Is there anything more comforting than a creamy and cheesy baked mac and cheese?! The addition of slightly sweet cooked leeks and salty crisp bacon take this to the next level. Topped with brown butter and rosemary panko breadcrumbs to make it just fancy enough for a Thanksgiving or Christmas table.
Hello! I am writing up this best homemade mac and cheese that you must put on your list immediately. It has a perfectly luxurious creamy cheese sauce with sweet leeks and crisp salty bacon, the perfect combination! It will become a go
Mac and cheese is my ultimate comfort food but I always like to add a twist, you need to try my Nduja Mac and Cheese if you haven't already. For another baked pasta my Easy and Delicious Sausage Pasta Bake is crazy good. Cheesy goodness!
Leek - The sweetness of leek adds such a great flavor here. Slice into rings then rinse well to remove any dirt.
Bacon - I like to use streaky bacon, use whatever you like personally.
Cheese - I use a combination of cheeses, a sharp cheddar cheese, gruyere and parmesan cheese. Use whatever combo you like, gouda, monterey jack etc. You could use all one cheese to make it simple. Pease don't use pre-shredded cheese, grate your own.
Pasta - Use elbow macaroni for a classic mac and cheese vibe or any short shape. I have used curls as I wanted a little more texture. Undercooking the pasta by a minute or two is KEY to ensuring it is still nice and al dente when baked.
For the béchamel sauce
Butter - Use unsalted butter or salted.
All purpose flour - it should work with GF flour too as you can also use gluten-free pasta if you wish.
Whole milk - For best results making a white sauce you need a full fat milk.
Black pepper - I like to add a lot of black pepper to the sauce at the end.
For the topping
Butter - I like to use salted butter to amp up the flavour. I take the extra step of browning butter for the topping.
Panko bread crumbs - I love using Japanese panko crumbs, they are so easy and come pre-made. They are easy to find in the baking OR international section of your supermarket.
Rosemary - I love adding fresh herbs to a crumb topping. You could substitute with fresh thyme.
Substitutions and variations
- Use gluten free flour in the cheese sauce and gluten-free macaroni. Make sure you adhere to my tip of undercooking the pasta as gluten free pasta can get soft so quickly.
- Feel free to skip the leek or bacon or both! The base is delicious on its own.
- Add in cooked mushrooms or any other vegetables you like.
- Use any breadcrumbs you like, I like the ease of panko but anything will work.
- Double the recipe to serve 8 as a main dish (or 10 - 12 as a side)
- Tips for white sauce - If this is your first time making a cheesy white sauce, don't be scared! My main tip is to add a cup of the milk in first and use it to really scrape up all the butter and flour mixture. I like to use a flat whisk for this purpose. Then add the rest of the milk in a steady stream while whisking.
- Don't have your heat too high when making the sauce. I turn it down before adding the milk and turn it off completely when adding the cheese.
- Don't bake for too long! You just want to bake until nicely golden brown, it shouldn't need longer than 25 minutes. Longer and it will start to dry out the sauce.
How long to boil macaroni
It is absolutely KEY to undercook the macaroni or other pasta shape by 1 - 2 minutes. This will ensure it doesn't get too soft and overcooked in the oven. It should still have a nice al dente bite after it is baked.
How to make the best mac and cheese!
Full ingredient and step-by step instructions are in recipe card below.
- Cook the bacon in olive oil and butter over a medium-high heat until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Cook the leeks in the bacon fat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Turn down to medium-low heat or low and continue cooking until really soft.
3. Cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water, undercooking it by 1-2 minutes from package instructions. Drain and add a tablespoon of butter to stop it overcooking
4. Make the cheese sauce in a large saucepan. Melt butter over a medium heat and add flour when sizzling, cook for a minute then add the milk in a steady stream, whisking to incorporate the flour mixture. Cook for a few mins until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
5. Add the cooked pasta, bacon, leeks and black pepper and mix well. Season to taste with salt.
6. Pour into a baking dish in an even layer.
7. Top with the panko bread crumb mixture.
8. Bake in the oven at 350f (180c) for 25 minutes until golden brown. Let it sit for 10 minutes then dig in!
A single batch will fit in a square 9 x 9 inch baking pan. If you double it make it in a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish.
Yes! Just double everything which will give you 8 generous main sized portions (or more if used as a side!) A great side for a Thanksgiving or any kind of celebration table.
It's a rich and filling dish so i opt for a super simple side salad. With this one I served it with arugula tossed lightly in some olive oil and lemon juice.
Yes! Assemble, let it come to room temperature then cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. It might need a touch longer if baking from cold so you can always cover with aluminum foil if it browns too quickly.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Want some other dishes to try?
If you loved this baked macaroni cheese then PLEASE make my Nduja Mac and Cheese, it really is a favorite recipe. If you love a creamy sauce like me then my Creamy Bacon Pasta is a quick weeknight staple. For something a little more luscious my Creamy Caramelized Leek Pasta is magic.Print