This is some pretty decadent Mac & Cheese. Serious flavor commitment here! The pancetta–ridiculous! The tomatoes add a tang and a sweetness at the same time. It is not any more difficult than regular macaroni, but it does require a bit of a time commitment. When the tomatoes say they are ‘slow-roasted’, it’s for a reason. But, on the bright side, they can be done ahead, and they do absolutely make the dish.
Everyone who tried this dish was blown away by the flavor combination. The mildness of the cheeses is a perfect balance to the blast of flavor you get from the tomatoes and pancetta. Roasting the tomatoes for so long allows them to develop this crazy tang to go along with the sweetness that roasting brings. And the buttered, herbed and cheesed crumb topping makes for a great texture contrast. Don’t skip it!
The whole thing is so worth the extra time and effort. Pancetta can be expensive, but it’s flavor is distinctive enough that I would recommend not substituting anything for it. This dish will feed eight, which makes it price out more effectively. Toss a salad, (not much money there…), throw in some crusty bread and your meal is done. Save it for a special occasion but don’t wait too long to try it!
2 1/2 pounds tomatoes–roma or cherry–slow roasted and chopped
1 pound pancetta–1/4 inch diced–rendered, drained and set aside, drippings saved
1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons pancetta drippings
1/2 cup shallots–diced
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups half & half
2 cups milk
2 cups Italian cheese blend–shredded
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter–melted
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon italian seasoning
fresh basil to garnish
Slow roasting tomatoes
Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange cut side up on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with a light olive oil. Salt and pepper very lightly.
Place in a preheated 225 degree F. oven for 3–5 hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes. They should roast, releasing some of their juices and stat to caramelize a bit, but should not be dehydrated at all.
Let cool on pan before cutting and using.
Dice the pancetta into 1/4 inch cubes.
In a heavy pan on medium-high heat, sauté the pancetta until most of the fat is rendered out and the pancetta is a nice, medium brown color. It will be slightly crispy, but not overly so.
Strain out with a slotted spoon or flat strainer, and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Save the drippings for the roux.
Cook the elbow macaroni in salted, boiling water for just under what the package directions say. Drain and cool with cool water and set aside.
On medium heat, in a heavy bottomed pan, heat 5 tablespoons of the reserved pancetta drippings. Add the diced shallots and sauté for 3–5 minutes, until they start to turn translucent.
Add the 5 tablespoons flour. Stir until cooked, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the milk and half & half, whisking continuously. Mixture will thicken.
After mixture cooks for a minute or two, Slowly add the Italian cheese blend.
Stir until cheese is completely melted. Mixture will be very thick. Slowly add half of the chicken broth, whisking continuously.
Add the set aside macaroni and gently stir to combine.
Add the rendered pancetta and the chopped roasted tomatoes. Stir carefully to combine.
Slowly add the remaining chicken broth until the thickness of the sauce is right. You want it to be a little bit waterier than you would think so that it can be baked for a few minutes and not get too thick.
Put cheese and noodles into a 3 quart buttered casserole dish.
Add the bread and shredded parmesan cheese and italian seasoning to a food processor. Pulse for 10 or so seconds.
Toss crumbs with melted butter, and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 15–20 minutes, or until it’s heated through in the middle.
Sprinkle with chopped, fresh basil and serve immediately.