Fully Loaded Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese isn’t exactly the most exciting pasta dish in the world. But it’s simple to prepare and serving it isn’t fussy at all. Serve on a single platter or individual ramekins with buttered toast on the side and that’s it. No carving, no chopping, no discarded bones to deal with. Most importantly, it’s such a crowd-pleaser. Adults and kids alike love mac and cheese. I’d go for my baked mac with creamy cheese topping but if I have to feed a lot of people budget is an issue, and preparation time is short, mac and cheese would be a great alternative.

This baked mac and cheese dish derives its flavors, textures, and bits of colors from a lot of things — chopped bacon, onions, bell peppers, and carrots. After everything is mixed, the mac and cheese are spooned into ramekins (you can just use one large baking dish), sprinkled with more shredded cheese, and, for a surprising crunch, bread crumbs. Serve this for a big gathering during the holidays and everyone will love you.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat a skillet or frying pan and cook the bacon without adding any oil. The bacon will render fat and that’s all the oil it needs. Cook until the bacon bits are browned and crisp. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl, and set aside. It is up to you if you want to pour off the bacon fat. Some people are fussy about it but, I use it because it is very, very tasty. Melt the butter in the pan. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and carrot. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are quite soft. The pasta should be done at about this time. Drain it.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into the pan. Add the cheeses. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is bubbly. Turn off the heat. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper, as needed. Add the cooked pasta and bacon to the sauce. Toss to coat each piece of pasta with sauce and distribute the bacon and vegetables evenly. Toss in the parsley. Divide the mixture among individual ramekins or pour all of it into a large baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan or Edam. Then, sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and crisp, and the sauce is bubbly.