Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pasta Shells and Cheese with Leeks and Bacon

Cooked bacon

Photo by Cookbookman

Growing up, I loved macaroni and cheese from a box.  It was the only kind of macaroni and cheese I knew, although a friend of mine had a mom who would make it from scratch.  Recently, I had some leftover leeks in the crisper and Kevin asked if I'd make this dish so on a cold, rainy evening, I complied.  It's far from low in fat and calories, so you'd want to make this on a rare occasion-but it is probably the very best macaroni and cheese I've ever made.  You can up the servings somewhat if you add a little more milk to the sauce or cook up a little more pasta.  Generally, I like lots of sauce on the pasta, as it tends to soak it up when you bake it.  The bacon and leek add amazing flavor to this, and while you don't need a large serving, it will definitely satisfy any salty/cheesy pasta craving you've been having.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2  cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced finely
3 cups dry small pasta shells
pepper, to taste

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain well and set aside.

Fry up the bacon until crispy.  Remove from the pan to a paper towel lined plate and then drain off all but about 1 tbsp of the fat.  Add the chopped leeks and saute them until they are lightly browned and tender.  Set aside.

In a medium sized pot over medium low heat, melt butter.  Stir in the flour and continue to stir for a few minutes while it blends in, bubbling.  Watch carefully-you don't want it to burn!  Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly as you go, making sure to blend it well so you don't have any lumps.  Heat the sauce over medium heat, stirring, until it thickens up.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.

In a large bowl, mix together the bacon, leeks, cooked pasta, and sauce.  Don't worry if it seems like a lot of sauce-the pasta will soak some up.  If you want to make it extra cheesy, add another handful of just grated cheese.   Scrape into a buttered 3 L casserole dish, top with a little extra cheese (I know, I'm awful aren't I? and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until warmed through and bubbly.

Serves 4, approximately.
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