There’s this restaurant in San Francisco called Straw, and I love it. It’s carnival themed, relatively inexpensive, fun, and, well, they have a hamburger with a donut bun. I guess you can’t go wrong there. I like dinner at Straw, but brunch is better (and San Franciscans, well, we know how to brunch).
That was until I, my +1, and five friends went to Straw for dinner on New Year’s Eve (yes — someone DID order the donut burger and it looked GLORIOUS). I ordered the macaroni and cheese, which was topped with bacon and apple. Bacon was a no-brainer, but apple? Really? Hmm.
Well, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, it was freaking delicious. I couldn’t get it out of my head. On a good day, I have a love affair with cheese that makes Adam jealous, but cheese AND pork products AND winter fruit? Oh my. Sure, it sounds weird, but the apple (and in this case, a sweet, juicy Concorde pear) cuts through the fatty savoriness. It was dreamy. Instead of bacon, I used what was on hand — spicy, thinly sliced coppa, which gave it a spicy kick. (Check the Grocery Outlet — I got mine for less than $2/lb.) Bacon can easily be substituted, but I did love the peppery coppa with the juicy pear.
Since you can prepare the sauce and pasta ahead of time, this is an ideal high/low dinner party dish. Use whatever pasta will cup the sauce best — I chose campanelle.
MACARONI (CAMPANELLE) WITH CHEESE, COPPA, AND PEAR
Makes 6-8 servings
- 1/4 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup panko (coarse Japanese bread crumbs)
- 1 cup medium or sharp grated Cheddar
- 1/4 lb coppa or bacon, crisped and crumbled
- 1-2 Concorde or other very ripe, juicy pears
- 1 tbsp olive oil (only if using coppa)
- 1-2 tsp lemon juice (for tossing with pear)
For macaroni and sauce
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (3 cups)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 3/4 pound elbow macaroni
- Salt and pepper to taste
Make breadcrumb topping:
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
Melt butter, then stir together with panko and 1 cup shredded cheddar in a bowl until combined well. Set aside.
Make coppa and pear topping:
Heat 1 tbsp oil in skillet (if you are using coppa — if you are using bacon, skip the oil). Crisp the bacon or coppa in the pan — the time will vary depending on which meat you’re using, but you’re aiming for crispy, not burnt. Drain.
Thinly slice the pears, toss with a squeeze of lemon, and set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes, then whisk in milk. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in cheeses until smooth. Season with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne (I found 1/4 tsp with a heavy hand on the pepper quite sufficient), and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook macaroni in a pasta pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain macaroni in a colander. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.
Sprinkle BREADCRUMB topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.
Let the dish rest 20 minutes, then top with thin pear slices and coppa or bacon.