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Three-Cheese Macaroni with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

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Serves 6

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 115

If you find plain mac and cheese a bit boring, you'll love this version, which is livened up by nutty brussels sprouts and salty nuggets of pancetta.

For the Topping:
  • 1 small garlic clove, mashed into a paste or pressed (optional)
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
For the Macaroni:
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 5 oz. finely grated Gruyère
  • 5 oz. finely grated Fontina
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1-1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1-1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. pasta shells
  • 2-1/2 cups quartered Brussels sprouts, steamed or roasted until just tender
  • 1/2 cup small-diced pancetta, cooked until slightly crisp
Make the Topping:

If using the garlic, stir it into the butter. Put the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and drizzle the butter over the crumbs. Add a pinch of salt and the Parmigiano-Reggiano (if using). With your hands, toss well to combine. Set aside.

Make the Macaroni:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for 3 minutes—the butter and flour should gently bubble and froth without coloring. Slowly add the milk, while whisking constantly. Be sure to whisk around the edges of the pan to get all the lumps. Whisk until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and gently whisk in the Gruyère, Fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano, sage, and thyme. Season to taste with salt. Keep warm.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta shells and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 1 minute less than indicated on the package. Drain well and return to the pot.

Add the cheese sauce, Brussels sprouts, and pancetta to the pasta and gently stir to combine. Transfer the pasta mixture to a 9x13-inch baking dish and evenly scatter the reserved breadcrumbs on top. Bake at 350°F until the top is golden, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Variations

For individual servings: choose small baking dishes that hold 1-1/2 to 2 cups each. You can fill them to within about 1/2 inch of the rim. The number of servings will, of course, depend on the volume of your baking dishes.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 890; Fat (g): fat g 45; Fat Calories (kcal): 410; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 25; Protein (g): protein g 41; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 13; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 80; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3.5; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 1360; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 130; Fiber (g): fiber g 5;

Photo: Scott Phillips

It took 80 minutes to prep this dish (and I was moving quickly) and 30 minutes (not 15) to bake. With all that (and tons of dirty dishes) I thought this would be a stand-out dish. It isn't, sadly. It's not bad but I completely agree with the previous reviewer---the roasted brussel sprouts were barely noticeable as was the pancetta and the sauce was just okay. Certainly not worth the time and effort.

This was disappointing. I love the concept of this combination but the recipe didn't deliver. The cheese sauce was rather gloppy, obscuring the pancetta flavor. Surprisingly, the brussels sprouts were lackluster as well, even with roasting them, which I expected would offer a brighter flavor. In the end, the underwhelming sauce overwhelmed everything else.

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