Is there anything more comforting than mac and cheese? No, there isn't, don't even think about it. It's one of those facts of life much like the fact that everybody likes Italian food. There are different degrees of comfort, however, and if you want the absolute best form of mac and cheese comfort you can get, this recipe stands high above all others. What makes it so great, you ask? Bacon! Which brings to mind another fact of life and that is that everything tastes better with bacon.
This is another recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Mother's Best by Lisa Schroeder with Danielle Centoni, and it is the last recipe I'm going to publish from the book because I insist you buy your own (not to mention the fact that the amount of typing is massive). You'll thank me later.
Bacon and Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for salting the pasta water
2 cups firmly packed shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 1 2 pound; Love Note 3)
1 pound fusilli (corkscrew) or other pasta, preferably De Cecco
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound bacon, diced (about 1 cup cooked; Love Notes 1 and 2)
1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, (white and green parts), for garnish
Bring a medium (6- to 8-quart) pot of water to a boil. Salt it generously (it should taste like the sea). Stir in the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain (but don't rinse, or you'll rinse away starches that will help thicken the sauce) and return to the empty pot.
Meanwhile, place a large (12- to 14-inch) saute pan over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add the bacon and saute until browned and crispy (lower the heat to medium-high if necessary to prevent scorching), about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and, using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels.
Pour off the fat from the pan (into a metal can or heatproof cup, not down the drain or you'll potentially clog your pipes) and return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium and continue to simmer until the cream is reduced slightly, about 3 minutes.
Add the Cheddar cheese and bacon. Stir well and cook over medium-high heat, stirring now and then, until the cheese has melted and the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.
Stir the sauce into the cooked and drained pasta in the pot. Place over medium heat and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken the sauce and allow the pasta to absorb the flavors, stirring now and then.
Serve in individual bowls topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of sliced scallions.
Variation: Lorraine Mac & Cheese: You can easily change up this recipe by using the classic flavors of a quiche Lorraine for inspiration. You just have to add caramelized onions and substitute Swiss cheese for the Cheddar.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons grease from the cooked bacon. Add 2 cups of finely sliced yellow onions and saute over medium heat until soft, brown, and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Pour in the 3 cups of cream and continue with the recipe (step 3), substituting firmly packed shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese for the Cheddar.
If you have cooked, crumbled bacon and caramelized onions on hand, the recipe is even easier. When stirring the cheese into the reduced cream, just add 1 cup bacon crumbles and 1 2 cup caramelized onions, too. Then proceed with the recipe.
Love Notes: At Mother's, we prepare a lot of our components in large batches ahead of time, like the bacon crumbles in this recipe. It's a real time-saver, and a good idea for home cooks, too. To make things easier, try fitting the work into a recipe you're already cooking, like this one. That way you're not getting pots and pans dirty just for the heck of it. For example, cook twice the amount of bacon and save the rest in the fridge or freezer for salads, scrambles, or sandwiches.
Dicing slippery, floppy bacon is tough, unless you firm it up with a 10- to 15-minute stint in the freezer. Stack the strips to make the job go even faster.
Avoid preshredded cheese. It may seem like a time-saver, but much of the cheese's flavor has dissipated, and the starchy coating on the outside will interfere with the sauce.
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