A truly Wicked Mac & Cheese starts with a good Béchamel sauce. A good Béchamel starts with the right ratio of butter flour and milk. Add cheese and you have cheese sauce, which in my opinion, starts with good cheese. Nothing like a stick to your ribs, family-favourite with lots of bacon, leeks and sundried tomatoes as winter wanes.
In our house, mac & cheese is utility food. It serves a purpose, it cleans up all the last little bits of pasta in the pantry, and the cheese drawer in the fridge to boot; the end of a box of penne, three handfuls of rigatoni and the last of the macaroni. In it goes three to five different cheeses, everything sharp and salty leftover from Christmas scavenging, swaddled in bits of plastic and now slightly dry around the edges; a 5 year aged cheddar, a partial wedge of jalapeno Monterrey Jack, a sheep’s milk Gruyere, the last of a previously grated lump of Swiss, and a sizable chunk of Parmesan.
Sometimes it’s creamy, due to the amount of brie and soft cheeses on hand, but we are a family of strong cheese lovers so it’s generally punchy. Then we mix in sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, some lightly sauteed leeks and a piece of nice smokey bacon for what we call… Wicked Mac & Cheese.
Let’s Talk Mother Sauce
But for a moment, let’s get back to that good Béchamel or White sauce. It is, after all, one of the five Mother Sauces, so it deserves a little homage of it’s own. To my mind, one of the best tricks of the trade I’ve ever learned was the perfection of a bechamel, which is hinged on how you handle your roux (cooked butter & flour, made into a paste).
In the pro kitchen, we work with weights instead of measures so that we can calculate how to make 30 litres of bechamel in a snap. The perfect ratio for Béchamel is 70 grams of butter & 70 grams of flour to each litre of milk. Not cream, milk. I’ve converted it to measures below because it’s not likely that you’ll be making 30 litres of the stuff anytime soon. (But you could!)
Béchamel Sauce Technique
First, melt your butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in your four until it’s well blended. This is your roux, butter and flour, it’s that easy. I like to keep it moving a little bit with the whisk so the butter doesn’t scorch as it cooks. It’s important that you cook your roux before you add the milk, but how do you know when your roux is cooked?
You know your roux is cooked as the flour begins to toast and it starts to smell like cookies. Then you add your milk, whisk until smooth and then bring to a low simmer for about ten minutes. If making a cheese sauce, then add your cheese and season to taste.
Master the Mother Sauces and you begin to master the kitchen.
A truly Wicked Mac & Cheese starts with a good bechamel, then add bacon, leeks and sundried tomatoes for truly WICKED cold-weather comfort.
1 leek – finely chopped
1cup sun-dried tomatoes
6 – 8 slices bacon (double smoked preferred)
5 – 8 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons four
3 1/2cups grated cheese, divided
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper – to taste
1. Soak sun-dried tomatoes. Lightly sweat leeks and reserve to cool. Cook bacon until desired doneness, drain, chop and reserve. While leeks & bacon are cooking, bring water to a boil to cook your pasta. 2. Cook pasta, drain, rinse & reserve. While pasta cooks, drain and chop sun-dried tomatoes, then prepare your sauce. 3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, whisk in four until blended and continue to cook for three or four minutes until your roux is cooked. Add milk and whisk, over medium heat until smooth. Deduce heat, and bring to a low simmer for about ten minutes before adding 2 1/2 cups of cheese, a handful at a time, stirring as you go. Finally, add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. 4. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Coat an 8 x 8 (3 quart) casserole dish, or 6 large ramekins, with non-stick spray and reserve. In a large bowl, mix the pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, leeks, roasted garlic, and bacon. Add mornay sauce until desired sauce to pasta mixture is achieved, taste, adjust seasoning if needed, then scoop into your chosen dish for baking. Top with remaining cheese. 5. Bake, uncovered: 20 – 25 minutes for individual ramekin dishes or 45 – 50 minutes for a deep dish 8 x 8 casserole size; until bubbling and hot with a crispy, melted cheese layer on top. Remove from oven and serve piping hot.
We like a well sauced, but not gooey, mac & cheese. So we often have about a 1/2 cup of cheese sauce leftover from this recipe (which we then use in other applications in the next few days I.e: Croque Monsieur). Suit yourself, add less or more for the perfect mac & cheese for your tastes.
Prep Time:40 minutes
Cook Time:25 minutes
Keywords: Wicked Mac and Cheese, Bacon Mac and Cheese
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.