Smoky Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese

A trio of cheeses, crispy bacon and a touch of hot sauce kicks up the flavor factor in this classic dish, which features an extra ooey-gooey layer of cheese in the center. Delicious!

Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 15 min
Total time: 1 hr
Difficulty: medium
Special tools: 2-quart casserole dish, sheet pan

Ingredients

1+3 T butter, divided
1 c fresh breadcrumbs
8 oz elbow macaroni or other small pasta, such as shells
1/4 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/8 t white pepper
1/2 t dry mustard
1/4 t smoked paprika, plus more for garnish
2 1/2 c whole milk
4-6 dashes hot sauce (Tapatio or Tabasco)
1 c (1/4 lb) gruyere, grated
4 + 1 1/2 + 1/2 c (1 1/4 lb) Tillamook cheddar, grated
1 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1+1 T chives, chopped
6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

Steps

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small pan or skillet, melt 1 T of butter and toss with breadcrumbs; toast on sheet pan in oven until lightly browned, approx. 5-7 min; set aside. Boil pasta in lightly salted water until al dente, approx. 8 min, stirring occasionally. In a lg pot over med heat, melt 3 T butter. Add flour and whisk 3 min until a fragrant roux forms. Quickly add salt, pepper, mustard, paprika, milk and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens slightly, approx. 6 min. Slowly add cheeses, reserving 2 c cheddar. Stir until smooth and completely melted. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Add drained pasta, 1 T chives and 3/4 of bacon; reserve remaining bacon and chives for garnish. Pour 1/2 of pasta into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with 1 1/2 c of shredded cheddar, followed by remaining pasta; do not stir (this creates a melted cheesy layer in the middle of the dish). Top pasta with 1/2 c cheddar, breadcrumbs and remaining bacon. Dust lightly with smoked paprika. Bake until bubbly and lightly browned on top, approx. 30 min. Garnish with 1 T chopped chives and serve immediately.