Bacon roasted asparagus havarti mac and cheese topped with smoked paprika panko is the only thing you need right now. Let that sink in for a sec.
Come to mama!
Speaking of “mama,” have I told you yet that we’re pursuing adoption this year? YES. WE. ARE. !!!
After many years of dealing with infertility and a few more years of coming to terms with the idea that we’re OK with not having kids in our life, we decided in the fall to pursue adoption.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year, to say the least – losing a close friend last March, dad passing away in July, adopting a puppy in August, and Kyle quitting his full-time, very stable job at the end of January to pursue his own home renovation/building and electrical contracting business. Why not throw one other major life change into the mix?
I’ll share more in an upcoming post because there’s a lot to talk about and I really want to tell you about this bacon roasted asparagus havarti mac and cheese right now. Because you NEED this in your life.
Inspired by one of Josie’s recent meals and this bacon fontina mac I made 4 years ago, as soon as this new version popped into my head on Friday night, I knew I had to make it right away. It is asparagus season, after all.
And really, is there ever a bad time for mac and cheese? I should think not.
I tinkered over the stove on Saturday night, adding, stirring, tossing out measurements to Kyle as he jotted them down for me. Half. No, one. No, two teaspoons salt. Three and a half cups of milk. Nope, four! The sauce is too thick!!
While the bacon spit away in the Dutch oven – because, you know, bacon fat plus butter is a thing as a sauce base (I don’t know, is it?) – the asparagus roasted away in the oven. The pasta almost boiled over while I tweaked the cheese sauce for the eighth time but alas, no catastrophes!
And this bacon roasted asparagus havarti mac and cheese? It was sooooo good. At the very last second before baking, I tossed some panko breadcrumbs in melted butter and some hot smoked paprika…and ta daaa!! The golden ticket!
The mac and cheese by itself is INSANE (much like our favorite Panera mac and cheese recipe!) – again, bacon fat and butter as the sauce base, crispy bacon mixed in, and ONE POUND of cheese – but the tiny addition of these fancified breadcrumbs completely made the dish. Put it over the top.
I’m so glad we wrote this recipe down because now I can push it on you every time I mention mac and cheese here in the future. You’re welcome.
- Prep Time: 10min
- Cook Time: 20-25min (asparagus, pasta, and cheese sauce) | 20-25min (to bake)
- Yield: 8-10 servings
I centered this recipe around havarti since I had a big block of it from Trader Joe’s and I love how smoothly it melts. I threw in the fontina and gouda since I had leftovers of each hanging around in my cheese drawer and though they weren’t necessarily added by design, they’re a damn good complement to the havarti. Use what you have if you aren’t planning another trip to the grocery store – cheddar, of course would be great but so would parmesan, any type of softer gouda (aged is semi-hard), muenster, provolone, etc.
For the mac-and-cheese:
½ lb asparagus, trimmed at the bottom and cut into 1-inch pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 oz bacon
8 oz havarti, shredded or cubed if it’s a soft variety
4 oz fontina cheese, shredded
4 oz aged gouda (I love Trader Joe’s 1000 day), shredded
1 lb whole wheat medium shells
3 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
For the topping:
¾ cup plain panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp smoked paprika
Make the asparagus: Preheat oven to 400° F. Scatter the asparagus on a large baking sheet, drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Roast for 15 minutes, until they are bright green and just brown in spots. Remove from the oven and keep the oven on.
To start the cheese sauce: While the oven preheats, cut the bacon into ½-inch pieces. Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in a medium (3 ½- to 5-qt) Dutch oven, rendering off as much fat as possible, until the bacon are just turning crispy. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the bacon out of the pan and onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.
Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, salt the water, and boil the pasta for 1 minute less than the package directions instruct for al dente; drain and return the pasta to its original pot.
Finish the cheese sauce: To the remaining bacon fat in the pot, add the unsalted butter. Once the butter has melted and combined with the bacon fat, whisk in the flour to make a roux, and continue to stir until the roux is golden brown, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
Gradually and slowly whisk the milk into the roux to ensure no lumps form. Heat the milk, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens and bubbles, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and the mustard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in about ¾ of the cheese by the handful (I leave a little of each cheese to sprinkle on before baking), allowing the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding the next handful. The sauce should be smooth. Return the pan to a very low heat, stirring occasionally while the rest of the parts finish up.
Grease a 2-quart baking dish with butter or cooking spray; set aside.
Once the cooked pasta is back in the hot stockpot, pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, and stir in the bacon and asparagus.
Transfer the mac and cheese to the prepared baking dish.
Make the breadcrumbs: Melt the butter in a small skillet or in a medium bowl in the microwave. Stir in the breadcrumbs and paprika and toss to coat well with butter and paprika.
Finish and bake: Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the pasta. Scatter the breadcrumbs in an even layer atop the cheese.
Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the sides are bubbly and the center is heated through.
Remove the dish from the oven and allow the mac and cheese to cool for 5 minutes before serving.