I relish a straightforward, simple mac and cheese, but every now and then I get the itch to liven it up a bit. This recipe, which is dedicated to my baked pasta aficionado sister, is a very simple way to do that: throw in a little bacon and some peas, and BOOM: instant elevation. It's that lovely salty and sweet combination, with the peas adding a little bit of freshness to this decadent dish.
- 4 ounces gruyere, grated
- 8 ounces yellow cheddar, grated
- 4 ounces parmesan, grated
- 8 slices bacon, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
- 8 ounces macaroni
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Salt and pepper
- For the béchamel
- 1 3/4 pints milk
- Several sprigs of parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 10 peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- Up to 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup flour
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Prep: Preheat oven to 375 F and grease a 9x13-inch baking dish or about six 12-ounce ramekins with melted butter.
1. Begin with the béchamel: bring the milk and all of the herbs and seasonings to a simmer, leaving the butter and flour to the side.
2. In a separate saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until just crisp. Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan. If there aren't 6 tablespoons of fat, add the difference in butter, melt, then add the flour. Stir until doughy and smelling a bit nutty (approximately 1 minute). Strain in the milk 1/2 cup at a time, whisking to incorporate with the butter and flour mix. It should be smooth and velvety, not chunky or too thick. If it's the latter, add more milk to thin it out.
3. Cook your macaroni (or any other dry, short pasta) in salted boiling water, until al dente
. (Just follow the package's instructions.)
4. Take the béchamel off the heat and add the grated cheese. Reserve 1/4 cup of the bacon pieces, then fold the rest of the bacon and the peas into the macaroni.
5. Meanwhile, mix breadcrumbs with the 1/4 cup of bacon pieces, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of melted butter.
6. Pour into a greased baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake for 20-30 minutes if in ramekins, 40-45 minutes if in a large baking dish, or until the sauce is bubbly and the crust is browned on top.
Photograph: Claire Thomas