Cheesy pasta bake with bacon crumble

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This pasta bake is my “luxury” version of mac and cheese. It is full of garlic and spices, with chunks of sizzling bacon and chorizo, a few peas and sliced zucchini thrown in for good measure, all smothered in an indulgent fondue-style cheese sauce.

Hubby and I have both been battling colds over the last few weeks, and sometimes a bowl of warm cheesey carb is just what the doctor ordered. I made this pasta bake on a cold and miserable Monday night, and it lasted us for a few delicious evenings.

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The hero of this pasta bake is the cheese sauce. (Actually, who am I kidding, the hero is always going to be the chorizo and bacon!) Aside from the processed pig, though, the best part of this dish really is the cheese sauce.

The pasta is coated in a deliciously cheesy mess which looks, tastes and acts just like fondue.  I have always made cheese sauce by making a roux and adding milk and cheese. It has always made a perfectly good cheese sauce and I never knew what I was missing until I discovered Heston’s macaroni cheese recipe. I now use Heston’s technique whenever I make cheese sauce (although I just use whatever cheese I happen to have on hand.) For this sauce, low fat chedder and a bit of parmesan worked a treat!

I added some black pepper, garlic, herbs and cayenne pepper to the cheese sauce for a bit of extra flavour and zing, and some paprika to complement the chorizo.

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I got so carried away with my cheese sauce, that I forgot to set some cheese aside for the top of the bake. Never mind – bread crumbs work well too. I had run out of dry breadcrumbs, and while I sometimes use wheatgerm as a high fibre alternative, I thought that this dish deserved the real deal. Luckily, I found two slices of stale (but not, amazingly enough, mouldy) sourdough lurking in the breadbox and whizzed them up for some rustic breadcrumbs. For such a decadent meal, I decided to go all the way and brown the breadcrumbs with a slice of chopped bacon, some crushed garlic and a little chilli. Definitely better than dry breadcrumbs!

I cooked up some pasta and some chorizo, and stirred cheese sauce through. I used some really unusual pasta I had never seen before, radiatori.  Strange as it was, it worked really well for this pasta bake and looked great. Some peas and zucchini tossed through the pasta added a little touch of green, and after topping it with the breadcrumb mix and baking for half an hour, the pasta was ready.

Gooey in the middle, crispy on top and wickedly delicious. Best enjoyed in massive quantities out of trough but probably should be enjoyed in a moderation with a big green salad.

Best way to feel better on a miserable day.

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