Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon, Leeks, and Thyme
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Herbed Macaroni and Cheese with Leeks and Bacon

I love making homemade mac and cheese because the possibilities are endless.  You can play with cheese combinations, pasta shapes, and additions like meat, vegetables, herbs, and spices.  When it comes to this comfort dish, I rarely make it the same way twice, but it’s always delicious!

For this batch, I used two types of cheese:  Sharp Wisconsin Cheddar and Havarti.  I chose the cheddar for flavor and the havarti for its creamy texture.  I also added bacon, leeks, and fresh thyme – an amazing flavor combination.

Although this casserole takes a bit more prep work than traditional macaroni and cheese, it’s not difficult to make.

First, prep and assemble your ingredients.  Wash and chop the leeks, shred the cheeses, and measure out the other ingredients.

Bacon

While you heat the pasta water, cook the bacon.  I start my bacon in a cold skillet, then cook it over medium heat, turning and moving the pieces as necessary, until the bacon is evenly browned and crisp.

Crispy bacon

Drain the bacon on paper towels then chop into small pieces.

Leeks in bacon fat

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings, then add the chopped leeks to the pan and cook over medium-low heat until softened and just starting to brown.

Leeks, bacon, and thyme

When leeks have softened, stir in the chopped fresh thyme and the bacon pieces.  Remove pan from heat and set aside.  Cook pasta until al dente then drain and set aside.

Melting butter

Melt butter over medium heat in a large heavy saucepan (I use the pasta pot).

Whisking butter and flour

When butter has melted, stir in the flour to make a paste.

Cooked flour

Cook the flour mixture (also known as a roux), stirring constantly, for about two minutes.  It should be slightly darkened and have a nutty aroma.

Whisking in half and half

Whisk in the half and half until smooth then bring to a boil, whisking constantly.

Thickened sauce

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, until thickened.

Stirring in cheese

Add cheeses, reserving one cup of shredded cheddar for the topping, and stir until smooth.

Seasoning with salt and pepper

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adding macaroni

Stir in pasta until well-coated with cheese sauce.

Adding leeks, bacon, and thyme

Add the bacon and leek mixture.

Everything mixed together

Stir until everything is well combined.  Taste again and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Ready for the oven

Pour the pasta into a greased 9″x 13″ inch baking dish then sprinkle with reserved cheddar cheese.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Dig in!

Enjoy!

This recipe was created for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board using Wisconsin Cheddar and Wisconsin Havarti that I was able to purchase here in California.  I was not paid to write this post, but I was provided a stipend to cover ingredients as I was developing the recipe.

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon, Leeks, and Thyme
Serves 8

1 pound medium pasta shells (or elbow macaroni)
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced crosswise (white and light green parts only)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups half and half
8 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
6 ounces Havarti, shredded
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp then chop into small pieces.  Drain all but 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings from pan then return to medium-low heat and add chopped leeks.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened and just starting to brown, about ten minutes.  Stir in chopped thyme and chopped bacon and remove pan from heat.  Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente, then drain and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and stir in flour.  Cook, stirring, for about two minutes, until flour mixture has darkened slightly, then whisk in half and half.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then turn heat down and let simmer, stirring, until thickened.  Stir in shredded cheeses, reserving one cup of shredded cheddar for the top of the casserole.  Stir in salt and pepper then remove sauce from heat.  Stir in pasta and the bacon-leek mixture.  Pour pasta into the greased baking dish and sprinkle with reserved cheddar cheese.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.  Serve warm.

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39 Comments
  1. Rhiannon

    That looks absoloutly divine, I love the addition of thyme! Macaroni cheese is one of my favorite dishes, it never fails to bring a smile to peoples faces.

    8:08 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  2. james

    I’ll trade you some of this for leftover jambalaya any day :-)

    9:32 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  3. Kalynskitchen

    Okay, this has got to taste just fantastic!

    10:02 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  4. Lynn

    I love adding bacon to macaroni and cheese, but I have never used leeks and thyme. I will have to try it sometime.

    10:11 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  5. Jen S

    It must be Mac n Cheese weather! I made a batch over the weekend with a shallot and dijon mustard, and white cheddar sauce. Bacon is always welcome of course. I might try leeks next time and adding thyme sounds intriguing.

    10:20 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  6. Steph

    Looks yummy!! I love thyme in just about everything… What I REALLY want to know is – what kind of bacon are you using? It looks GREAT!!!! It’s so hard to find a good quality bacon…

    10:22 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  7. Leah

    Up until just now, I had no idea what I was making for dinner. Now I know. This looks amazing! And I have all the ingredients at home. Can’t wait for dinner now.

    10:32 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  8. Lora

    What a unique version of mac-n-cheese. Wonderful flavors!

    10:38 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  9. d.liff @ yelleBELLYboo

    you had me at bacon mac and cheese. Looks so good!!

    10:41 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  10. Devany Vickery-Davidson

    Leeks! What a great idea Nicolle! This really looks great.

    11:49 am  Apr 4th, 2011
  11. Andrea

    This looks so delicious! If I wan’t on a raw food diet, I would totally be tempted to make it right now.

    12:28 pm  Apr 4th, 2011
  12. Kristy

    This looks delicious! And I love Havarti – mmmm home made mac and cheese!

    12:33 pm  Apr 4th, 2011
  13. Cara

    can not wait to try this – looks amazing! All my faves – mac & cheese, leeks, & bacon

    2:17 pm  Apr 4th, 2011
  14. Kathy - Panini Happy

    I ate mac & cheese all weekend and I’m *still* enticed by this recipe!

    4:12 pm  Apr 4th, 2011
  15. Elli

    This was so tempting I stopped on my bike home to get a leek and cheese. I halved the sauce (although might have used a bit more cheese than that) and it was still plenty to cover a pound of pasta. Quite tasty, but I think I might want slightly more leek next time.

    6:35 pm  Apr 4th, 2011
  16. Lana

    How did you know that I just bought leeks and bacon? This looks amazing! My girls would write me a hundred of love notes if I made them this version of mac n’ cheese:)

    1:00 am  Apr 5th, 2011
  17. bellini

    This is one of those comfort foods I just can’t live without.

    7:02 am  Apr 5th, 2011
  18. patsy.se » Pinch My Salt

    [...] Genom Twitter så kom jag i kontakt med @pinchmysalt som bloggar om mat. Nicole, kvinnan bakom bloggen, är sjukt ambitiös och helt makalös i sina steg-för-steg recept. Man kan inte annat än att älska det! Amerikanskt och härligt, men dagen recept på tvättäkta stars and stripes mac&cheese med en twist kommer definitivt att prövas att tillagas hemma hos mig. Läs hela receptet och mer om Pinch My Salt här. [...]

    7:53 am  Apr 5th, 2011
  19. Lucy

    I really like the idea of adding leeks and thyme — so different for mac and cheese. We don’t experiment a lot around here with mac and cheese as it’s one of the favorites and woe unto you if you mess with a favorite…but as long as it’s not Thanksgiving I can get away with a few experiments. Will definitely try this one!

    2:52 pm  Apr 5th, 2011
  20. Barbara

    You’ve added some lovely flavors to your mac and cheese! Bacon, leeks and thyme are going in to mine the next time I make it….which will be soon if my tummy’s response to that first photo is any indication!

    7:05 am  Apr 6th, 2011
  21. Richard Blaine

    Now that is one thing I never thought of to put into my Mac and cheese! I have put stuff like bacon, yup! and even fried garlic and mushrooms too but leeks and thyme I am going to have to try. I never thought of using thyme, but it is an excellent flavor. A good twist to an all time favorite comfort food!

    6:36 pm  Apr 7th, 2011
  22. Lori @ RecipeGirl

    I agree- the possibilities are endless w/ Mac and Cheese! Love the bacon-leek idea!

    6:27 am  Apr 8th, 2011
  23. charityanne

    Oh my, my. How yummy is that! I am totally making it tonight!

    6:28 am  Apr 8th, 2011
  24. Richard Blaine

    Hi Nicole!,

    You have a really nice website! I am glad that you stopped by and like my post on the Japanese kitchen knives. I hope you stop by again because I have a series slated that I promise will be the most informative info on culinary knives from every aspect, probably 10 to 30 vids. Hope to see you there.

    10:41 am  Apr 8th, 2011
  25. Kristi Rimkus

    This is what I call a terrific grown up mac and cheese. Lovely!

    Kristi

    7:43 am  Apr 9th, 2011
  26. Allison

    Holy goodness this looks amazing. I have got to try this. The combination of bacon and leeks, oh and cheese, sounds too good. And I love that you used the shell noodles. Thems my favorites.

    1:15 pm  Apr 11th, 2011
  27. Tess

    This looked and sounded so amazingly good that I had to stop and go to the market and buy. This is now my husband’s favorite macaroni and cheese. This is so good that I have been asked to make it twice in one week . . . and it is so good that I complied. Wonderful!

    7:41 pm  Apr 12th, 2011
  28. Kristi

    wow, that sounds delicious. I’ll have to give it a try. M

    12:57 pm  Apr 14th, 2011
  29. Kerry Maxwell

    Made this a couple of nights ago, and we polished off the leftovers last night. Delicious! I sprinkled panko on top and finished the last few minutes under the broiler.

    5:38 am  Apr 22nd, 2011
  30. Rachel

    I just made this and we had it for dinner tonight. I had no Havarti, but I had Gruyere, so I used that instead. I also added 1 cup of sliced mushrooms in with the leeks to saute, and I stirred in 2 cups of fresh baby spinach at the last second before popping it in the oven.

    My husband took one bite and his only response was “Wow!!!!!!” Thank you so much for this recipe! It’s so, SO going in our monthly repertoire! :-D

    5:18 pm  Apr 22nd, 2011
  31. Sarah

    Will be making, ASAP.

    10:26 am  May 6th, 2011
  32. Roy Summers

    Redonkulous………..best mac-n-cheeze ever

    6:43 pm  Jul 12th, 2011
  33. Melanie

    made it and it’s absolutely amazing….so delicious

    11:18 am  Nov 3rd, 2011
  34. Kate

    Thank you… this was delicious! Definitely going to hold on to this recipe for another time… I cut the recipe in half since it was just for two of us, but i’m not sure I halved the cheese… ;) yum!

    11:17 am  Nov 5th, 2011
  35. caro in südschweden » Macaroni and Cheese (mit Lauch und Räuchertofu)

    [...] habe ich mich am Rezept aus einem der Food Blogs, die ich regelmäßig lese: Pinch my Salt. Anstatt Schinken habe ich jedoch eine vegetarische Variante genommen und kleingewürfelten [...]

    3:19 pm  Feb 19th, 2012
  36. Sarah E

    Delicious! I have been searching high and low for a good home mac and cheese recipe, and this is it; it’s creamy and cheesy, without being to sharp, and there’s bacon! I substituted pancetta for bacon and it turned out great.

    3:45 pm  May 21st, 2012
  37. Alyson

    Wow this looks deadly and delicious. I like the idea Sarah E has about using pancetta as well!

    10:14 am  Aug 15th, 2012
  38. From Scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe Without Canned Soup

    [...] Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon, Leeks, and Thyme [...]

    12:08 pm  Jun 26th, 2013
  39. Green eggs and sand

    Tonight I bought leeks and bacon with the intent of using it in a Mac and cheese variation. I was so pleased to then happen upon your recipe when I decided to search for anyone else who had tried this combination.

    I added a shallot, well because I am pretty sure leeks and shallots were made for one another. I didn’t have half and half or even buttermilk or cream, so I was forced to use nonfat milk in my bechamel. To help thicken the whole dish, I added 2/3 cup 4% cottage cheeses and reduced the amount of the shredded cheeses. End result: AmAzing. Decadent. Flavorful. Delicious. Thanks so much for posting your recipe; it helped me pull together an idea that probably otherwise would’ve been just meh. :)

    9:44 pm  May 31st, 2014
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