This baked mac and cheese dish derives its flavors, textures and bits of colors from a lot of things — chopped bacon, onions, bell peppers and carrots. After everything is mixed together, the mac and cheese is spooned into ramekins (you can just use one large baking dish), sprinkled with more shredded cheese and, for a surprising crunch, bread crumbs. Serve this for a big gathering during the holidays and everyone will love you.
Why so much stuff in a dish that’s traditionally all about the basics? Well… Mac and cheese isn’t exactly the most exciting pasta dish in the world. But it’s simple to prepare and serving it isn’t fussy at all. Serve in a single platter or in individual ramekins with buttered toast on the side and that’s it. No carving, no chopping, no discarded bones to deal with.
Most importantly, it’s such a crowd pleaser. Adults and kids alike love mac and cheese. Personally, I’d go for my baked mac with creamy cheese topping but if I have to feed a lot of people and budget is an issue and preparation time is short, mac and cheese would be a great alternative.
Fully-loaded Mac and Cheese
Updated version of the recipe originally published in October, 2011.
- 200 grams macaroni
- 100 grams belly bacon chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1/3 cup chopped bell peppers
- 1/3 cup chopped carrot
- 1 cup cream
- 125 grams cream cheese cut into small cubes
- 125 grams shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 125 grams shredded Parmesan or Edam cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- panko Japanese bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat a skillet or frying pan and cook the bacon with adding any oil. The bacon will render fat and that’s all the oil it needs. Cook until the bacon bits are browned and crisp. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- It is up to you if you want to pour off the bacon fat. Some people are fussy about it but, personally, I use it because it is very, very tasty.
- Melt the butter in the pan. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper and carrot. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are quite soft.
- The pasta should be done at about this time. Drain it.
- Meanwhile, pour the cream into the pan. Add the cheeses. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is bubbly. Turn off the heat. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper, as needed.
- Add the cooked pasta and bacon to the sauce. Toss to coat each piece of pasta with sauce and to distribute the bacon and vegetables evenly. Toss in the parsley.
- Divide the mixture among individual ramekins or pour all of it into a large baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan or Edam. Then, sprinkle with bread crumbs.
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and crisp, and the sauce is bubbly.
- Serve hot with buttered toast on the side.
You can use whatever pasta shape you prefer although elbow, penne, ziti and other cylindrical shaped pasta are the ones I find most suitable because they do catch a lot of cheesy sauce.
Salty Chinese ham is also good.
For better visual result, use both green and red bell peppers.
I used panko which gave the top a marvelous texture but you can use ordinary plain bread crumbs.