Bacon Kale Mac and Cheese

I am beginning to crave fall and everything that wonderful season brings. Not too hot, not too cold. Beautiful sunny days with a light breeze. Pumpkins, coffee, sweaters, soup, blankets, leaves changing colors…..I have to stop. In the end, what I am really craving is some warm comfort food. The type of food that gives you a hug and warms you from the inside out. This recipe definitely fits into the category of “comfort food”.

Disclaimer: Proceed with caution if you visit this website only for healthy recipes. This is not one of them. White flour. Bacon. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Butter. Whole milk. But since I believe in eating everything in moderation, it is okay to indulge sometimes (I promise).

The local Farmer’s Market has been host to so many delicious vegetables lately; including the kale I used in this recipe. Kale is a nutritional powerhouse boasting plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients. However, I did not add it into the recipe for nutrition (read disclaimer above). I added it for the great texture that it gives the pasta as well as its earthy flavor.

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Let’s not eat food just because its good or bad for us…but because it tastes good! The bacon for this recipe came from the farmers market too; it is cherrywood smoked bacon and makes the kitchen smell AMAZING while being cooked.

If you haven’t made macaroni and cheese at home before I am including a lot of pictures to help you along the way. Once you try making it yourself you won’t be able to go back to “the box”. You can make something that tastes so much better!

Ingredients:

  • 16oz pasta (any short cut variety will work)
  • 2 thick slices bacon
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4-1/3 c. flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. skim milk
  • 2 c. sharp white cheddar, grated
  • 1 c. monterey jack cheese, grated
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.

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Remove the stems from the kale and give it a rough chop. Put in a bowl and set aside. Grate both cheeses (if using blocks) and set aside.

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Slice bacon in half lengthwise then dice into small pieces. Add bacon to a sauce-pot; turn heat to medium to begin rendering it. Once crispy remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this step)

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Depending on how much bacon fat is left in the bottom of the pot will determine how much butter you add. Combined we are looking for 1/4 c. fat. I had about 2 tbsp bacon grease so I added 2 tbsp unsalted butter. Once the fat is melted add the flour and whisk to combine. This is known as making a roux, which is a fancy way of saying a mixture to thicken your cheese sauce. You are looking for a loose paste consistency. Cook this mixture, stirring frequently, for a few minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor. Next, whisk in the whole milk and skim milk. To make a luscious sauce you need the fat of the whole milk but I like to cut it with a little bit of skim. (If you don’t typically purchase whole milk, buy a pint from the grab and go section of the store) Continue stirring milk mixture every couple minutes as it thickens.

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At this point add the pasta to the water to begin cooking. I used this huge elbow noodles because the sauce nestles into the middle part of the noodle. Add chopped kale to the pasta water for the last 2 minutes of cooking time; this will help soften the kale and wilt it. Drain pasta/kale mixture once the pasta is al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven) and put back into the pasta pot.

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Time to finish up the cheese sauce! The milk mixture is ready for cheese when it coats the back of a spoon. You should be able to run your finger down the middle and see the line clearly. Turn off heat and stir in 3/4 of the cheese mixture; the rest will be used as a topping. Season with salt and pepper as needed; go easy on the salt because bacon is naturally salty. Stir cheese in until it melts.

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Pour cheese sauce over the pasta mixture and stir to combine. Add bacon pieces back in and stir to combine. Looking good already!

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Pour mac and cheese mixture into a casserole dish. Toss panko breadcrumbs with the remaining cheese and divide evenly over the top of the casserole dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese on top is bubbly and the pasta is cooked all the way through.

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Spoon into a bowl and savor every bite; each time you find a piece of the cherrywood smoked bacon it is like you found treasure! I also gravitate toward the crunchy panko topping in contrast with the creamy sauce; the perfect bite. This casserole would EASILY feed six people for dinner served with a salad. I sincerely hope you enjoy!

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