Joey and I recently watched Tyler's Ultimate on the food network and were moved by his Ultimate Mac & Cheese with Bacon. Everything on his show is called "The Ultimate" but this really seemed special. We headed over to Costco for some cheap cheese in big packages. We chose Tilamook Vintage White Cheddar cheese which has a very extra sharp cheddar flavor. When buying the bacon for this recipe, it is important to buy bacon that is not too fatty to impart the particular flavors.
This recipe uses thyme as a flavoring, but recently we haven't been fans of thyme so we substituted basil (since we already had some). I think the thyme really might have added more. I thought this Mac & Cheese had a very earthy flavor but it just didn't seem cheesy enough to me. Joey, on the other hand, loved this dish when it came out of the oven.
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (cavatapi is the new macaroni in our house)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 or 3 sprigs thyme(we used 1 large bunch of basil)
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed and divided
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 1/2 cups shredded sharp white Cheddar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips (More Bacon!)
- 1 large onion, diced (we only used half an onion and that was plenty, I might use shallots next time)
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- Leaves from 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook for 8 to 9 minutes, until al dente. Drain.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a small saucepan heat the milk with the thyme sprigs (we used basil) and 2 garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, to keep lumps from forming.
Strain the solids out of the milk and whisk it into the butter and flour mixture. Continue to whisk vigorously, and cook until the mixture is nice and smooth.
Stir in the 4 cups of the cheese and continue to cook and stir to melt the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked macaroni and the parsley and fold that all in to coat the macaroni with the cheese mixture.
Scrape into a 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
While that bakes, heat a saute pan. Add the bacon, render the fat and cook until crispy. Add onion, garlic (while it says smash, we recommend dicing) and thyme leaves and cook for about 5 minutes to soften the onion. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, scatter the bacon mixture over the mac and cheese. Use a big spoon to scoop out servings, making sure you get some of the smoking bacon mixture on each spoonful.