I have never read such beautiful 9 words.
I mean, cheese, garlic, bacon, Ritz crackers, mac and cheese- how can you go wrong? You can't.
This mac and cheese is beyond words, beyond comprehension, beyond anything you can imagine. It is creamy, buttery, flavorful, pungent, and soooo comforting. Each bite envelopes your soul with a warm, loving hug. Comfort food at its best.
Beyond the incredible taste of mac and cheese, much of my appreciation for it also comes from what it means to my group of friends. It's probably too early to call it a tradition since we've only made it twice together, but this mac and cheese is definitely worthy of being one. The process of making it from buying the ingredients together to taking the final product out of the oven is so fun and full of laughter. Also plenty of groans from stuffing our faces with the cheese and crackers. I probably had like a pound of cheese before even eating the mac and cheese, no lie.
Now, let's talk about that garlicky, bacon, buttery, crispy, glorious Ritz cracker topping. It truly takes this mac and cheese to the next level. The bacon grease infuses the buttery crumbs with a wonderful, salty, bacony flavor that elevates the luxurious, cheesy pasta underneath. The combination of the flaky crunch with the creaminess of the pasta is TO DIE FOR.
OH, AND THIS MAC AND CHEESE HAS BRIE. If that doesn't turn you on, I don't know what would. Make it, you will not regret it.
So much thanks to Half Baked Harvest for providing such an amazing mac and cheese recipe that has delivered not only in terms of taste, but also in terms of memories, laughter, and joy with friends.
Recipe (adapted from Half Baked Harvest)
- 9 slices of bacon, chopped (Trader Joe's Applewood Smoked Bacon is SO GOOD)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (about 1 sleeve) crushed Ritz crackers (Trader Joe's Golden Rounds are perfect as well)
- 1 pound cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta*
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 1 packed cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (white or yellow)
- 1 packed cup fontina cheese, shredded
- 1 packed cup havarti cheese, shredded
- 6 ounces brie cheese, rind removed and chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or cayenne)
- salt and pepper, to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon each)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Boil a large pot of salted water. Cook the pasta until it is al-dente, according to the directions on the package. Drain well.
3. Heat a medium fry pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the bacon pieces to the pan so that it doesn't get overcrowded and the bacon can cook evenly. Stir occasionally, making sure that the bacon doesn't burn. When the bacon develops a nice golden brown color, drain it on a paper towel.
4. Remove the bacon fat from the pan into a bowl. (You can also throw it away, but do you really want to throw away all that wonderful flavor?). Cook the remaining half of bacon. When the bacon is done, pour the bacon fat into the bowl again but leave around 3 tablespoons of the fat in the pan.
5. Lower the heat to around medium-low. Add half of the minced garlic, and briefly sauté, around 30 seconds. Add the cracker crumbs, and toss them in the pan for about 2-3 minutes, or until they develop a nice, golden color. Set aside.
6. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. You could also substitute the bacon fat here to get extra bacon flavor. When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly as you add. Raise the heat to medium-high. Keep whisking until the sauce has thickened and is bubbling, about 3-5 minutes.
8. Turn down the heat to low. Add the remaining minced garlic and bacon. Stir in all the cheeses, garlic powder, red pepper, and salt/pepper. When all the cheese has fully melted, add the pasta and mix until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Transfer to a baking dish. Sprinkle the cracker topping evenly over the top.
9. Bake for about 20 min. Remove from the oven, and serve yourself a plate of heaven.
*Cavatappi pasta is a bajillion times better than traditional macaroni elbow pasta. The sauce really clings onto the ridges and twists of this pasta. If you can, use it!