Baked Mac + Cheese with Pancetta and Leeks
Leeks, pancetta, white cheddar — this is a "mac and cheese" for grown-up palates. The pancetta, which we all know is that wonderfully cubed Italian pork product, lends a peppery undertone, along with yielding a bit more rendered fat for the base. If you can find Rotelle-shaped pasta, or wagon wheels, I love how the nooks catch the bits of leek, pancetta, and cozy cheese sauce that makes this the perfect meal for a cool, wintry night. Serves 6-8
1 pound rotelle pasta
8 ounces pancetta diced
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 whole leeks cleaned, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 dashes Tabasco hot sauce
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese grated, 1/2 cup set aside 6 ounces Comté cheese grated
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and set the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish, and set aside until ready to bake the pasta.
Add the rotelle to the boiling water, stirring frequently, and cook 2 minutes less than the package directions, about 5 minutes. Strain the pasta, and set aside.
Wipe out the same pot, and over medium heat, sauté the pancetta until crisp and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pancetta to a small plate, leaving the fat in the pot and keeping the pot on the heat; set pancetta aside.
Meanwhile, set another small saucepan on low heat, and add the milk and cream. Stir occasionally, but do not let come to a boil.
Add the leeks to the pancetta fat, stirring to coat, and sauté for 6 minutes, or until the leeks are softened. Stir in the garlic, mustard, and Tabasco, and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Stir the flour into the leek mixture, and cook for 4 minutes.
Pour about half of the warm milk mixture into the leek mixture, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Add the remaining milk, and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes.
Once the milk mixture is near a simmer and thickened, remove from the heat, and gradually add both cheeses, reserving the 1/2 cup cheddar for topping. Stir, off heat, until the sauce is smooth and cheeses are fully incorporated.
Add the cooked pancetta and the pasta to the sauce, stirring to combine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the buttered baking dish, and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar.
Place in the oven, bake for 25 minutes covered, then an additional 10 minutes uncovered, until cheddar on top is melted and golden brown. Remove from the oven, let sit for 10 minutes, then serve.