Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs

This was a fun one for me. You guys have caught onto the fact that I’m a Top Chef fan, right?

Of course you have.

Well, my all-time favorite Top Chef is Stephanie Izard. She’s talented, but also gracious and humble. I was really excited to see her win the title, and David and I are looking forward to checking out her restaurant when it opens up. She’s a Chicago girl, after all!

Last weekend, David pointed out Stephanie’s website to me, and it took me about a minute and a half to decide to make this Macaroni & Cheese dish. I sent David on a shopping trip for ingredients almost immediately.

We were not disappointed. The apples added a unique flavor to the traditional Mac & Cheese, but were a welcome touch of sweetness in a sea of creamy, salty cheese sauce. I skipped the ham, since David isn’t a fan. Though I can see how it would be a good addition, I can’t say that I missed it. (I did decide to double the bacon and add half to the breadcrumbs and the other half right into the macaroni & cheese). This dish was heavy enough to stand alone as a meal, even without the meat. If you want to add them, it would be good with either ham or grilled chicken, though.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs
Adapted from www.stephanieizard.com

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used salted butter–no problems)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups ciabatta cubes (about 6 ounces of ciabatta bread, cubed)
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 6 cups whole milk (we keep 1% on hand, so I used 5 1/2 cups of 1% milk with a 1/2 of heavy cream…worked out just fine!)
  • 8 ounces bacon (6-8 strips), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, cubed (we had Honeycrisp on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pound conchiglie pasta (I used a different shape that we had on hand, anything that’s going to catch the sauce is good)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces aged cheddar (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces whole milk mozzarella (1 1/2 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces smoked gouda (1 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces havarti (1 cup grated)
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, steeping in the butter for about 1 minute, until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the bread cubes to the pot, tossing to coat them in the garlic butter. Spread the butter-coated cubes across a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bread is very crisp. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Put the onion and the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom.

While the milk simmers, return the Dutch oven to the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot again, add the bacon pieces and render until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside with the cooling bread cubes. Add the apples to the hot fat in the pan, sautéing for 1-2 minutes, until the apples are just soft (not mushy). Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and toss to coat.

Put the cooled bread cubes and bacon in a food processor and pulse several times to form bread crumbs.

Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to the package directions.

As the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk together, forming a thick paste, or a roux. Let the roux cook for a minute or so, until it begins to smell nutty. Strain the milk and discard the onion. Slowly add the hot milk to the roux, about 1/2-1 cup at a time, whisking well to avoid lumps. Continue incorporating the milk until a thick sauce forms. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of mozzarella and add the rest of the cheese to the sauce, stirring as it melts.

When the pasta is done, strain it and add it to the cheese sauce along with the apple mixture. Stir to combine all of the ingredients and pour into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cover the macaroni and cheese with the bacon breadcrumbs and scatter the reserved 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top. Put the dish on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Broil the top until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly.

(Serve immediately or hold in a 300° F oven for about 30 minutes).

Note: Love, love, loved this! When I finished the sauce and moved it to the baking dish, I was concerned that the cheese sauce was a little on the thin side. It thickened in the pan to a perfect consistency. Even better, the chilled leftovers set up so well that David suggested I make Fried Macaroni & Cheese, which is what we did with the leftovers. Come back tomorrow for the recipe!

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9 Responses to “Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs”

  1. Jeff Gasikowski

    WOW, I am literally drooling right now. These look great!

  2. Ysobel

    Oooh… New take on an old favorite. Sounds delicious!

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  5. Foodycat

    this may be the greatest mac & cheese ever! I was just thinking about doing bacon breadcrumbs on a vegetable gratin, so I googled to see how other people might have done them and came up against this! Gorgeous! Of course, I don’t want to make my gratin now.

  6. Teri

    @Foodycat I bet these bacon breadcrumbs would be great on any kind of gratin, though. Don’t give up on it! 😉

  7. BetterThanAndrew

    I am hotlinking this from our pages at http://baconscotch.com because it is SO worthy! I had a concept but this totally blows it away. Thanks for the recipe. I can’t wait to make it!

  8. Teri

    @BetterThanAndrew

    You won’t be disappointed! Let me know how it turns out. 🙂

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