For the mac-‘n’-cheese:
2 1/2 ounces pancetta or thick bacon (about 4 slices)
1 teaspoon plus 11/2 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces baby spinach
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups (8 ounces by weight) grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound macaroni or gemelli pasta, cooked
In a medium-size skillet over medium-low heat, cook the pancetta or bacon in 1 teaspoon of olive oil, flipping halfway through, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, leaving the fat in the skillet. Crumble the pancetta or bacon into small pieces and set aside.
Bring the skillet back up to medium-high heat. Cook the spinach in the reserved fat, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in half of the crumbled pancetta or bacon, reserving the remaining half. Set aside.
Make the cheese sauce: In a medium-size saucepan, warm the butter and remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to make a paste (called a roux); cook, stirring, until the roux is golden in color, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring, until thickened. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Off the heat, add the two cheeses and whisk until smooth. Stir in the spinach/pan-cetta mixture.
Preheat your oven to 375° and set a rack to the middle position. Pour the cooked pasta into a 9×13-inch (or 14- to 16-cup) baking dish. Add the cheese sauce; stir to combine. (The dish can be made up to this point several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
This dish can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. Be sure not to add the topping until you’re ready to bake the casserole.
For the topping:
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, stir together the cheeses, panko, pepper, and remaining crumbled pancetta. Sprinkle over the pasta mixture and bake until the top is browned and the sauce bubbling, 45 to 50 minutes.
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