Bacon, Apple Macaroni and Cheese

Are you cooking for a crowd this holiday season? Or need to bring an item for the office potluck? I say make this big ole bowl of comforting macaroni and cheese.

This isn’t any macaroni and cheese. It has smokey bacon, tart green apples and a rich, creamy, cheese sauce makes this a luscious and healthy dish (healthy because, you know, apples). This recipe is designed for a crowd, so don’t be scared off by the ingredients (almost a pound of bacon? Yes, please).

This is a savory, cheesy contrast to the nonstop sugar cookies. You’re welcome.

IMG_0628Bacon, Apple Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 8-10 ~  Time: 1.5 hours


12 slices bacon (3/4lb) center-cut bacon, diced
1 large yellow onion, peeled & diced
4 small (or 2 large) granny smith apples, peeled, cored & diced
3 tbs butter
1/4 c. AP flour + 1 tbs
4 c. milk (dairy or non-dairy are fine)
16oz shredded extra sharp cheddar
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 tbs fresh thyme
Salt & Pepper
12oz elbow macaroni (or other small-shaped pasta)
Topping:
1 c. panko crumbs (enough to cover the dish)
3 tbs cold butter, cut into small cubes
(Ignore the hard apple cider in the picture, I opted to make this booze-free, see? Healthy).

Pre-heat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 13×9 casserole dish.

In a deep saucepan, over medium heat, saute bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Drain all but 1 tbs of bacon fat (you can reserve the fat to saute vegetables another day). Add onion and apple (and a sprinkle of salt and pepper) to the fat in the pan and cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Remove to a plate.

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In the same pan with all the good bits of onions and apples, melt butter. Whisk in flour until a roux (paste) forms. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth (no flour bits). Add bay leaf and bring mix to a low simmer (about 5 min). Slowly stir in 3/4 of the cheddar cheese; a small bit at a time so as not to cause the sauce to break. Sprinkle in herbs and taste here. Add salt and pepper as necessary. Remove bay leaf.  Cook pasta according to directions on the box. Drain and set aside.

IMG_0631IMG_0632In a very large bowl, combine the apples, onions and bacon. Temper the apple/onion/bacon mixture with the cheese sauce then add the whole mix to the sauce pan. At this point, I like mix the pasta into the sauce in either the same very large bowl or in the 13×9 casserole dish, as the mix with the pasta is too big for my saucepan. If you haven’t already, transfer the mixed pasta into the 13×9 casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and panko crumbs to cover the top. If you do not want to bake this now, at this step, allow to cool and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use, and turn off your oven 🙂 IMG_0634Once you are ready to bake, dot the cold butter (or be naughty and drizzle a little reserved bacon fat) over the panko crumbs.  Bake for 40 minutes until golden bubbly.

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I would rather do a Macaroni and Cheese swap than a Cookie Swap. Who’s in?

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