A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay, no, just a long, long time ago. A long time ago I used to live in Aspen. I fell in love with the town not only for the draw of the mountains but for the amazing change of seasons and nature at her best. I came for the winter activities but really loved the summer season once I’d experienced it. And the autumn season – breathtaking. Simply breathtaking.
Which leads me to my point here. There will always be a special place in my heart for Aspen, so when I came across this recipe for mac and cheese from Jimmy’s I knew I had to make it. Especially when I took a look at the ingredients – not just top-shelf mac and cheese (hello, four cups of gruyere), but with jalapenos and bacon, too? Oh boy.
I actually found two recipes online and I created a hybrid of both. The first recipe I came across was chef David Lawrence’s take on it, and that led me back to the horse’s mouth, Jimmy’s itself. Jimmy’s recipe is a little basic, so I ended up using both recipes. And of course, since I generally can’t leave a recipe alone, I added my own twists.
Pam a 13×9 baking dish and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot, cook the pasta (I used Barilla whole grain penne) according to the package directions. Drain, then set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, cook the bacon. Allow it to cool, then crumble.
NOTE: IF you’re feeling especially sinful, save the rendered bacon fat as this can be the base for your béchamel. The recipe calls for six tablespoons of butter so I ended up using all the rendered bacon fat (five tablespoons) and one tablespoon of butter to make up the difference. Let me tell you, the bacon flavor infused through the macaroni and cheese so wonderfully that I would highly recommend this.
Shred your cheeses (a lovely gruyere from DeLaurenti and a one of my standby’s: Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar) and finely dice the jalapenos. I removed all membranes and seeds, but found that the jalapeno flavor was lacking in the final dish so I might include some of the heat next time.
In the same large pot in which you cooked your pasta, melt the butter (or in my case, the rendered bacon fat and butter combination). Add flour and whisk the roux, cooking for about two minutes over low heat. Still whisking, slowly add the milk. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook and whisk until the sauce is thickened, about five minutes.
Remove the sauce from the heat and add the gruyere and cheddar cheeses. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Now add the jalapenos and the bacon, then finally the cooked pasta. Stir until everything’s mixed and happy.
Pour the mac and cheese into the Pammed baking dish and top with the Panko bread crumbs. For an additional layer of flavor and crunch, lightly mist a little olive oil over the top of the bread crumbs. Pop into the oven and back for forty-five minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow the mac and cheese to rest for at least five minutes.
Let me tell you, this smelled amazing as it was baking. And even more amazing after I pulled it out of the oven. And then came the tough part: allowing it to sit for five minutes. That is ALWAYS the hardest part!
How was it? Four enthusiastic elbows up. Why not five? I think the recipe still needs some light tweaking. The mac and cheese dried out a little bit while baking. This will not bother most folks but I love saucy, so I noticed it. The smoky bacon flavor and the gruyere really shone through, but I didn’t get the accustomed tang of the sharp cheddar. I also didn’t taste the jalapeno. At all. So next time, I would leave some of the seeds in the peppers for heat and here’s how I’d tweak the recipe: Instead of baking for 45 minutes, I would make this on the stove-top, sautéing the jalapenos lightly to take the crisp edge off first. I’d still pop it in the oven, but just to broil for about five minutes to allow for the bread-crumb-crisping and the cheese-bubbling.
- 13.25 ounces Barilla whole grain penne
- 4 cups fat-free milk
- 6 tablespoons butter (or a combination of rendered bacon fat and butter to equal 6 tablespoons)
- ½ cup flour
- 4 cups gruyere, grated
- 2 cups Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, grated
- 2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
- 12 ounces bacon, cooked and crumbled
- ½ cup Panko bread crumbs
- salt & pepper to taste
- Pam a 13x9 baking dish and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, then set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, cook bacon. Allow it to cool, then crumble.
- Shred cheeses and finely dice jalapenos.
- In the same large pot in which you cooked your pasta, melt butter (or rendered bacon fat and butter combination). Add flour and whisk the roux, cooking for two minutes over low heat. Still whisking, slowly add milk. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook and whisk until sauce is thickened, about five minutes.
- Remove sauce from heat and add cheeses. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add jalapenos and bacon, then cooked pasta. Stir until mixed.
- Pour mac and cheese into Pammed baking dish and top with Panko bread crumbs. If desired, lightly mist a little olive oil over the top of the bread crumbs.
- Bake for forty-five minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least five minutes.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
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