Laura's Crumb-Topped Macaroni and Cheese
The thick crumb topping is flavored with pancetta, making this an unexpected version of the classic.
- Coarse salt
- 1 pound cavatappi pasta
- 4 slices day-old oat or whole-wheat bread
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 5 ounces (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 3 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, grated (2 cups)
- 1/2 pound mild white cheddar cheese, grated (3 cups)
- 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated (3 cups)
- 1/2 pound fontina cheese, grated (2 cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (do not use preground)
- Freshly ground pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 8 minutes; pasta will be slightly undercooked. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
Pulse bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form (about 2 3/4 cups).
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, 9 to 10 minutes. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.
Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons pancetta drippings in pan. Melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat with drippings. Add breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring to coat, until they are light gold and beginning to crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming. (Do not let milk come to a boil.) Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour to butter, whisking until smooth. Add milk, slowly, whisking constantly until combined. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add cheeses, and stir until melted. Stir in reserved pancetta, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Season with pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pasta in a 9-inch-round baking dish that's 3 inches deep. Stir in cheese sauce 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Spread breadcrumbs on top. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until crumbs are deep golden brown and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.