Shoddy attempt at breadcrumbs, but everything else looks yum.
Ok the whole thing isn't complicated. Lara might say the cheese grating part is since she spent the better part of 30 minutes grating two blocks of Cheddar and Pecorino Romano into shreds. But we mainly ran into trouble when, after heating butter with flour, we added the heated milk and it congealed into a hot brown mess. I thought we had failed, but ALAS! that was just a natural step on the way to cream-land. The moral is, don't despair. Cream sauce is made out of unhealthy amounts of unhealthy things and for a moment there, it might also look unhealthy. But keep stirring, and it will be delicious in the end. And unhealthy.
Everything is better with bacon.
In the end, it turned out pretty well. The combination of cheese was very good--definitely rich but in exactly the way we wanted it to be. And of course we added bacon just because. We thought we would never be able to finish the whole thing, but with the trusty aid of my roommate and another friend we finished a whole casserole dish of very rich mac and cheese. We must have done something right...
We adapted a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from Martha Stewart. We used Pecorino Romano instead of Gruyere because it was cheaper, and shell pasta because we couldn't find elbow macaroni. We also added bacon. We didn't exactly follow procedure with the breadcrumbs so that may be why it looks weird. Here is the original recipe:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.<
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.