quick mac and cheese

Since the weather has been so nice here in SF, Emily and I have spent much of our time outside with our dog Willow.  This was great all last weekend until it came time for dinner on Sunday.  We didn’t want to go out, but we didn’t feel like cooking up something worthy of a typical Sunday dinner;  mac and cheese felt like a perfect compromise.  Typically, mac and cheese is made with a béchamel sauce in which you add cheese to make a basic cheese sauce for your noodles.  This still seemed like too much work, but I wasn’t about to make that stuff that comes from a box with the little bunny on it that Emily likes.  Inspired by the pasta dish we had a couple weeks prior, I thought it would be nice to make the sauce with ricotta to thicken it rather than a béchamel.  I started by cooking some bacon that had been cut into lardons (I almost forgot to mention this was mac and cheese with bacon, of course).  After taking out the bacon and setting the fat aside, I slowly heated up about 0.5 – 0.75 cup of cream.  Now, my loyal reader, you must be thinking “But Jordan, what will you do with that glorious bacon fat?!”  Of course I’ve thought this through, and mixed the bacon fat with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for a delicious, bacony, cheesy topping.  Back to the sauce: the cream is over a low flame and I’ve added about 0.5 cup of ricotta, 0.5 cup of grated fontina, and 0.25 cup of grated parmesan until melted together to a fairly thick sauce.  If the sauce is not sufficiently thick, add more of the cheeses to your taste.  Season with salt, pepper, and a very small sprinkling of nutmeg; it sounds weird, but it’s classic and tasty even though you don’t really taste the nutmeg, if that makes sense.  Add the sauce to about 0.5 lb of cooked pasta of your choice (Emily picked fusilli, which would not have been my choice, but she didn’t know that … until now).  Sprinkle on the topping and bake at 375 degrees until the top is crisp and looks like this:

Conclusions:  This version was much quicker and easier to make than traditional mac and cheese without sacrificing flavor.  On the downside, the ricotta prevents the sauce from becoming perfectly smooth and so you don’t get as much gooey, cheesy goodness either.  I’d make this again, but if I have the time I’ll go all out and do the béchamel.

-Jordan