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Pancetta Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese Bliss

Remember when I had the best mac-n-cheese of my life?

Let me take you back. The place was Cochon Butcher.
The town, New Orleans.

It was everything I ever wanted in macaroni and cheese…and more. It insanely saucy. Astoundingly ooey, gooey, creamy, and cheesy. A goldmine of crispy bits of house-made pancetta was buried throughout. And a crust of buttery breadcrumbs freckled with herbs made it all crunch on top.

Bite after bite, I marveled at what a perfect specimen of mac and cheese this was. It had a complexity of flavor that I couldn’t put my finger on. This mac had depth. It had integrity. It had layers. I had to know Cochon’s secret. This Pancetta Mac-n-Cheese had to be mine.

I shot off an email, my desperation barely veiled (ok, not at all veiled), and…I scored the recipe! Naturally, what’s mine is yours. Enjoy this, my friends, a present from Cochon to me to you. It is a treasure.

Pancetta Mac-n-Cheese (Cochon Butcher, New Orleans)

Pancetta Mac-n-Cheese (Cochon Butcher, New Orleans)

I slightly adapted the recipe I received. The original called for a whopping 1½ cups of pancetta; I scaled it down to 8 oz, which ended up being about 1 cup. Also, I used panko instead of regular bread crumbs for the topping because I love the extra crunch of panko.

After reading the recipe, I could see why this was unlike any mac and cheese I’d ever had. It was full of unexpected things like white wine and cream cheese for extra flavor and creaminess.

The big secret though is the host of aromatic veggies that gets incorporated into the sauce. Crimini mushrooms, celery, leeks, shallots, garlic, and tomato paste get sautéed in pancetta renderings (yum), and pureed into an umami bomb which is the base of the cheese sauce.

And the cheese portion of this is surprising too. It’s just good parmesan and cream cheese, and heavy cream of course. Splurge on real parmigiano-reggiano, you won’t be sorry. When you mix together the cheese sauce and the macaroni, it may seem too saucy. It’s not. It will be perfection.

The addition of fresh herbs laces the crispy panko topping with a pesto-like freshness. Makes me wonder why I haven’t thought of doing this before.

And there you have it! I hope you enjoy this as much as I do :)

Pancetta Macaroni and Cheese

Pancetta Macaroni and Cheese

Pancetta Macaroni and Cheese

This mac and cheese is full of complex flavors, crispy bits of pancetta, and ooey, gooey, saucy cheesiness. Adapted from recipe courtesy of Cochon Butcher (New Orleans).

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8

Ingredients

1 pound macaroni noodles, cooked
1 cup (about 8 oz) pancetta, diced as small as possible
1 cup (about 3 oz) crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 cups celery (about 3 stalks), diced
1/2 cup leeks (1 large leek, white part only), diced
4 tablespoons shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
1/2 pound (8 oz) cream cheese
1 cup parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preparation

  1. Cook the diced pancetta until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking. Remove mushrooms and pancetta, reserving fat.
  2. Sauté celery, leeks, shallots, and garlic in reserved fat until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3 minutes to incorporate.
  3. Deglaze with wine and reduce for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Add the heavy cream, cream cheese and parmesan, and warm to melt cheese. Remove the bay leaves.
  4. Puree entire mixture with a stick blender (or in batches using a regular blender/food processor). Add pancetta and mushrooms after the base is pureed.
  5. Combine sauce with cooked macaroni, half of the parsley and half of the chives. Add salt and pepper to taste -- you won"™t need much because the pancetta is pretty salty.
  6. Combine butter with bread crumbs and remaining parsley and chives, scatter on top of macaroni mixture and bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes, or until bread crumbs are nicely browned. (Note: If you are making this ahead of time, wait to combine the sauce with the macaroni until you are ready to bake the entire dish. Otherwise, the sauce will get absorbed into the pasta and you will lose the wonderful creamy sauciness of the dish.)

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