Mac and Cheese is definitely one of my favorite recipes and Rob knows that well. I have several versions including Instant Pot easy versions (link here) and my go-to baked version (links here and here). Between these, we probably make it about every other week. For my 30th birthday, Rob pulled out all the stops and made what he considers the ultimate baked version!
This version is a combination of four cheeses in a creamy roux based sauce. Rob picked out the cheeses to provide a good mixture of flavors, aromas, and textures. The key is good melting cheeses that compliment each other (I would really use gouda or chevre, and definitely not together lol, for example).
So, the base as with almost all of my baked versions was a gruyere. It’s a fairly firm, good melting cheese with a little bit of a sharpness. Next up was another favorite: Fontina. This is a semi-soft cheese with a nice fresh, light taste that mellows the flavor a bit.
The next two were firsts: a triple creme brie and taleggio. Brie is the quintessential soft cheese and adds a nice creamy richness. Taleggio is an Italian cheese that actually looks like brie but is slightly firmer, falling somewhere between brie and fontina. Taleggio actually has a relatively strong aroma, but is milder in flavor.
Next, were the fillings: Pancetta and roasted cauliflower. Pancetta is one of my favorite pork products, I honestly prefer it to bacon. We got the inspiration from a menu item we saw when eating out Saturday night that had bacon in it and knew we wanted something similar. The saltiness and the small size pieces are a perfect addition to a mac and cheese like this. The roasted cauliflower has become a go-to veggie for me, I love the crispy texture it gets and that also really goes well with mac and cheese.
Lastly, the breadcrumb topping. Normally, I have Rob do this and its just some pulverized sourdough or something. Not for this special version though! Rob went all out; he used a good fresh Jewish Rye then added garlic and herbs. He then finished with a little olive oil to really make it cohesive. The end result was a super flavorful, perfectly crispy crust.
“Ultimate” Mac and Cheese
- 1 Lb Macaroni
- 1 Cup Pancetta Crumbles 2 of the packs works
- 4 Tbs Butter
- 3 Tbs Flour
- 3 Cups Milk warmed
- 3/4 Cup Gruyere grated
- 1/2 Cup Fontina grated
- 1/4 Cup Taleggio grated or pulled
- 1/4 Cup Brie broken up
- 1/2 Tbs Cayenne Pepper
- 2 Cups Ground Bread Pieces
- 1/2 Tbs Thyme
- 3 Sage Leaves
- 1 Rosemary Sprig
- 3 Garlic Cloves
- 1/4 Cup Olive oil
- 2 Cups Cauliflower Florets
- 4 Garlic Cloves smashed
- 2 Thyme Sprigs leaves removed
- 2 Rosemary Sprigs
- 1 Shallot quartered
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Start this first it takes the longest!
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss.
- Lay out on a baking sheet.
- Roast for 30-40 minutes or slightly browned and crispy.
- Starting in a cold skillet add the pancetta and turn the heat up to medium-high.
- Cook the pancetta for about 10 minutes and the fat is rendered off and the pieces slightly crispy.
- Set aside until need.
- Start the pasta about halfway through making the roux sauce. Cook about 1-2 minutes al dente to allow for the extra cooking that will occur when baking.
- Heat the butter over medium heat in a sauce pan.
- Add in the flour, salt/pepper, then whisk the flour into the butter to create a thick paste. About 1-2 minutes max.
- Pour in the warm milk, stir to combine. Allow to come to a simmer, reduce heat and reduce for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the cheese and cayenne in at the very end, stir in until melted.
- Two cups of breadcrumbs requires 3-4 1” thick slices or the two heel pieces of the loaf.
- Start by pulsing the garlic and herbs to break them up.
- Add the bread breaking it up into smaller pieces by hand first and pulse until well mixed.
- Drizzle in the olive oil while pulsing until a slightly sticky mixture is created.
- Coat the inside of a casserole dish with a light layer of butter.
- Add the pasta, cauliflower, and pancetta first, toss to combine evenly.
- Pour in the Roux sauce, toss to ensure even coating of the pasta.
- Top with the breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake uncovered for at 400F for 10-12 minutes.