05/09/2018 Grown Up Mac and Cheese

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

Recipe Courtesy of Cindy Schumacher

½ lb. dried cavatappi pasta
Salt to season the pasta water
3 cups half & half
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups sharp Cheddar, shredded
1 cup whole milk mozzarella, shredded
½ cup parmesan cheese finely grated
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1½ to 2 Tbsp. green onion, chopped
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 slices semi-crisp hardwood smoked bacon
2-3 Tbsp. seasoned breadcrumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fry bacon until almost crisp. Drain and set aside.
In a large pot, boil water for your pasta. Once it starts to boil, season with about a tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and boil for 5 minutes. Reserve one cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Drain and set aside.
In a large kettle, add butter to melt. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until smooth, cooking for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the half & half, and continue to whisk vigorously until smooth, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 cups of half & half and continue whisking. Add the rosemary, thyme, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and minced garlic — mix well.
Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the mixture to come up to a simmer — whisking the whole time. The mixture will thicken very quickly so don’t walk away from it. It should take about 5 minutes to start simmering. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat completely. Add the parmesan and cheddar cheese and stir gently until it’s melted and smooth, about a minute or two. Either in the same pot or in a separate large bowl, combine the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce. Gently fold together until it’s completely coated. Mixture should be slightly loose but very creamy and easy to work with, if it’s too thick, thin it out with a little of the starchy pasta water. Fold in the basil and green onion at the last minute.
Transfer half of the pasta and cheese mixture to a lightly greased baking dish. Sprinkle ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese over the first half of the pasta/cheese mixture, then pour the remaining pasta/cheese mixture on top as a second layer – add the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Gently swirl a spoon or butter knife thru the mac and cheese mixture to ensure the mozzarella cheese is evenly combined throughout the dish. Sprinkle the top with the bacon and breadcrumbs.
Bake in a 400 degree oven on the middle oven rack for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bubbly all over. Allow the dish to cool for about 10 minutes.