Mac and Cheese a la Francaise
Three uniquely delicious French cheeses, toasted crumbs, bacon and fresh herbs make this mac and cheese recipe a flavorful step up from the average. Serve it as a main course along with a vinaigrette tossed salad and a light, dry wine like a white Bordeaux.
- 1 pound uncooked rigatoni
- 1/4 lb thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- For the roux:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- For the sauce:
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
- 12 ounces Ossau-Iraty, grated (see below)
- 8 ounces Emmental, grated (see below)
- 3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- For the topping:
- 2/3 cup panko crumbs
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 3 tablespoons finely grated Mimolette (see below)
- 3 tablespoons butter
Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain well and set aside.
Cook the bacon over medium heat until it is just barely crisp. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the onions to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until they are soft and beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes more. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
Place the milk in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Heat just until scalded, then remove from the heat and add the thyme, bay leaf, and smashed garlic. Cover and allow the mixture to steep for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the roux. Wipe out the pan you used for the bacon and add the 4 tablespoons of butter. Melt over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently until the flour develops a golden color and is no longer raw tasting, about 5 to 7 minutes.
When the milk mixture is done steeping, place the saucepan over medium heat and remove the thyme, bay leaves and smashed garlic with a slotted spoon. Slowly whisk in the roux, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheeses until melted. If needed, add a bit more milk to adjust the consistency (you want to be able to easily combine the sauce with the rigatoni). Add the parsley, taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed and add the pinch of cayenne.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, combine the panko crumbs, rosemary, thyme, oregano and grated Mimolette. Season the mixture with a pinch of salt and few grinds of black pepper.
Thoroughly butter the bottom and sides of a large casserole dish. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom.
Gently combine the bacon mixture, sauce and rigatoni together. Pour it into the prepared casserole and top with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden brown.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
About the cheeses:
Emmental is a mild cow's milk cheese, golden in color, with a mildly sharp, nutty flavor and large holes similar to Swiss cheese.
Ossau-Iraty is an ivory colored sheep's milk cheese made in the French Pyrenees. It has firm, creamy texture, and buttery flavor and nutty aroma. Both of these cheeses are high in butterfat, consequently, they melt very smoothly, making them good choices for this sumptuous version of mac and cheese.
Mimolette is a bright orange cow's milk cheese from the northernmost region of France. The one we bought was aged for about 18 months and had robust fruit and nut flavors. It's not a melting cheese and so in this recipe, it's grated and added to the toasted crumb topping for extra flavor.
For more info about French cheese, visit http://CheesesofFrance.com. They offer a wealth of information, including recipes, buying guides, pairing suggestions and tasting notes.