Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food – can we all agree?!
So, you might be wondering why I’ve decided to post a comfort food recipe in the middle of the summer. Well, if you live in Toronto, then you’ll know how rainy this summer has been. I can’t think of a single week that we’ve had consistently good weather. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I actually need more comfort on rainy summer days than during the winter, when we all expect to have bad weather! So, I reserve a bowl of mac and cheese for those especially depressing rainy summer days…and also when I just feel like indulging a little! I mean, I’m usually an 80/20 kind of girl. But, a little (okay, a whole lot of) cheese every now and then is okay, right? Because it’s all about balance!
Eat Your Greens
Brussels sprouts are one of my favourite vegetables. I used to hate them as a kid, but have grown to love them as an adult. I make roasted Brussels sprouts at least a few times per month—usually with bacon or pancetta—and they’re finished in no time (my hubby feels the same way about them as I do)! I especially love when the outer leaves detach and get crispy in the oven. Such a satisfying texture! I’ve made mac and cheese a bunch of times before, but never thought to add Brussels sprouts to it until a couple days ago. It just seemed to make sense; and I’m so glad that I did because this is actually a killer combination and I promise you’ll love it!
A lot of recipes call for blanching the Brussels sprouts or simply cutting and then baking them with the mac and cheese. But, I knew I wanted to roast these babies first. Not only would they add a nicer flavour and texture to the dish, but also colour from the roasting.
Sweet Dreams are Made of Cheese
I also knew that I wanted to make this mac and cheese with 4 distinct types of cheese. Mozzarella is always a classic for mac and cheese and so is cheddar cheese. I had some left over Avonlea Clothbound cheddar cheese from my trio of crostini (you might recall the recipe here). I thought it would be the perfect addition. For the last two cheeses, I decided to let the experts at St. Lawrence Market help me out. I got a Swiss Gruyere and Beemster Graskaas, which is a special Beemster produced in the summertime.
As a matter of personal preference, I don’t like my mac and cheese sauce to be too runny. So I tend to bake a little longer. But, if you prefer a saucier mac and cheese, then you could either add a bit more milk when making the cheese sauce, or you could bake for 5 or 10 minutes less.
Here is the recipe.
Brussels Sprout and Pancetta Mac and Cheese
- 2 cups elbow macaroni
- 2 cups Brussels sprouts halved length-wise
- 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese grated
- 1/2 cup Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar Cheese grated
- 1/2 cup Swiss Gruyere grated
- 1/2 cup Beemster Graskaas grated
- 7 ounces pancetta cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cup milk
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- Trim the cores on the Brussels sprouts and remove some of the outer leaves. Cut them in half, length-wise. Add to large mixing bowl and toss with 2 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste.
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts flat on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking frequently on the Brussels sprouts to ensure not to burn. Flip Brussels sprouts or toss baking sheet every 10-15 minutes to ensure even roasting.
- While Brussels sprouts are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook until just under al dente. Drain.
- Grate all 4 cheeses and mix together in a large bowl.
- In the same large pot, brown the pancetta in 2 tbsp. of olive oil on medium high heat. When browned, remove pancetta and about 3/4 of the excess fat and drippings. Retain 1/4 for cooking.
- Add butter and 1/4 cup of flour to the pot, and whisk for 1 minute. Add 2 1/4 cups of milk to the pot slowly while whisking. Whisk until the mixture is completely smooth. If the sauce thickens too much, you can add more milk.
- Turn the heat off or to very low. Add the cheese in handfuls to the sauce and continue to whisk. Keep about 1/4 of the cheese back (or grate additional cheese, depending on how cheesy you want the sauce to be) for sprinkling on top of the mac and cheese. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.
- Add the macaroni, pancetta and Brussels sprouts to the sauce and coat evenly. Transfer the mac and cheese to a large buttered casserole dish.
- Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and additional cheese. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees F for between 15-30 minutes, until golden brown on top.
- Remove from oven. Let cool, serve, and enjoy!