Mac and Cheese with Pancetta

img_01651There is something about Mac and Cheese that just screams comfort food, and seems to make you feel all warm inside when the winter weather is dreadful.

Mac and cheese is one of those classics that I have about 10 recipes for – the classic, butternut squash, etc. But, the following recipe is one of my favorites. Reason one – pancetta. Reason two – the mixture of cheeses.

Pancetta, Italian bacon, is one of my favorite ingredients. It has all of the greasy goodness of bacon but without the smoky flavor that can sometimes distract. This recipe can surely be made without it if you want, but unless you are a vegetarian, I wouldn’t consider omission.

The cheeses are another reason I love this recipe. It not only has the classic cheddar but also a little Parmesan for some saltiness/sharpness and mascarpone for a tangy kick (you could probably use cream fraiche for the same flavor).

The recipe is attributed to Bon Appetit. I cut it in half so it works with an 8×8 pan and is the perfect amount for 4 (or a very hungry 2!).

SIDE NOTE – The recipe calls for Panko, which is a Japanese breadcrumb. Although you could certainly substitute regular breadcrumbs, I highly recommend you take the time to go down your international food aisle and pick them up. I promise once you use them, you will never go back to regular breadcrumbs!

MAC AND CHEESE WITH PANCETTA
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 oz thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 (or less to taste) teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 cup all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk
2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
4-5 oz container mascarpone cheese (generally this is half of a standard size container)
3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 pound elbow macaroni

Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; saute until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic, stir 1 minute. Stir in 1.5 tablespoons butter; allow to melt, then add flour and stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 1 3/4 cups milk, simmer until thick enough to coat spoon thickly, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in cheeses. Whisk in more milk by small amounts until sauce is thick but pourable. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and stir until very light golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 8×8 glass baking dish. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain well. Return pasta to pot. Add warm cheese sauce, toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over. Bake mac and cheese until heated through and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

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