- ½ lb dried cavatappi pasta
- 3 cups half & half
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups Cabot New York Sharp Cheddar, shredded (sold as an 8oz. block of cheese)
- 1 cup whole milk mozzarella, shredded
- ½ cup parmigiano-reggiano, finely grated
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
- 1½ to 2 tbsp green onion, chopped
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced (not the stuff in the jar)
- generous pinch of nutmeg (about 1/8 tsp or less)
- generous pinch of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp or less)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 slices of semi-crisp hardwood smoked bacon, chopped (feel free to use more if you'd like)
- ¼ cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (optional)
- *Salt to season the pasta water
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil and lay each slice of bacon down with at least an inch of space between each slice. Place the baking sheet full of bacon on the lowest rack of your oven and let it cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp but still pliable. It will crisp even further once it's baked, so don't crisp it too much at this stage. Drain on paper towels and chop into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
In a large pot, boil water for your pasta. Once it starts to boil, season with about a tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and boil for 5 minutes. Reserve one cup of the pasta water just in case. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Don't toss the pasta around, just let it sit while you rinse it -- this helps keep some of the starch in place. Drain the cold water and let the cooled off pasta hang out on the sidelines while you make the cheese sauce.
Rinse the pot you boiled the pasta in with cold water to cool it off completely then place back on top of your stove over medium heat. Add the butter to melt -- once it starts to foam/sizzle, it's ready for the flour. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until smooth and lump-free. Let this cook for 1 minute to get that "raw flour" flavor out. Add 1 cup of the half & half, and continue to whisk vigorously until smooth, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 cups of half & half and continue whisking. Add the rosemary, thyme, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and minced garlic -- mix well. Taste it! Adjust the seasoning as you need to. Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the mixture to come up to a simmer -- whisking the whole time. The mixture will thicken very quickly so don't walk away from it. It should take about 5 minutes to start simmering. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat completely. Add the parmigiano-reggiano and cheddar cheese and stir gently until it's melted and smooth, about a minute or two. Either in the same pot or in a separate large bowl, combine the cooked and cooled off pasta with the cheese sauce. Gently fold together until it's completely coated. Mixture should be slightly loose but very creamy and easy to work with, if it's too thick, thin it out with a little of the starchy pasta water. Fold in the basil and green onion at the last minute.
Transfer half of the pasta and cheese mixture to a lightly greased baking dish (I used about 4 quick sprays of PAM cooking spray). Sprinkle ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese over the first half of the pasta/cheese mixture, then pour the remaining pasta/cheese mixture on top as a second layer -- add the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Gently swirl a spoon or butterknife thru the mac and cheese mixture to ensure the mozzarella cheese is evenly combined throughout the dish. Sprinkle the top with the bacon and breadcrumbs.
Bake in a 400 degree oven on the middle oven rack for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bubbly all over.
Allow the dish to cool for about 10 minutes before you dive in (trust me, it's molten-lava hot!).