MAC and CHEESE a la Gesine Confectionary

Sunday at the shop in Montpelier was always one of my happiest days.  We'd open a little later than the rest of the week, giving me an extra hour of sleep and an extra solitary hour in the pastry kitchen. Customers would amble in, unhurried and bed headed.  I'd take the benefits of that extra hour of sleep to fuel my creative culinary juices, testing new recipes on whomever was on front of the house duty.  To temper the effects of so much sugar, I'd make a big Sunday lunch for the crew.  Some days I'd make a cold soba noodle salad.  Other times I'd make sandwiches.  But mostly, it was mac and cheese.  It was everyone's favorite.

The base recipe follows Fannie Farmer's solid bechamel based creation, a recipe that seems to have spawned almost every baked mac and cheese in America since it was published.  What I added to the mix was access to all the supplies in my little pastry shop and an outsized love of Vermont cheddar cheese (something shared by my entire Vermont native staff).  And potato chips.  This recipes isn't the same without a barrel of cheese and a potato chips.  And a few other surprise ingredients.


1 (16 oz) box de Cecco cavatappi pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon to grease the casserole dish)
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, warmed
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
1/4 cup dill pickle juice, room temperature
1 tablespoon sriracha
12-16 ounces extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, shredded (house preference as to how much cheese you add.  My preference is to add more.)
8-12 strips bacon, cooked to crispy
1 (8 ounce) bag ridged potato chips, lightly crushed
salt and pepper to taste

1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/4" cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup picked jalapeño, chopped
1 cup frozen peas

•Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Grease a 2 quart casserole dish with the 1 tablespoon extra butter.  Set aside.

•If you're using the potato, and I like to because it gives this recipe a subtle boost of lusciousness, peel and cube the potato into 1/4" squares.  Heat the olive oil in an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat and add cubed potatoes.  Brown the potatoes to golden and transfer to the oven to cook through while you cook the pasta and make the bechamel.

•Cook pasta per manufacturers "al dente" specifications, drain and set aside.

•In a large saucepan, add the 4 tablespoons butter and melt over medium heat, then add the flour and cayenne (if using).  Stir until combined and a paste forms.  Slowly add the cream, whisking constantly and then add the milk, dill pickle juice and sriracha.  (I know the pickle juice sounds weird but it adds an element of savory zing that helps balance all the fat).  Whisk until the mixture simmers and begins to thicken.  Continue whisking over medium-low heat for 5 minutes longer.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the cheese and stir to combined.

•Check the potatoes to make sure they are fork tender and have a crisp exterior and fold into the bechamel, along with the pasta, making sure the pasta is evenly coated.  Fold in the peas, if using.  Crumble the bacon into small pieces and fold into the pasta along with the jalapeño, if using.  Transfer to the prepared casserole dish and cover with the crushed potato chips.  Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling.  Serve immediately.

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