Last week, I spent an entire day doing gardening. I planted some of my herbs, dug out my flower beds, and did all some of the maintenance needed after a really harsh winter. Anyway, I was really tired when it came to dinner time. I had a hankering for macaroni & cheese, but I wanted something different. I had some hickory smoked bacon so I decided to make a bacon macaroni & cheese. Bacon gets a bad rap; people bitch because it’s fatty, salty, etc. But really there is nothing like a good crisp slice of real bacon. Plus, bacon may save your life. No shit, click that link.
Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon (also known as green bacon). Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months in cold air, boiled, or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon must be cooked before eating. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but may be cooked further before eating.
Bacon is prepared from several different cuts of meat. It is usually made from side and back cuts of pork, except in the United States, where it is almost always prepared from pork belly (typically referred to as “streaky”, “fatty”, or “American style” outside of the US and Canada). The side cut has more meat and less fat than the belly. Bacon may be prepared from either of two distinct back cuts: fatback, which is almost pure fat, and pork loin, which is very lean. Bacon-cured pork loin is known as back bacon.
Bacon may be eaten smoked, boiled, fried, baked, or grilled, or used as a minor ingredient to flavor dishes. Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game birds. The word is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning “buttock”, “ham” or “side of bacon”, and cognate with the Old French bacon.
In continental Europe, this part of the pig is usually not smoked like bacon is in the United States; it is used primarily in cubes (lardons) as a cooking ingredient, valued both as a source of fat and for its flavor. In Italy, this is called pancetta and is usually cooked in small cubes or served uncooked and thinly sliced as part of an antipasto.
That diagram get you hungry? Haha. For those of you who do not like bacon, or prefer turkey bacon, or are vegetarian, I don’t know what to tell you. Sure, I guess you can substitute turkey bacon or fake bacon in this if it makes you happy/feel better. But I myself don’t abide by that, so I can’t help you.
Basically, as far as this recipe goes, I threw it together in no time and I thought I’d share my “recipe” with you. One of you might be looking for something new & different yet filling to make after a long day of hard work, too. That’s the awesome thing about macaroni & cheese; you don’t need a recipe! Once you get the hang of making a roux & a basic cheese sauce, you can totally wing it; make one without a recipe at all or personalize an already great macaroni & cheese recipe.
Well, I posted it for those reasons but also because I think Brianne would’ve killed me if I didn’t. And you do not want to mess with a pregnant woman. Ever.
ONION-Y BACON MACARONI & CHEESE
- 1 lb. pasta of your choice (I used mini-rigatoni, but elbows, pipette, gemelli, cavatappi or ziti work too… whatever you like!)
- 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus an extra ½ cup set aside
- 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ lb. hickory smoked bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled when cool (either by frying or baking in the oven)
- 1 cup Italian flavored panko breadcrumbs
- vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a small saucepan and melt. Add the breadcrumbs and cook until just toasted. Set aside.
- Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly puffy and bubbly on the edges. Add the cayenne, the garlic powder, the onion powder and salt/pepper and whisk. Add milk, and cook, again whisking constantly until slightly thickened. Turn off heat, and remove pan from hot burner.
- Add the cheese to the milk mixture slowly, by the ½ cup, stirring constantly to make sure it’s evenly distributed and melts evenly. When melted (or mostly melted), add the crumbled bacon and stir until evenly mixed.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions for al dente in a large pot of salted, boiling water with a drizzle of vegetable oil. Drain, but do not rinse. Return the pasta to the large pot and mix the cheese/bacon sauce in with it, making sure to cover all the pasta.
- Add the pasta & sauce to a casserole dish that has been sprayed with PAM. Sprinkle the ½ cup of reserved cheddar on top, and then the breadcrumbs on top of that and bake until bubbly, about 30-35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve & enjoy!
I wanted the onion & garlic taste to be really subtle. For a bigger onion flavor, caramelize some finely chopped onions in the bacon fat after you remove the bacon, then add that to the cheese sauce with the bacon. If you like a lot of garlic too, then add some minced garlic to the bacon fat as well. Once they’re cooked, remember to drain them and not add all that fat to the dish! Oh, also… I didn’t pre-toast my panko, which I suggest you do (I wrote it in the recipe) because it would make the topping crunchier & darker. Eh. Coulda, shoulda , woulda! Live & learn. I didn’t complain, neither did anyone else- there wasn’t even enough left in the pan to save for leftovers.
And I leave you with this.