Monday, May 16, 2011

Grown-up Mac'n'Cheese

As far as comfort foods go, there are very few things (possibly none) that are better than macaroni and cheese. This particular concoction is a far cry from the boxed versions where you mix some questionable-looking yellow powder with butter and milk and it somehow creates "cheese". Not that the boxed version doesn't have it's place - I have some very fond memories of it from when I was little, and it's an undergraduate finals week staple, but there are times that call for an improved version.

For the last two weeks, my extended family has been living in the hospital with my little 3 1/2 year old cousin as she fights incredibly hard to recover from her 3rd open heart surgery. Anyone who's spent any time hospitals knows how fast the food gets gross and old, much less every meal for almost two weeks striaght. So when they let me bring them some dinner, I was excited to step up and bring them some solid comfort food that wasn't deep-fried and stomach-ache inducing - and thus, a more grown-up version of the ultimate comfort food was born!
 When asked about their comfort food preferences, most people are going to say something warm, a little salty, and carb-oriented. This recipe most definitely fits the bill and is pretty much a warm serving of happy if you're having a crappy day, it's chilly and rainy outside or you just need a little dietary pick-me-up. It takes less than 1 hour to make, which includes grating the cheese - and yes, grating the cheese fresh does make it taste better. If you're in a rush though, I'd recommend the pre-grated and sealed varieties, usually found in the same coolers as the specialty cheeses.

For the carnivores who frequent my blog, there's never any debate about bacon being one of the most delicious foods/flavors that can be used and it adds some flavor depth to this recipe. It's also easily omitted though, to make the recipe vegetarian-friendly. A very important note: do NOT add salt!! The hard, aged cheeses and the bacon have enough saltiness between them to add the desired flavor, but adding more would quickly border on too salty.

Grown-up Mac'n'Cheese
Makes 6-8 servings, depending on appetites
1 hour prep & cook time

1 box of pasta shells
5oz Gruyére cheese
8oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
8oz Romano cheese
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6 slices of bacon
Pepper, parsley & paprika, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350º and bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. Add the entire box of pasta to the water. Boil until slightly al dente, then drain and rinse with cold water.
3. While the pasta is cooking, dice the onion, mince the garlic and start shredding the cheese.
4. Cook the bacon until it is crispy. Pour off the grease halfway through, so it actually crisps rather than cooking in its own fat.
5. After the bacon is crispy, remove it but don't get rid of the grease in the pan (should be enough to coat the pan but not any standing grease). Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions turn translucent, ~5 minutes.
6. Add the pasta to the onions and garlic, turn off the heat and stir to combine. The shells will pick up some of the bacon, onions and garlic pieces, which helps your flavor mix evenly throughout the dish.
7. Season the pasta with pepper, parsley and paprika, or any other spices you're wanting. Remember that this is an entire box of pasta, so a heavy-hand in seasoning isn't a bad thing -- but NO salt!
8. Grease your baking dish, then alternate layers of pasta and cheese into your baking dish.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the depth of your baking dish, until the cheese melts and starts to bubble. Remember that everything in the dish is already cooked, so you're just trying to melt the cheese all the way through the dish.
10. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes, then serve and enjoy!


  1. OMG, this looks A-MAZ-ING...why do you live so far away!?! Who is going to cook for me during crazy, board cramming sessions!

  2. Thanks Cass! I promise to make dinner one of the nights when Brian and I come visit and send some baked goods to you for boards studying, don't think this would mail all that well!