Everyone needs a culinary standby–an ace in a hole to draw for that potluck/holiday/family event/random Friday night that is easy to make with ingredients on hand, that you can make a lot of, and the most part be a crowd pleaser. For me, this has been Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon Topping. It’s been a family favorite for years. I’ve probably made it a dozen times since I’ve started blogging. Like a good friend who’s company you’re too busy enjoying to remember to take a picture together, I’ve often overlooked photographing and writing about this beloved, ubiquitous dish that shows up practically every other weekend when the weather is cold.
There are three parts to making this: boiling the pasta (which only takes a couple of minutes), making the cheese sauce, and then baking it all together. Traditional versions call for a breadcrumb topping, which I eschew for crispy bacon. This is comfort food…the dish should be a bit of indulgence, but not complicated or time consuming, which means I’ll only use a bacon topping if I have a few slices of cooked bacon leftover from another recipe. I try to keep things as simple as possible.
Make sure you do not cook the macaroni. You only want to boil the macaroni to soften it. It will cook with the cheese sauce in the oven.
Originally, I started out making this recipe by using my Costco bag of shredded Mexican cheese blend. This blend contains more milder cheeses like Monterrey Jack and mild cheddar. The result…it was just okay, and slightly underwhelming. After trying out other cheeses, I have a clear winner…extra sharp white cheddar which comes in a brick. You’ll need to shred it but the flavor is worth it. Traditional versions call for Gruyere cheese, which packs even more flavor and makes it really tasty. For me, though, I don’t use enough Gruyere on a regular basis, and is a bit expensive. To use Gruyere, I would have to specifically buy it, which negates the whole beauty of just being able to whip something together with ingredients on hand. My tip: save the Gruyere for a special occasion version.
Don’t put the bacon in the macaroni, as it will get soggy. Use it only for the topping so it will remain crispy.
Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. This will allow the cheese to thicken a bit more, yet still retain the creamy texture.
I usually make this as a side dish to go with Thanksgiving turkey, or in place of potato dishes. It’s also great, however, as a main course served with a green salad. When I make it for a regular family meal, I try to make enough so there are leftovers, which is where this dish really shines. You can easily reheat it in the oven and pack it in a thermos to give the kids a hot lunch at school. Or you can enjoy it on the weekends for lunch when you’re too busy bustling around doing all your errands to think about what to eat, and just want to reheat something.
- 1 (1 lb) package of large elbow macaroni
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups of milk (any kind)
- ½ tsp garlic salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp white pepper
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 5 cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese (white preferable), shredded
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- 6 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled (about 1 cup)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large pot, bring to boil salted water and add macaroni. Bring to a boil again and cook till al dente (about four minutes). Then, drain in a colander, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, and set aside.
- Grease a 2.5 quart casserole dish (or 9x13 baking dish) with the stick of butter, wiping all sides of the dish with the stick.
- Start making the cheese sauce. Over medium heat, melt the remaining stick of butter in a saucepan.
- Add flour and cook for about five minutes, or until it looks light brown.
- Slowly add the milk, whisking all the time to ensure no lumps form.
- Add the nutmeg, white and cayenne pepper, salt, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. Mix.
- Add the cheese, a little at a time and mix with a spoon (not whisk). Then add the Parmesan. Mix well.
- In the casserole dish, pour the macaroni.
- Pour the cheese sauce in and mix together.
- Sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve.