Monday, October 13, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese, Aged and Saged

If I can be said to have a "signature" dish, it would be my macaroni and cheese. I started with the basic Mueller's recipe and have altered it over the years. The resulting dish is cheesy near-perfection. I cook it for practically every family gathering, and it's loved by adults and children alike.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to try a different pasta + cheese recipe. But my love affair with Benton bacon lardons, and my little patch of sage outside the front door made me sit up and take notice of two recipes:

1) Delia's Penne with Leeks and Bacon and
2) Classic Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Bacon, Aged Cheddar, and Fresh Sage on the Food Network's site

After reading both recipes numerous times, I finally chose the Food Network one. Honestly, I should have just flipped a coin and saved myself some time. I made a few changes to the recipe and have a few more things that I'd change next time. My version of the recipe is at the end of this post.

I served the macaroni with steamed rattlesnake green beans from my weekly box o' produce.

cook's notes


- used fully precooked Benton bacon lardons. 2.5 oz (cooked weight) was the perfect amount in this recipe. That should work for any strongly-flavored bacon. For more mild bacon, 4-5 oz cooked would be about right.

- sauteed the onion in a tiny bit of olive oil, and added the bacon with the garlic.

- used 1 can of evaporated skim milk + enough skim milk to make 4 c. total

- used two different cheddars (because I didn't have enough of one kind in my fridge.) Half was Palatine sharp cheddar, a local cheddar that I brought back from Central New York, and half Seaside Cheddar, an aged cheese from England that I bought at Whole Foods. These were both very flavorful sharp cheeses.

- liked the vidalias in this dish. If they are not available, use another sweet variety of onion (walla walla, etc.) or leeks.

- used deep-ish 2 qt casserole dish and didn't need all of the cheese that the recipe calls for on top.

recommendations for next time
There are some easy ways to further reduce the hefty fat content of this dish:

- First prepare the sauce and set it aside briefly while the pasta is cooking.

- Drain the pasta and put it directly into the sauce. This cuts down on the olive oil/greasiness of the finished finished dish.

- Reduce the cheese by 1/3:
- - Put 2/3 cup cheddar and 2/3 cup parmesan in the topping, (just enough for a thin layer across the top of a deep 2 qt casserole.) This recipe would also work with some bread crumbs on top.
- - For the sauce, use about 9-10 oz. of shredded cheddar

I'd also double the sage and eliminate the Italian parsley

the verdict
the flavor of this macaroni and cheese was perfect. Well, the onion, bacon, and cheese were perfect. I wasn't able to taste the sage as much as I'd like. The sauce was a tiny bit oily. The olive oil can be reduced significantly, which I've reflected in the notes and the recipe below. That should help a lot.

My husband liked this better than my regular mac n cheese! With the onion/sage/bacon flavors, I don't think this would be as kid-friendly, however.

Here's the recipe as I'd make it next time:

Classic Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Bacon, Aged Cheddar and Fresh Sage
(Derek Wagner, edited by Nancy E)


  • 2.5 ounces cooked chopped strongly flavored smoked bacon, or 4 ounces cooked regular bacon, chopped
  • Salt
  • 1 pound dried pasta (elbow macaroni, small shells or orecchiette)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 1 cup finely diced Vidalia onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 can evaporated skim milk + skimmed milk to total 4 cups
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 9-10 ounces grated aged sharp Cheddar, and 3-4 ounces grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese: Cheddar and Parmesan (for topping)
  • Kosher salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves, plus leaves for garnish
  • 0-1 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, plus leaves for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 2 quart deep baking dish (or smaller individual dishes).

2. In a saucepan, on medium-high heat, saute onion with a light amount of olive oil until translucent.

3. Add the onion and cook until translucent then add the garlic and cooked bacon.

4. Dust with flour, whisk in milk, cream, nutmeg, and mustard powder. Bring to simmer stirring constantly for several minutes.

5. Whisk in 4 cups of Cheddar and half a cup of Parmesan. Stir until all the cheese is melted. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Reserve.

6. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook elbow macaroni until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

7. Fold the pasta, sage and parsley into the reserved cheese sauce.

8. Place into baking dish. Top with remaining cheeses, place dish on baking tray, and place in the oven.

9. Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes, garnish with parsley and sage leaves and serve!

{update: I'm posting my usual mac n cheese recipe below. It's not too different from the one above, but the sage, bacon, and onion of the other one makes it more 'grown up.' Also, one uses flour and the other cornstarch to thicken the sauce.}

Some of my favorite little people enjoying the mac n cheese at a party at our house several years ago.
Nancy's Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz small pasta shells, cooked al dente (approximately 10 minutes) or other pasta shape such as elbows
4 T. corn starch
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
dash nutmeg
dash cayenne pepper
5 cups milk (combine 2% and evaporated skim milk)
4 T. butter
16 oz. (4 cups) shredded cheese (combine gruyere, sharp white cheddar, mild cheddar, jack)
1 oz. (1/4 c.) grated Parmesan cheese

1. In large saucepan, combine dry ingredients.

2. Stir in milk and whisk until smooth.

3. Add butter.

4. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.

5. Boil sauce 1 minute, then remove from heat.

6. Reserve ½ cup cheese for topping, and stir remaining cheese into sauce until melted.

7. Add shells to cheese sauce and turn into greased 3 quart casserole.

8. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and extra parmesan.

9. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot and bubble with crust on top.

note: this recipe is wonderful to give away, as either a main dish or a side. At home we always serve it as a main with salad and a veggie.


Audrey said...

I'm not especially a macaroni and cheese fan, but I would enjoy this! And I was very curious as I've never heard of rattlesnake beans...they look delicious, too. It would be SO much fun to tell my nephews that that's what we were having for dinner.

j. d. e. said...

blasphemy, mom! it CANNOT taste better than your normal recipe!

Cathy said...

This looks great! I'd love to see your "signature" recipe sometime, too!

Matt said...

My son and I have long been obsessed with finding the perfect mac and cheese recipe. I love the idea of sage and bacon which play into all of the classic autumnal flavors... This sounds delicious!

Nancy/n.o.e said...

I've updated the post to include the recipe for my usual mac n cheese.