Macaroni and cheese

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I made this as a side to Paco’s barbequed chicken, because I wanted to make something different from my usual barbeque sides (potato salad, cole slaw). It was a nice hot accompaniment, but this could definitely act as a main dish with a side of vegetables or salad.

What I love about macaroni and cheese is there are a million different variations. You can use whatever cheese you’d like (I used what I had on hand). You can add eggs to make a more casserole-like dish. You can add vegetables or meat (broccoli, bacon). You can top it with breadcrumbs, potato chips, cracker crumbs, fried onions, or anything crispy.

Macaroni and Cheese
(Serves 8 as a side)

3 strips of bacon, diced
1 onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb macaroni
4 T butter
1/4 c flour
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c cream or half-and-half
4 c of the cheese(s) of your choice (I used cheddar, mozzarella cheese, pecorino romano, and goat cheese)
kosher salt
pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
2-3 tsp Tabasco
a handful (about 1/3 c) of panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray.

Prepare the macaroni using the directions on the package, boiling until it’s a little bit short of al dente (one minute less than al dente).  Remove from the heat and drain.

In a large skillet, brown the bacon until it is not quite crispy and most of the fat has rendered out. Remove the bacon from the pan.  Add the onions and garlic to the bacon fat and toss in the fat.  Season with pepper, and allow to caramelize. When the onions are golden but not falling apart, remove them from the pan as well.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a large skillet.  Add the flour, and stir with a whisk to break up the lumps.  Allow to cook for a minute or two, then add the milk and cream.  Bring to a gentle simmer, and stir continuously, allowing the mixture to cook for 5 minutes.  Once it has thickened, add the cheese a little bit at the time, stirring continuously. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, and Tabasco.

Add the caramelized onions, bacon, and pasta to the cheese sauce, mixing so that the macaroni is thoroughly coated.  Sprinkle the panko over the top.  Spread the macaroni into the baking pan, and bake for 20 minutes.

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