Mac and Cheese with Bacon

Pasta, Sides / Thursday, September 11th, 2008

When I was a kid, my parents would take us for Sunday lunch at Po Folks, one of those family-style Southern restaurants where the drinks are served in Mason jars and the menu features appetizements, onion rangs and Kuntry Fried Steak Salad. One particularly eventful Sunday, Daddy decided I was old enough to order off the menu. I told him I wanted the veggie plate. With Mashed Po-taters, a Baked Po-Tater, Po-Tater Salad and French Fries.

“Rebecca, you are not eating four kinds of potatoes. Pick a real vegetable.”

“Macaroni and cheese.”

In the South, mac and cheese IS a vegetable. Look at any menu of “homestyle veggies,” and you’ll find it, sitting right above the mashed potatoes. We eat it at home, school, potlucks, restaurants, holiday dinners and funerals. Restaurants (and women) are judged on the quality of their macaroni and cheese.

So, when the Barefoot Bloggers decided to try Ina Garten’s Grown-Up Mac and Cheese this week, I felt well-versed. Then a quick glance at the recipe put me on notice. Bacon? Gruyere? Blue cheese? Breadcrumbs and basil?

Where was the SOUR CREAM?

I had to dig deep and get in touch with the Zen of Ina. Yes, I’ll use a baking rack, sheet pan, pasta pot, small saucepan, medium saucepan, food processor and four small casserole dishes just to make one batch of macaroni and cheese. Of course, I’ll buy three cheeses when the one true mac and cheese choice is Cheddar. Chewy, baked-in bacon? OK, Ina. OK.

A few years ago, I needed to resign from a job, but I felt guilty about it. Finally, I told myself I was taking up Someone Else’s Ideal Job, and that made leaving easier. This is Someone Else’s Favorite Mac and Cheese. It’s sophisticated. The flavors are complex; the textures are varied. But when it comes to comfort food, I don’t want “grown up.” I want the gooey, intensely Cheddary macaroni and cheese that you take one look at and KNOW you shouldn’t eat, but you dip in anyway. And then dip in again.

What about you? Are there any foods you prefer simple rather than sophisticated? Like, say, four kinds of taters?

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

From Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” (via Food Network)

  • 4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese
  • 3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan, and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.
  3. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni, and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil.
  5. In a medium pot, melt the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
  6. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth.
  7. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  8. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon, and stir well.
  9. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.
  10. Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil, and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

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27 thoughts on “Mac and Cheese with Bacon

  1. Amen! I am not a native Southerner, but live in the South now, and I think that regular ‘ol cheddar-based mac & cheese is the way to go. I was never going to love this version with the blue cheese in it, and wish that I had skipped it. Does that make me childlike? Perhaps. Your picture of the mac n cheese in the cup is amazing! Makes me want to try again and make it the kiddie way. I hope that Ina is not always this pan-happy!

  2. I just love mac and cheese–fancy or not. This was missing a bit of the sauce for me but I still liked it a lot but I like the old scholl kind too. I am particular with egg salad or deviled eggs–fancy it up all you like but the plain old egg, mayo, a touch of cheap mustard, salt and pepper is my favorite and the egg salad must be served on soft white bread–no multi grain or whole wheat!

  3. Grr. WordPress, you just ate my comment! ANYWAY.

    Po Folks! My parents used to take us there all the time too. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    My can’t get enough of… Mexican. I could eat it every day. Salsa. Oh. Salsa.

  4. Too bad it wasn’t your fave since it looks so deelish. We loved ours, but we did tweak it. I’m generally not a fan of baked in bacon, but I only cooked my casserole for a quick minute or two. I have plenty of low brow favorites-like tater tots. Ridiculous, huh?

  5. I love good old fashioned mac and cheese! This was simple and elegant but not downright homemade! This was a hit in my house but I would not pass up homemade mac and cheese with the sour cream! Yours looks delicious!

  6. Sometimes simple is best – your 4-tater meal sounds like something I would totally eat. Tee-hee.

    We liked it, but the blue cheese was a little strong for us. Maybe I mismeasured. Hmm.

  7. I loved eating at Po Folks when I lived in Atlanta!!! I really like the midwest, but boy, I sure do miss the South. I will have to try this swanky mac and cheese version – sounds great to me!

  8. I think–as other commentors have said also–there is room for all kinds of mac and cheese. I really loved this one, but I certainly wouldn’t say no to your recipe for a more homestyle variety!

  9. I feel that way about pizza (sometimes). I like alllllll kinds of pizza and to every degree of “fanciness”. But often… I just want plain old pepperoni or sausage pizza!!!! Preferably New York style.

    Your Mac looks great. I would eat it! :-)

  10. Wow. I thought I was the only one with childhood Po Folks southern kid memories! Awesome. Thanks for that walk down memory lane — I could totally see the mason jar drinks and taste the fried chicken.

  11. I love all kinds of mac & cheese. Sometimes I crave Velveeta. Shhh! don’t tell. I’m actually looking for a recipe for gruyere and serrano ham mac & cheese that I had at miX restaurant in Vegas because it was insanely delicious. I’d totally eat this mac & cheese, even though I don’t think bleu cheese belongs in mac & cheese. That’s where I draw my line.

  12. Your pictures are always beautiful! I find it difficult to believe that didn’t taste as good as it looks. Loving the potatoes 4 ways. I’ve always wanted to have a dinner party with potato-only dishes.

  13. Wow. Blue cheese in mac & cheese sounds so, so wrong. I’m a mac and cheese purist–I don’t even like bread crumbs, just lots and lots of gooey cheese. Mac & cheese is going through a fancypants revival in LA at the moment, and all the restaurants have their own versions with truffle oil, crispy shallots, blood of newborn babes, etc. It’s perverse.

  14. SHE SAID THE BLOOD OF NEWBORN BABES! Oh god! I’m gonna pee on myself i swear! oh that was funny! Oh so funny!

    If it isn’t out of the box your nephews can’t identify it as mac and cheese. It suddenly is just pasta.

  15. I like the *idea* of trying different mac&cheeses, but in the end, i always fall back on my favorite, traditional recipe from Alyssa Torey’s Magnolia at Home cookbook. It takes the un-fancy flavors and tweaks them just enough to make them better, without delving into oddities like blue chz. Still, I love Ina and might have to try this someday on a whim or if I had blue cheese to use up.

  16. Ack! Looking for a new mac-n-cheese recipe (can’t wait to try this!) I made it here….PoFolks! I had totally forgotten about it! I grew up in Hendersonville N.C and my parents took us to PoFolks as a “treat”. Nine times outta ten we’d see Jim and Tammy Fay Baker in there chowing down with the heathens…! That was surreal! Thanks for the memory jog!

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