Sunday, August 23, 2009

BLT Mac & Cheese

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Bacon just makes everything better, doesn't it? Well if you're looking for a new spin on your traditional macaroni and cheese, try adding some crispy bacon, sliced leeks and chopped tomatoes! One of my favorite sandwiches are BLT's and without lettuce and sliced bread to make one, I had to make do with what was on hand. I planned on making macaroni and cheese later this upcoming week and that's when I decided to combine both macaroni and cheese with BLTs.

The result is a delicious combo of creamy, cheesy pasta with additional flavor from bacon, leeks and tomato. I'm certain I've seen this combo before so it's not exactly "original," but the measurements and process are pretty much what I did. Although the bacon lost some crispness after being wrapped in cheesy goodness, it was very good and gave a nice bit of smokiness. The leeks added color and a slight sweetness, as did the tomato. To top it off, I added nice crunch with panko breadcrumbs that were lightly tossed in olive oil. I will definitely make this again and it's a great way to jazz up the usual macaroni & cheese recipe.


BLT Mac & Cheese
original Joelen recipe

5 cups water
1 lb. uncooked macaroni, farfalle, or rotini pasta
8 slices of bacon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup half & half
7 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
5 oz. shredded monterey jack & colby cheese blend
1 tsp. garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 medium leek (white and green portions only)
2 large plum tomatoes
1/2 cup panko Japanese breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To start pasta mixture, bring water to a boil in 8-qt. stockpot. Cook the dried pasta according to package directions and place cooked pasta in a large bowl; set aside.

Meanwhile, cut up bacon in small pieces and place into a hot skillet; cook over medium-high heat 8-10 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet, leaving drippings in the pan, to paper towel-lined plate to drain then place in the large bowl. Set skillet aside with bacon drippings.

Slice leek in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2-in. slices. Place into a small bowl and rinse with cold water to remove dirt; lift leeks out of water and saute in the skillet with bacon drippings. Cook, uncovered, just until it softens up and place in the large bowl.

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise; remove cores and scrape out seeds. Dice tomatoes and place in the large bowl.

In a sauce pan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Once it's completely melted, add 1 tablespoon flour and stir to combine for a roux. Allow the roux to come to a boil for a minute and then slowly stir in the half & half. Allow the half & half to come to a simmer as it thickens to create a bechamel sauce. Once it thickens up to coat the back of the spoon heavily, turn off the heat. Carefully stir in the cheeses until melted and you have a consistent cheese sauce. Add the garlic powder and salt/pepper to taste.

Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and other ingredients in the large bowl. Stir to combine and transfer the pasta into a casserole dish.

Combine the panko breadcrumbs and olive oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle this on top of the casserole dish for a nice crunchy topping. Bake the mac and cheese in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until bubbly and the top has browned slightly. Serve immediately.

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