Several month ago, Eilene asked me to make Mac and Cheese sometime when her friends came over. While I have made this dish several times for her friends, this time she wanted something different. She wanted me to use pancetta, brie, apples, and almonds—instead of the usual cheddar or Emmentaler cheese. She also did not want me to use macaroni, but some kind of spiral pasta. Since, I am always sneaking in more vegetables, I also added some leek to the mix.
Karl and Eilene’s Brie and Pancetta Mac and Cheese
12 oz. fusilli
4 oz. pancetta, diced
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. AP flour
1½ cups milk
½ cup sliced almonds
1. Rinse and—starting at the top—slice half way down in a cross to quarter the leek.
Tip: I have found that it is easier to slice the leak into fine shreds if you leave the root end of the leek whole as you slice through the top. When you reach the end of the cuts, slice down again—in a cross, being careful not to cut through the root end—to continue slicing.
2. Peeled, core and dice the apple.
3. Chop the brie finely.
Tip: This will be very sticky and messy process.
Note: Brie is a soft cheese with a soft-ish rind. While the soft cheese will melt easily, you need to break up the rind, so that you do not have large bits—that will not melt completely—in your final dish.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
5. Drain, rinse in cold water, and reserve the pasta.
Tip: Keep the pot to hand, for later
6. Put the pancetta in a medium sauté pan and cook, over a medium high heat, until browned.
7. Remove the pancetta, leaving the rendered grease.
Tip: I transferred the pancetta to the casserole and moved them around to grease the pan.
8. Sauté the leek with the salt until just soft, about 3-4 minutes.
9. Add the apple bits and continue cooking until the fruit is warmed through, another 1-2 minutes.
Tip: You are not trying to cook the leek and apple completely, just to get them started. You will also be baking the final dish for half an hour.
10. Add the thyme, pepper and stir the pancetta into the leek and apple mixture.
Note: I did not actually add the thyme, but after I tasted the dish I felt that it did need some herbal kick.
11. Melt the butter in the pot that you boiled the pasta in, over a medium heat, and add the flour.
12. Make a blond roux, cooking the butter and flour for 4-5 minutes.
Tip: Stir almost constantly while you are making the roux.
Note: This is when the cooking roux just starts to pick up some tan color.
13. Add the milk and continue cooking until the sauce has started to thicken, 3-4 more minutes.
Tip: Stir frequently.
14. Add the brie and continue cooking until the cheese has completely melted.
Tip: There will still be some lumps of rind that will not melt.
15. Add the pasta and the leek mixture to the pot.
16. Fold the ingredients together to mix and coat the pasta and leek mixture with the cheese sauce.
17. Transfer the mixture to a greased casserole and top with the sliced almonds.
18. Put the casserole in a 375º F oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Tip: Until bubbling and the almonds have started to brown.
19. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool for five minutes.
20. Serve warm.
Tip: I added a green salad as a side dish.