Cheese is basically its own food group in my world.
Cheddar, goat, brie, fontina, parmesan, gruyere, mozzarella, smoked gouda, havarti…you name it. Each and every one has a special place in my heart. When I don’t feel like cooking dinner, I have a plate of cheese and crackers. With the occasional sliced pepperoni accompaniment. Or the not-so-occasional glass of wine. Or both.
Cheese plates for dinner happen far more than I care to admit. But, here I am, sharing that with you all. My deep, dark secret.
When I’m craving comfort, grilled cheese sandwiches or cheesy pastas top my list of must makes. Mac and cheese is no exception. While my mom’s version still tops the list as my favorite, I do like to tweak things here and there. Or in this case, spice things up. Because life gets boring otherwise.
This mac and cheese is flowing with sharp cheddar flavor and studded with salty bacon and the punch of sliced jalapeños. Creamy, cheesy, salty, and a touch spicy…it’s like a bacon-wrapped jalapeño popper in pasta form. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
And when it comes to crunchy breadcrumbs on top, I’m a huge fan. Like, an obsessed fan. I live for those crusty bits.
And I live for incredible mac and cheese dishes like this one. And cheese plates. For dinner.
It’s like a warm cheese hug. And that’s something I can definitely get behind. Just like those cheese plates…for dinner. Multiple times a week.
No shame (OK, maybe a little shame…but I think you guys will forgive me).
1 lb short pasta of choice (elbows, shells, penne, etc)
4 strips of bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
2 jalapeño peppers, sliced (seeded if you like less heat)
2 garlic cloves, grated or pressed
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons flour
2½ cups whole milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water liberally and then cook the pasta to el dente, according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, crisp the bacon in a large cast-iron skillet.** Remove the bacon and reserve.
To the drippings, add the butter and when melted, add the onions and jalapeños. Cook for a couple minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir to combine.
Whisk the flour into the pan and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk very slowly, and then bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Cook until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Add in the grated cheeses and stir until melted and creamy. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add the bacon and pasta and toss to coat everything in the sauce.
Top the pasta with the breadcrumbs and drizzle lightly with oil. Place under the broiler for 1 minute, watching closely, until the breadcrumbs are toasty and golden. Serve immediately.
If you don’t have a large oven-safe skillet, make the sauce in a saucepot and once the pasta is tossed with the sauce, transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Proceed with the breadcrumbs as noted above.