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Cavatappi and Cheese with Pancetta and Kale

Cooking Method ,
Cuisine ,
Courses ,
Difficulty Intermediate
Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 45 min Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins
Servings 6
  • 4 ounces pancetta (diced)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
  • 1/4 cup flour (all-purpose)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano (grated)
  • 3/4 cups pecorino romano (finely grated)
  • 2 cups mozzarella (grated)
  • 8 ounces cavatappi
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 5 cups kale (stems removed and roughly chopped)
  • 3/4 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano (grated)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (melted)
Cavatappi and Cheese with Pancetta and Kale
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  1. Crisp the Pancetta

    Add the diced to pancetta to a cool Dutch oven over low to medium-low heat in order to slowly render the fat. Once you have enough fat rendered to coat the bottom of the pan, you can raise the temperature to medium-low to medium. Cook the pancetta until it is golden brown and crispy, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes. 

    I started the stovetop on 2 and increased it to 4.
  2. Wilt the kale

    While the pancetta browns, add the olive oil and sliced garlic to a separate pan. Heat over medium heat until the garlic is a light golden brown, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Remove the garlic from the pan and add the kale. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the kale is wilted. Remove from heat and set aside. 

    If you would prefer a stronger garlic flavor, you can mince the garlic and just add it to the pan a minute before the kale.
  3. Start your pasta

    Add the pasta to salted, boiling water. Cook 1-2 minutes less than the package directions for a slightly firm bite. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven.

    Reserve some of the pasta water before draining in case you need it to loosen the sauce.

  4. Make the bechamel

    Once you have removed the pancetta from the Dutch oven, add the butter and flour to the drippings to make your roux. Whisk the flour and the fat together, cooking for 2-3 minutes just to cook out the flour taste. You don't want to brown it, as that would darken your sauce.

    Slowly add in the milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Bring to a low boil, add the pepper, and reduce the heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes to thicken slightly. You want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.

  5. Fold in the cheese!

    ... and the pasta. Add the pecorino and parmesan, one at a time, stirring to incorporate. Slowly add in the mozzarella, allowing each batch to melt into the sauce. Add the pasta.

    Pour the mixture into a greased 2-quart casserole dish and prepare the topping.

    Your mixture should be fairly loose as it will continue to thicken in the oven. The pasta will also absorb some of the sauce.
  6. Prepare the topping

    Add the melted butter to the panko bread crumbs, stirring to incorporate well. Stir in the ¼ cup of parmigiano-reggiano.

    Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the pasta mixture.

  7. Bake and serve

    Place the casserole in a 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly. Allow to stand for at least five minutes before serving.

Keywords: macaroni and cheese, mac and cheese