Eilene is having some friends over. I decided to make their favorite Mac & Cheese. When she and her friends make this for themselves they, of course, use the “orange stuff in a box.” This is just starch, fat, and chemicals, not a meal.
While I am not fanatical about the subject, I think that it can be made healthier. For my Mac & Cheese I insist on making it a full meal, with a good cheese, a protein, and lots of vegetables. While still not exactly a health food, it is healthier that the alternatives.
Any aged, sharp, semi-hard cheese will do for this dish. I have made it American Swiss and Gruyère, but you can also use cheddar or Jarlsberg. Today, I am using Emmentaer.
Note: Jan does not like “pork’ bacon being in the house at all (“turkey bacon” is fine). However, if I insist on using it, she demands that it be “nitrate free.” This can sometimes be fairly hard to find, but the marketing term “uncured” usually means “artificial” nitrate free.
Karl’s Mac & Cheese with Bacon & Leek
1 lb uncured bacon
¾ lb. small Italian macaroni (about 1½ cups dry)
1 medium onion, diced
1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced finely
½ tsp. Kosher salt
Karl’s au Gratin Sauce
3 Tbs. reserved bacon grease (or butter)
3 Tbs. flour
5 cloves garlic, mashed
1¾ cup milk
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
½ lb. Emmentaler, grated
½ tsp. black pepper, fresh ground
Pinch nutmeg, fresh grated, separate uses
1. Set a medium pot with 4-6 quarts of water on over a high heat.
Tip: When the pot comes to a boil you will add the macaroni to it. You may add half a teaspoon of salt to the water if you wish, but it is not necessary,
2. Fry the bacon crisply and, when done, set them on a paper towel to drain away the excess fat.
Tip: After the bacon has cooled, break them into small bite sized pieces.
3. Drain the excess bacon fat into a cup, reserve 3 tablespoons of bacon grease for later.
Tip: Leave 1-2 tablespoons of grease in the pan.
4. Add the macaroni to the boiling pot of water and simmer until al dente (about 8 minutes).
5. Add the onion, leek and salt to the pan the bacon was in and sauté the vegetables until they are just starting to pick up some color.
6. Remove the vegetable pan from the heat.
7. Drain the macaroni into a colander and rinse out the pot.
8. Add the reserved bacon grease and flour and cook stirring constantly until lightly browned.
Tip: Cooking grease and flour together is called a roux. Although this is usually done with butter you can use any form of fat.
9. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds more.
10. Add the milk, a bit at a time, and continue stirring until the sauce has started to thicken.
11. Stir in the mustard.
12. Reserve ¼ cup of the cheese and add the rest to the sauce, a bit at a time, stirring constantly.
13. When the cheese is completely melted, stir in the nutmeg and pepper.
14. Return the macaroni to the pot.
15. Add the sautéed vegetables and most of the bacon to the pot and fold everything together.
Tip: Reserve a bit of the bacon as garnish.
Note: If you wish to dirty one less dish, you may serve the Mac & Cheese just as it is, garnishing individual bowls the remaining cheese and bacon. Otherwise…
16. Pour the mixture into a large Pam-ed casserole.
17. Put the casserole into a 500º F for about 10 minutes.
18. Remove the baking dish from the oven and sprinkle the reserved cheese and bacon on top.
19. Return the casserole to the oven and switch the oven from bake to broil. Broil until the cheese is starting to brown well, about another 5-10 minutes.
20. Top the Mac & Cheese with a few gratings of fresh nutmeg and serve.
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