Creamy Gorgonzola Macaroni and Cheese with sweet caramelized leeks, salty pancetta, and a blend of three rich cheeses is an elegant twist on a comfort food classic. Don’t forget the cheesy, crunchy, buttery bread crumbs on top!
Back in the 80’s, Macaroni and Cheese and I had an unfortunate encounter. I spent an afternoon at my friend’s house, and, with the best of intentions, her older sister made us lunch with a boxed mix. Looking back on it, it was probably a stovetop mix, but she popped it in the microwave instead for about a minute. As young as I was, I still remember chewing the crunchy, uncooked noodles! Through the years, I’ve gotten to taste many different types of macaroni and cheese (fortunately, all with fully-cooked pasta) and have developed something of a love affair with the dish. It’s the ultimate winter comfort food in my house. It’s decadent, it’s warming, and while it isn’t exactly health food in all of it’s buttery, cheesy glory, it’s a dish that’s so worth the occasional splurge.
I make my macaroni and cheese as my mother taught me; with a classic flour, butter, and milk-based Béchamel sauce and lots of shredded cheese (a Mornay sauce, really). Classic Mac and Cheese is pure nostalgia (we’ll usually make it with Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, and a touch of Dijon), but I love experimenting with different flavor combinations. Some of our favorites have been Smoked Gouda; mushroom and Gruyère; and the recipe that I’m sharing with you today, Gorgonzola, caramelized leek, and pancetta. Regardless of the cheese I use, I always buy blocks and shred them at home. Pre-shredded cheeses usually have added starches to prevent clumping, which risk making your sauce gritty.
What we’ve loved about this dish is that the Gorgonzola brings a nice piquant flavor to the background without being overpowering. In general, Gorgonzola can be pungent, so you don’t need to use a lot of it to add flavor here. (Pungency will vary by wedge and variety, so taste yours before using and add it conservatively if it’s on the stronger side.) To make a true cheese sauce, I combine the Gorgonzola with a beautifully-melting Fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano. Caramelized leeks give the dish a delicate hint of sweetness, and the pancetta (Italian cured, un-smoked pork belly) adds a nice saltiness. I like to top the dish with buttery Panko breadcrumbs and let them toast as the macaroni bakes. So heavenly. A pan of this would be great for game day parties, warming up during a blizzard, or really, “just ’cause.” Does one really need a reason to dig into a pan of bubbly macaroni and cheese? I think not!
Love Macaroni and Cheese as much as I do? Check out some of my favorite recipes around the Web:
Bouchon Bistro Macaroni au Gratin (Saveur)
Mac and Two Cheeses with Caramelized Shallots (Epicurious)
Stovetop Mac and Cheese (Food and Wine)
Labrador Lounge Lobster Mac and Cheese (Striped Spatula)
“Our Favorite” Macaroni and Cheese (Epicurious)
Did you know I have a weekly newsletter? Subscribe to say up to date on what’s delicious on the blog!
Creamy Gorgonzola Macaroni and Cheese
- 8 ounces pasta (such as pipettes or medium shells)
- kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano divided
- 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
- 2 cups shredded Fontina
- 1 cup half and half
- 1-1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 leek (white and light green parts only), washed thoroughly and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 4 ounces diced pancetta
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus additional for buttering ramekins
- chopped parsley or snipped chives (optional), for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack in middle position. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish, or six, 10-ounce ramekins. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.
Mix Panko, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook pasta to "al-dente" in a large pot of salted boiling water. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining well.
While bringing your pasta water to a boil, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot until foaming subsides. Add pancetta and cook over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and pancetta is just beginning to crisp.
Add leeks, 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper to the pot. Cook until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until leeks are very soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes longer. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add milk and half and half, stirring until sauce is smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk in Fontina, Gorgonzola, and 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce, stirring until well combined. Stir in enough pasta water to make the sauce creamy, but not thin and watery (I usually add about 1/4 cup). Transfer pasta to prepared baking dishes and top with breadcrumb mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and breadcrumbs are toasted. Sprinkle with parsley or chives, if desired, and serve hot.