A few weeks ago I found myself hanging out in a series of airplanes, listening to the latest episode of Pod Save America and flipping through cookbooks on my kindle. After a weekend of somewhat hectic traveling (an entire day of flights getting canceled and missing drinks with a good friend and dinner with another good friend), I was ready for some comfort food. No matter which recipes I came across in these cookbooks, I kept coming back to this Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese. I have to admit, I love Molly’s Molly on the Range cookbook, which brings together my favorite things about the midwest, with some true fusion along the way. So, I threw this together and found myself noshing on it leading into the Thanksgiving holiday for a little northern plains comfort food.
Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese
8 oz medium shells
12 oz applewood-smoked bacon
1/4 c flour
2 1/2 c whole milk
3/4 lb smoked Gouda cheese, chopped
1/4 lb pepper jack cheese, chopped
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 c panko breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
In a large pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Chop the bacon and set aside. Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the fat in the pan. Heat it over medium-high heat and add the flour, whisking until combined, and then cook for 1 minute. Add half the milk, whisking continuously until thickened, about 5 minutes and then repeat with the other half of the milk. Add the gouda, pepper jack, and all but 2 Tbsp of the Parmesan and stir until the cheese melts.
Stir in the paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, and salt and black pepper to taste. Fold in the shells and bacon and transfer to the greased baking dish. Top with the panko, a pinch of salt, a few turns of the pepper and the reserved 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until the top is browned, about 25 minutes.
Cool for 5 minutes and enjoy with ketchup, if desired.