Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mac n' Cheese with Pancetta, Sweet Ham and Parmesan Crisps

I was about to go on and on about how I couldn’t stop eating this when it came out of the oven. Now, a day later, I am going to have to talk about how amazing the flavor is after sitting in the fridge for 24 hours.

I took the dish out of the fridge this evening and warmed a little bowl of it up. This is a family blog so I am going to put a warning on this next part and tell you that this gets a little racy. I tasted the mound of warm noodles drenched in cheese with bits of salty and sweet ham and a slight buttery crunch from the panko and groaned with absolute, unbridled ecstasy. Too much information? Too bad. I know what love is and this dish is it. I highly recommend making this immediately and eating it with unadulterated and reckless abandon. Bon Appetit! AJ

4 cups dried macaroni
1/4 cup (1/2 stick salted butter)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half & half
3 heaping teaspoons dry mustard
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated (I use parmigiano reggiano)
1/3 cup pecorino romano cheese grated
3 tablespoons pancetta diced
1 cup ham with a sweet crust, cubed small
1 cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

parmesan crisps (recipe/method follows)

Preheat the oven to 380 degrees.

Cook the macaroni in salted water to very al dente. It should be a little too firm to eat right away.

Beat the egg and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, add the chopped pancetta and stir for 2 minutes. Add in the chopped ham and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter and then add in the flour all at once whisking vigorously over medium heat for a few minutes or until smooth. Pour in milk, half & half, mustard, nutmeg and a big pinch of salt and pepper (few twists of the pepper mill). Continue to whisk for about five minutes over medium high heat until mixture is thick. Turn heat to low and take about 1/4 cup of the milk mixture and whisk it in with the egg until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Work quickly to avoid ending up with scrambled eggs.

Taste the sauce and add in salt and pepper if needed. Pour in cooked and drained macaroni, cooked pancetta and ham and stir to combine. Add in all of the cheeses and stir to combine. Again taste for salt and pepper and season if necessary. Pour entire mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with extra sharp cheddar shredded and the panko bread crumbs spread evenly over the entire dish. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Parmesan Crisps – Recipe and Method

1 cup parmesan cheese finely shredded

Pre-heat broiler.

On a baking sheet with parchment paper, mound 1/2 cup of the cheese on the paper in a circle about the size of the bottom of the measuring cup and repeat with the other 1/2 cup on a separate spot on the paper. Put the baking sheet with the cheese under the broiler and watch closely until all of the cheese is melted, slightly bubbly and turning brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. With a thin spatula, gently lift one cracker at a time off the parchment and bend into a slight cylinder until it holds that shape on it’s own. Insert the crackers on the edge of the Mac n’ Cheese prior to serving.

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