We love macaroni and cheese in all its forms — from the quick-cooking kind that comes in a blue box at the grocery store to the ultra-gooey, baked homemade kind your parents probably make on special occasions. But we also know that this childhood staple can feel kind of heavy on its own as a main dish, particularly during the summer months.
Elena Besser puts a summery twist on the classic, which embraces the bounty of juicy in-season corn to create a creamy, cheesy sauce. But this mac and cheese still has plenty of the rich, savory flavor that you know and love, thanks to the addition of fatty bacon.
The natural starchiness of sweet corn sets up the base of the sauce, without the need to use milk and create a bechamel. After adding in two kinds of cheese, extra-sharp cheddar and nutty Parmesan, the pasta is topped with crispy bacon and fresh chives for an unbeatable summer dinner. This is one that will get on the table fast and thrill your family, all without breaking the bank.
Special Kitchen Equipment Required: You’ll need a high-powered blender to make this recipe.
Technique Tip: Add the cheese one cup at a time, stirring continuously to prevent the sauce from breaking. Adding reserved cobs to the water imparts a subtle corn flavor into the pasta.
Swap Option: Bacon can be swapped for pancetta and fresh corn can be swapped for frozen. Shallots can be swapped for onions or leeks in a pinch. Out of elbow macaroni? Swap it for a pound of your favorite pasta.
- 3 cups fresh corn kernels, cobs reserved
- kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 pound dried shell or elbow pasta
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as grapeseed or avocado)
- 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 large shallots, grated (about ½ cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 bunch chives, thinly sliced, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water and reserved corn cobs (if using) to a boil over high heat. Heavily salt the water, add the pasta and cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and reserve 2½ cups of pasta water for later.2.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain onto a paper-towel lined plate. Once cool, chop the bacon into smaller pieces.3.
Add shallots to the same pan with the rendered bacon fat, season with salt to taste and cook over medium heat until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn kernels, red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.4.
Transfer the corn mixture to a blender along with 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and blend until smooth. Off the heat, add the sauce back to the skillet along with 1/2 cup pecorino or Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup pasta water. Stir to combine. Alternate between 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup pasta water, stirring continuously to make sure the cheese emulsifies and melts into a smooth sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta to the sauce and mix to combine. Add a little more pasta water as needed to thin out the sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste.5.
Divide the pasta among bowls, top with chives, bacon, and more cheese.