Gourmet Macaroni n’ Cheese with Pecans and Truffle Oil

This dish was a huge hit among my skeptical tasters.  The first thing you have to do is delete the memories of our childhood “Mac and Cheese” – the orange-coated pasta that came inside the blue box for about 30 cents (back then).  Yes, they’re both comfort food dishes for the Fall / Winter months.  But other than that they’re as different as an iPhone and a telegram.

Try this dish with a full-bodied wine with nice acidity – cool climate Pinot, blends from the Northern Rhone, even un-or-lightly-oaked Chardonnay from solid producers.  The pecans and truffle oil provide a great bridge to the wine, while the salty bacon plays to the wine’s fruitiness and the herbs work with the wines minerality.

Ingredients

6 Small ramekins, buttered and set aside 2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp Kosher salt 1 1/2 Cups heavy cream (or cut with up to 1/2 with whole milk or Half-and-Half)
8 Ozs (1/2 lbs) Penne pasta 1 Tbsp minced basil
1 Tbsp truffle oil 1/3 tsp minced thyme, plus one sprig for each ramekin
2 Tbsp shallots, minced White pepper to taste
3 – 4 Ozs Applewood smoked bacon, minced 3 Cups white, sharp cheddar, chilled and shredded
1-2 Cloves minced garlic ½ Cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp butter 1 Cup cheddar, chilled and shredded

Procedure

Heat oven to 350 and put on a gallon of cold water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the 3 Tbsp salt.  Add pasta, stir, and boil for 5 – 6 minutes, then turn off heat and drain water through a colander.  Pasta will be very under-done, but don’t worry.  Drain pasta for a minute, gently shaking off excess water, turn into in a bowl and add the truffle oil.  Stir and set aside.

Heat a 4-qt stock pot over med-low heat for a couple minutes, add the butter and when melted, add the shallots and bacon and cook for 7 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Stirring constantly, add the flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  While still stirring, slowly add the cream, then raise the heat until cream almost boils.  Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes.

Add the basil, thyme and pepper and once combined well, add the white cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth.  Add the pasta and combine.  It will gloppy.  Don’t worry, it does that.

Distribute evenly across ramekins, top with shredded cheddar and chopped pecans and bake for 10 -15 minutes or until browned on top.  Serve with sprig of fresh thyme on top.

Pairings – For lunch, brunch or light dinners serve with a side salad dressed simply with really good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Add garlic crouton (drizzle sliced bread with olive oil, pinch of salt, hot oven till dried, swipe once with peeled garlic clove) and you’re happy.

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