Friday, January 22, 2010

Italian Macaroni and Cheese with Pancetta

Italian mac n' cheese with pancetta

When I was asked to create a macaroni & cheese recipe for the launching of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s Macaroni & Cheese Blog, I thought, “Life is good.”

The first thing I had to do was select a cheese from their cheese list. It took me seconds to spot “Fontiago.” Was it a typo? I had heard of Fontina and Asiago, but what was "Fontiago?" After cooking and eating nearly three pounds of it, I can tell you it’s not a typo. It’s for real. And it’s fantabulous.

Fontina is mild and nutty and prized for its melting ability. Asiago, although similar in taste to Parmesan, is more assertive. Fontiago is a unique cheese that marries Fontina with Asiago in one creamy, tangy, aromatic cheese.

Fontiago cheese

To honor the cheese’s Italian roots, I decided to make an Italian macaroni & cheese with pancetta, basil and parsley. As the macaroni & cheese cooks in the oven, the aroma is deliciously reminiscent of wood-fired pizza, thanks to the smoky pancetta and nutty Fontiago.

With a generous coating of grated Parmesan and toasty olive oil-soaked breadcrumbs, this Italian macaroni & cheese is tantalizingly crusty on the outside. The crust, however, gives way to a luscious, soft cheese filling flecked with salty, diced pancetta and fragrant fresh basil and parsley. A couple of dashes of crushed red pepper flakes provide just the heat it needs.

I have made this Italian macaroni & cheese several times now and can tell you that it’s easy enough for a mid-week dinner yet sophisticated enough to serve for company, especially when paired with a side salad and red wine.

Since I found Wisconsin Fontiago, living the good life got a whole lot easier. Of course, the red wine doesn’t hurt.

Italian mac n' cheese with pancetta

Italian Macaroni & Cheese with Pancetta
Serves 6 to 8
Print recipe only here.

8 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound medium pasta shells
8 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
6 cups whole milk
4 cups (16 ounces) Wisconsin Fontiago cheese, grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
a few shakes of salt and black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, thinly sliced
1 cup (8 ounces) grated Parmesan Cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

2. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, add pancetta. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and olive oil, mixing with your fingertips. Set aside.

4. Cook pasta in salted water, about 2 minutes short of being fully cooked; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the cooked pasta, but do not rinse. Place in a large bowl. 

5. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour. Gradually add milk, whisking continuously until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes, or until thick and bubbly.

6. Add cooked pancetta, Fontiago cheese, cream sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, basil and parsley. Stir well. Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling around the edges.

*Fontiago Cheese is a Wisconsin original made by Roth Käse cheese company,

For more delicious macaroni and cheese recipes, check out

You might also enjoy these pasta recipes from Food Blogga:
Creamy Goat Cheese and Beet Green Pasta
Penne with Italian-American "Gravy," Meatballs, and Sausage
Orange Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese (yes, it's healthier and good)
Cellentani with Lemony Broccoli, Toasted Walnuts, and Breadcrumbs
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter