My craptastic I'm too hungry to care photo... see why I use the originals? haha
This is a love-hate recipe. It tasted delicious, Matt even said it was the best mac and cheese recipe I have made. However, this recipe is a lot of *bleeping* work and it dirties a million dishes. I will make it again, but only for a special event or something... this is not a 'make it when I get home from working all day' kinda meal. I served this with the whiskey glazed carrots (sure, add on some more work)... recipe to follow. Here is my take:
Bacon Lover’s Mac and Cheese
Approx. 525 calories per serving
6 oz. pasta shapes (I used mini penne)
4 oz. bacon, chopped (or more!)
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/8 cup flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%)
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 oz. Fontina cheese, grated (I used Fontinella)
2 oz. white cheddar cheese, grated (The label said 'Holiday Cheddar' lol, it was white. Close enough)
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, cook the pasta according to package directions until just shy of al dente. Drain well and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until crispy. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. (If desired, set aside 2 or 3 tablespoons of the cooked bacon for topping the baked mac and cheese.) Reserve 1 tablespoons of the bacon grease. Return the pan to the heat and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
To make the cheese sauce, add the reserved bacon grease to a medium saucepan with the butter. (If there was not enough bacon grease to make 1 tablespoon, replace the missing amount by adding an equal amount of butter.) Heat over medium-high heat until the butter is completely melted.
Whisk in the flour and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is golden and fragrant but not burned, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken. Whisk in the salt, red pepper flakes, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the Fontina and white cheddar until completely melted and smooth. (If necessary, you can return the pan to low heat to melt the cheeses.)
Return the drained pasta to the pot. Mix in the cooked bacon and mushrooms, the cheese sauce and the chopped spinach. Stir everything together gently until well combined. Spread the mixture into a lightly greased 1.5-quart casserole dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is light golden and the cheese is bubbling. Serve warm and top with reserved cooked bacon pieces, if desired.
**I thought the cheese sauce was mega thick, so I ended up adding a little more milk at the end before baking. I also topped with a handful of Panko bread crumbs before baking for a little color and crunch.