I don’t know about you, but macaroni and cheese is a required side dish for my family’s holiday meals. If you’re looking for ideas for your own holiday meal, I’m sharing a delicious new recipe today for a Bacon Pesto Mac and Cheese Bake. This rich baked macaroni and cheese works equally as well as a weeknight entrée or a holiday meal side dish, so you might find yourself making this for more occasions than just Thanksgiving.
I’ve got the full baked bacon pesto mac and cheese recipe at the bottom of this post (Jump to Recipe), but first I’ll share tips and step-by-step instructions and pictures to help you make this recipe to perfection.
More macaroni and cheese recipes:
How to make bacon pesto mac and cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 2 1/2- or 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray (an 9″ x 13″ baking dish works perfectly for this bacon pesto mac and cheese bake). Set the baking dish aside.
Cook a 16-ounce package of elbow macaroni in boiling water, stirring occasionally until tender yet firm to the bite. Remove the pot from the heat. After draining, transfer the pasta back to the pot (still off the heat) and cover to keep warm while you do the next steps.
Place bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and crisp. Time-saving tip: Start cooking the bacon while your pasta is cooking. Transfer the bacon slices to a paper towel-lined plate to cool and reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease (you’ll see why in a minute).
After the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon and set it aside.
Place the reserved bacon grease, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 2 cloves of minced garlic in a saucepan over medium-high heat. That’s right… you’re using that bacon grease as part of the base to your cheese sauce for this bacon pesto mac and cheese! Stir until the butter is melted (about 1 minute, which is just enough time for the garlic to become fragrant and gently cooked).
Whisk flour into the butter mixture and continue whisking until the flour starts to turn golden brown (about 1 minute more).
Slowly add milk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper to the saucepan, whisking until there are no lumps. Bring to a boil while stirring frequently, then reduce the heat to medium.
Stir grated white Cheddar cheese into the cream mixture, stirring until the cheese is melted.
Add pesto and half of the crumbled bacon to the pot and stir to combine everything.
Turn off the burner and transfer the cheese mixture to the pot with the cooked pasta and stir to combine.
Mix 1/4 cup of panko bread crumbs and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl to make a crumb topping.
Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish.
Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the pesto bacon macaroni and cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven until bubbly and just starting to brown (about 20 minutes). Remove the bacon pesto mac and cheese from the oven and top with the remaining half of crumbled bacon.
Preheat a broiler and place the baking dish under the broiler until browned (1 to 3 minutes depending on the heat of your broiler). Garnish the bacon pesto mac and cheese with chopped basil.
Mmm mmm good!
This bacon pesto mac and cheese is a family favorite, and I hope it will become one of yours, too! Here’s the full Bacon Pesto Mac and Cheese Bake recipe. Don’t forget to pin this one!