I have a small obsession with Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa. Her cookbooks feature stunning photography, practical entertaining advice on menus and table settings, and her recipes are delicious and fail-proof. When I get off work in the afternoons, I always try to catch her back-to-back episodes on The Food Network, even though I’ve seen every episode; if I’m working out at the gym, I’m still watching Barefoot Contessa. You get the point. I. love. Ina.
Today I’m featuring her “Grown-Up Mac & Cheese” recipe, which is like the Aston Martin of macaroni & cheese. First of all, the cheeses in her recipe are more flavorful than your basic Velveeta or American cheese. Ina uses extra-sharp Cheddar, bleu cheese, and Gruyere. Then, the woman takes it to another level by adding savory, salty bacon and a crisp, basil-laden crumb topping. It’s incredible.
I do make a couple of slight alterations that simplify and reduce cost of the recipe. Instead of processing my own bread for crumbs, I simply use store-bought Panko crumbs, which are readily available here in our Asian section of the grocery store. When I first made this recipe, I was a penny-pinching college student so I substituted grated Swiss cheese for the Gruyere. It turned out delicious, so I opt for that even now when I make this dish.
4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed (or 2 cups Panko bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves (or 1 tablespoon of dried)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven – there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.
[I use store-bought Panko crumbs instead of processing bread for crumbs.]
Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs.
Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.