It may sound sacrilegious to American ears, but I've never been a huge fan of macaroni and cheese.
The versions I ate growing up in England were often gloopy and bland. And I guess that experience stayed with me.
It turns out that the lacklustre quality of these dishes was down to the quality of the cheese, only I didn't know that at the time. I worked it out after I moved here to Switzerland, where it turns out... they know a thing or two about cheese!
Here they serve up all kinds of fondues and racelettes, built around wonderfully strong and sometimes spicey varieties of cheese - like gruyere, appenzeller, and emmental - so the Swiss are therefore pretty handy at whipping up a tasty baked maraconi cheese when the need calls for it.
This dish is usually found on the menus of buvettes (chalets) up in the mountains - I think because it's such a calorifically restorative treat to feed folks who've spent the day skiing or snowshoeing (both really hard work).
It's from these Alpine eats that I've produced here what I reckon is a winning recipe for macaroni and cheese; a creamily moreish, chunky bacon-packed feast of a dish that leaves zero room for dessert. It's that filling.
(Kudos to Les Croisettes buvette, a popular kid-friendly destination in the Swiss Jura mountains, for feeding me several sumptuous gratins des pates - see pic above - and thus inspiring this page.)
More info: learn more about Swiss cheeses here.
100g/3.5oz rashers of thick bacon
300g/10.5oz elbow macaroni (no macaroni? rigatoni would work)
200g/7oz gruyere cheese (alternative: appenzeller)
200dl/3.38 fl oz (half a cup) half-and-half/semi-skimmed cream
1 medium white onion
1/3 small glass of white wine
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
The prep for this mac n cheese recipe is super simple:
- Peel, de-end, and finely chop the onion.
- Grate the cheese into a bowl.
- Chop the bacon into half to one-inch (2-3cm) squares.
- Set your oven to 350F/180C (fan setting) to get it warming up.
Warm the oil in a large frying pan on a medium hob, then add the onions and bacon.
- Fry these until the onions soften and the bacon just starts to brown
(Note: if your bacon is quite thin, fry the onions alone for 2-3 minutes first, as they'll take longer to soften than your bacon will take to brown.)
- Also add a pinch of salt.
- When the bacon begins to brown, pour in the wine and fry a couple of minutes more until most of its liquidity has disappeared (evaporating away the alcohol, but leaving the taste).
- Finally, pour in and mix through the cream.
- Fry for 3-4 mins more until the cream reduces in volume by half.
Cook up the macaroni in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water until two minutes before its packet's suggested time (i.e. if the packet says cook for 10 mins, cook it for just 8).
- This will produce pasta that is very al dente ('firm to the tooth'), which we'll then finish cooking when we bake this dish.
We finish up this recipe for macaroni and cheese by creating our final glorious mixture and filling our oven dish/bowl.
- Drain the pasta well, then drop it in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the bacon/onion mix and 80-90% of the cheese (i.e. all the cheese except one large handful).
- Add a little more salt and black pepper seasoning too (for this dish I add slightly more pepper than the usual single pinch).
- Stir it all really well.
- Then pour this mixture into a baking dish. (The diameter of our round dish, which suits these ingredients for two people, is approx. 9"/23cm.)
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
And into the oven we go...
- Bake your dairylicious mound in a 350F/180C oven for 8 minutes (until the cheese melts).
- Then... turn the oven onto its grill setting and brown your mac and cheese for another 6-7 minutes or so (until its surface turns nice and brown and crunchy).
As they say in Suisse Romande (French-speaking Switzerland): C'est très bon ça! (That's real tasty!)