Mom's Mac and Cheese

Serves 8

My mother made scrumptious macaroni and cheese with creamy sauce, sautéed onions, paprika and loads of Tillamook or sharp Cheddar cheese that we all loved, especially the crunchy cheesy topping. Mom baked it in the cast-iron Dutch oven she received as a wedding present. When I added bacon to the filling and Parmesan cheese and panko to the topping, my kids and friends attacked that mac with a vengeance, thus its took on the name “macattacaroni”. For pure indulgence, a fresh truffle or white truffle oil drizzled on top take this comfort special to special level of comfort food.

1/2 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 pound thick-sliced lean bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
4 cups (1 pound) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs, found in the Asian sections of supermarkets

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, put the bacon in a 10-inch Dutch oven and cook it over medium heat for 3 minutes or until a little bacon fat covers the bottom of the pan. Stir in the onions and continue to cook until the onions are golden and the bacon is cooked through, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the butter and, when it has melted, stir in the flour and cook until lightly colored, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring until smooth. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until it thickens, stirring occasionally. Add 3 cups of the cheese, stirring until melted. Add the macaroni; season with paprika, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Combine the remaining cup of Cheddar, the Parmigiano-Reggiano and panko crumbs in a bowl. Spoon the mixture over the macaroni and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. If it is not browned enough, turn the broiler on and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer, watching carefully that it doesn’t burn. Remove the casserole and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Mac and cheese additions:
Cooked chunks of kielbasa, chorizo or any sausage
Cooked chunks of lobster
Diced canned or chopped sun-dried tomatoes
A small white truffle thinly shaved and/or white truffle oil
And, of course, canned tuna...a.k.a. Tuna Casserole!