the breadcrumbs over baking dish, then sprinkle remaining parmesan, and finish with another layer of breadcrumbs.
Bake in oven for around 20mins, until cheese sauce starts to bubble and breadcrumb topping is crispy, golden brown.
I’ve used 3 types of cheeses with characteristics that complement each other - sharp, earthy flavour of cheddar, creaminess of gruyere, and strong, nutty flavour of parmesan.
While cheddar and parmesan are essential, you can substitute gruyere with a good melting cheeses like fontina, raclette and Swiss - or even more cheddar. And the higher quality the cheese, the better your mac and cheese will taste.