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Mac 'n' cheese gets Carbonara treatment

Thursday, January 10, 2002

There's no doubt about it, macaroni and cheese is a comfort food. And this is the time of year when we crave such dishes. Macaroni and cheese is a simple dish made of such basic ingredients as cheese, milk and macaroni. Of course, there are a zillion recipes for macaroni and cheese, each with its own additional ingredients.


Our recipe today, Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara, is no ordinary (nor is it simple) macaroni and cheese. This creamy, rich version has taken our everyday mac and cheese to a new level -- and we loved it.

Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara calls for two cheeses, Parmesan cheese and Fontina, plus bacon, garlic, parsley and egg yolks.

Carbonara is an Italian term describing a dish made of pasta and a sauce made of eggs, cheese, bacon and milk or cream. Peas are usually (but not always) added for flavor and color.

The mild-flavored Fontina works here because it melts easily and has a creamy texture. The pungent Parmesan blends well with the Fontina, adding a boost of flavor.

Now the down side of this dish -- it takes considerable time to make. This recipe makes use of numerous cooking techniques such as chopping, sauteing, grating and stirring. But you can cut down the preparation time by doing most of chopping and grating and measuring before you begin cooking. We recommend serving this dish no more than 15 minutes after it's removed from the oven. We waited a little longer and found it was becoming dry (we added a little more milk).

Another point in favor of this dish is that it serves about 10 people -- perfect for a Super Bowl party.

One last note: We couldn't find "large" macaroni so we used the regular size and added about 2 ounces to the 11 ounces called for in the recipe.

Grace Brennfleck of Jefferson Hills found this recipe in Bon Appetit magazine:

"In response to Sally Batko of Bloomfield: This isn't from the Food Gallery, but has to be the most incredible macaroni and cheese recipe I have found. Although my husband dislikes macaroni and cheese, he raves about how good this recipe is."

Grace made a few changes in the recipe: She replaces olive oil with the bacon drippings and reduces the milk by 1 cup.

We print the recipe as it appeared in the magazine.

Macaroni And Cheese Carbonara

3 1/4 cups large elbow macaroni (about 11 ounces)
12 bacon slices, chopped
3 cups fresh coarse bread crumbs made from French bread (about 4 ounces -- approximately half of an 8-ounce loaf)
1 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 1/2 cups (packed) grated Fontina cheese (about 14 ounces)
1 1/4 cups frozen peas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Cook macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse and drain again; set aside.

Cook bacon in large pot, until crisp. Transfer bacon and 1/4 cup pan drippings to large bowl. Add bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of the parsley to bacon; toss to coat.

Add minced garlic to remaining pan drippings in pot and saute over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and whisk 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in whole milk, then egg yolks, salt and pepper. Cook until mixture thickens, whisking constantly, about 12 minutes. Add 2 cups Fontina cheese and remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese; whisk until cheeses melt. Remove from heat. Mix in peas, macaroni and remaining parsley. Stir in remaining Fontina. Transfer mixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over macaroni mixture. Bake just until topping is golden, about 15 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Makes 10 servings.

Note: Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover macaroni and bread crumb mixtures separately and refrigerate. Before continuing, bake refrigerated macaroni mixture, covered, at 350 degrees until just heated through, about 30 minutes.


John Scumaci of Bridgeville would like a recipe for ciabatta bread.

Andy Kruper of Natrona Heights writes: "Do you know where I might find a good recipe to make Genoa hard salami at home? Also, where I might get ingredients? I have seen a recipe for doing this with ground beef years ago. I did check out the Internet and found wildly different recipes. All call for strange ingredients: corn syrup solids, saltpeter, powdered dextrose and 'Beef Middle Casings.' I probably want a recipe that calls for drying the salami. Ones I have tasted always looked like they were. Where would you hang such things? On the kitchen wall? Do they drip?"

A letter and request from former Pittsburgher Nicole Freed: "First, let me say that I enjoy your Web site. I now live in Florida but grew up in Western Pennsylvania. There is a restaurant in Natrona Heights called the Paddock and they make the most unusual and wonderful (it's a love-hate thing) spaghetti sauce. I would die for the recipe. I know that it is made with ground veal, maybe flour on the veal? And also has a distinct clove flavor. Do you or any of your readers know the recipe?"

A request from Susan Tiggelbeck Goodin of Mt. Lebanon: "My aunt mailed me a recipe for a pumpkin-mascarpone cheese dessert, and I've managed to lose it. If you can find the recipe, I would love to have it."

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence.

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