If you had to pick just one dish that represents the category of comfort food better than any other, what would it be? My pick would be good old fashioned mac 'n cheese. Many people think of macaroni and cheese as a true American dish, but in fact its roots lie with the cheese-loving Swiss. Who better to have invented the dish?
What makes macaroni and cheese so popular everywhere is the fact that it's a basic dish to put together, using simple and satisfying ingredients. In this recipe it's cheese, pasta, and bacon—is there a combination any more comforting? This macaroni is hearty enough to get a mountain climber to the top of the Alps and back.
My recipe combines the classic Alpine cheeses of Raclette, Gruyère, and Fontina. Other good Swiss cheeses like Appenzeller or Emmentaler would work well too. The combination of cheeses is typical of a Swiss fondue. And it's the perfect blend for this mac and cheese. Thickly sliced bacon adds a great bite and salty flavor to the dish. And even if you don't reside in an Alpine ski chalet, enjoy this dish on a cold day. It's even better after a day of being out in the snow.
Alpine-Style Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon
1 pound elbow macaroni
3/4 pound thick-cut bacon, diced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups hot milk
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Raclette plus 1/2 cup for topping (6 ounce total)
1 cup shredded Gruyère (4 ounces)
1 cup shredded young Fontina (4 ounces)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cook the macaroni in a large pot of liberally salted water a few minutes short of al dente.
Meanwhile, fry bacon in a skillet until brown but not too crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve the fat.
While the pasta cooks, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons bacon fat and flour. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until thickened and nutty in color, about 3 minutes. Pour in the hot milk and whisk constantly until thickened and the sauce coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the cheeses, a handful at a time, and stir until melted. Stir in the macaroni and the bacon until evenly incorporated.
Grease four 6-inch mini skillets or gratin dishes or six 12-ounce ramekins or oven-proof bowls with about 1 to 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Spoon macaroni mixture into each, mounding the top. Scatter over with remaining Raclette and breadcrumbs, dividing evenly. Drizzle over with about 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Place dishes on a large rimmed baking sheet and tent with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and set under broiler for no more than 5 minutes to brown lightly. Serve hot. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.