You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese
My good friend Mrs. Hamilton and I have collaborated on several projects, including corporate party planning, a cake or two, and the It’s Not Cheating if You Wear Rubber Gloves Coalition. It barely stings to admit that she makes the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten. After following her recipe exactly (the one exception being the type of pasta), I’m unsure whether the hint of inferiority in mine stems from the fact that food always tastes better when someone else prepares it and serves you, or if Mrs. H is just unbeatable in the kitchen.
2 boxes/6 C cavatelli pasta
1 1/4 sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled
2 tbsp butter, melted
5 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled, fat reserved
6 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
4 C whole milk
4 C shredded cheese (we both used a blend of cheddar and American)
2 tbsp bacon fat
salt and pepper
Set the oven to 350. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, using 1/2 tsp of salt if none is suggested. Combine the cracker crumbs, 2 tbsp of butter, and crumbled bacon in a small mixing bowl and stir until the butter is evenly distributed.
Heat the 6 tbsp butter in a large, deep pan over medium heat until the foaming subsides, but don’t let it burn. Sprinkle the flour in and stir quickly to form a roux, letting the finished roux cook for one minute, avoiding any raw flour taste. Slowly pour in the milk with one hand, using the other to stir quickly. Allowing the milk to reach room temperature before beginning this process will enable you to maintain the pan’s heat. Look at you with your bechamel! Cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer, and add the cheese, stirring until it’s melted. Finally, stir in the bacon fat. Then you can add pepper and salt as desired, but very little is needed after the bacon does its job.
Mix together the cavatelli and cheese sauce in the pot used to cook the pasta, then transfer to a 9×11 baking dish. Top with the cracker mixture, and bake at 350 for about half an hour, until the cheese bubbles loudly. Take it out of the oven and let it stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. This is one that I divide into two batches, then freeze the other half for later or use it to curry popularity with neighbors or waste management. As Mrs. H says, “shyum!”