Tuesday, November 15, 2011
big shell pancetta mac and cheese
The weather has turned in Zurich this past week: a wintery cold to accompany the Christmas decorations that are suddenly everywhere. The trees that were brilliant shades of red and orange when I arrived are now bear. It's the sort of weather that makes me want to have something baking in the oven. This time, I opted for bubbly, cheesy comfort food: mac & cheese...with pancetta (because everything is better with pancetta).
I didn't mean for the shells to be so big. It's hard to tell from the pic without perspective, but the cooked shells are about the size of ping pong balls. They seemed to quadruple from their dried size after spending some time in boiling water. Though unexpected, this worked out very well, as it meant the noodles were not only covered with cheese, but also filled with it. I can't really complain about that.
Speaking of cheese, the particular combo I used this time was novel for me. I typically make mac & cheese with sharp cheddar. No orange cheese is to be found at the local Coop here in Zurich, however, so I tried something new. I found myself unable to move away from cheddar completely (after finding a white version unexpectedly at the grocery store - my backup was fontina, which I was strangely unable to find), but I did add some new-to-cole's-mac-&-cheese cheeses: gruyere (so Swiss!) and parmigiano reggiano.
The top-heating oven in my apartment is perfect for dishes like this, as it guarantees a golden brown crust (now that I've figured out the trick to prevent burning from the top: place the dish on the lowest rack and leave the top rack in the oven to shield the dish from direct heat). If you don't get a brown crust after cooking for 40 minutes in a conventional oven, try broiling at the end (but watch closely to prevent burning!). If you like that crisp top as much as I do, I recommend baking the mac & cheese in a large dish to maximize the crispy browned top to gooey inside mac & cheese ratio.
Overall verdict: this was a really tasty mac & cheese that will definitely become one of my new staple versions (or at least for those occasions where I'm looking for a classic variety vs. butternut squash mac & cheese, which still ranks as my fave). Enjoy!
Pancetta Mac & Cheese
1/2 lb. shell pasta
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. diced pancetta
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
a pinch of sea salt
a pinch of white pepper
a pinch of nutmeg*
1 c. milk
~2 handfuls white cheddar, grated
~2 handfuls gruyere, grated
~1 handful parmigiano reggiano, grated
*I used microplaned fresh nutmeg
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add onion and garlic. Continue to cook until onion is transparent, an additional 3-4 minutes. Add flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to coat. Add milk. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until milk reaches boiling. Reduce heat to med-low. Add cheeses and stir until melted and fully combined. Add cooked & drained pasta; and stir to coat.
Transfer to baking dish. Bake 40-45 minutes, until top is golden.
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