Homemade Macaroni and Cheese w/ Pancetta and Caramelized Onions

Hi Everyone! I hope you’re enjoying the late Spring and are ready for summer. Summer means cookouts and backyard parties and what better side dish than homemade macaroni and cheese? Macaroni and cheese is definitely not light and it’s definitely not healthy, but it is delicious and it is comfort food at its finest. It’s one of those foods that you save your calories for and only indulge once in a while, so when you do indulge, make it worth it!

Growing up my mom made a lot of food from scratch, but macaroni and cheese was always something that came in a  blue box. I loved it as a kid, but now it tastes completely fake and processed. If I’m going to eat macaroni and cheese from a box, now I opt for organic white shells and cheese. Annie’s Organic makes my favorite one. That’s ok for a quick weeknight side dish with some grilled chicken and steamed veggies, but when you want real macaroni and cheese, you’ve got to make it from scratch.

My recipe for Homemade Macaroni and Cheese includes pancetta, caramelized onions, gruyere, parmigiano-reggiano and extra sharp cheddar cheeses. It’s heaven on a plate. It’s far from ordinary and surprisingly super easy to make. Bring it to an outdoor party at a friend’s house, fire up the grill and invite some friends over and make some with grilled chicken, or just pop some into a bowl and eat it for lunch. Now, if you want to make it without the pancetta, vegetarians can enjoy it, but this is not the dish for vegans. You can also add some extra vitamins by adding extra veggies like broccoli or asparagus. It’s so versatile that you can make it completely your own.

First, let’s talk about pasta. My regular readers know that I like Italian pasta. It’s dense and I like to use a pasta cut that has lines in it so that all of the ingredients can soak into those lines. My favorite cut for macaroni and cheese is Cavatappi pasta.

homemade macaroni and cheese

Boil the pasta to al dente so that it’s a little bit undercooked because it will continue baking in the oven.

I like to use a Dutch Oven when making macaroni and cheese because I can transfer it right to the oven and I only need to use one pan. I start with some pancetta. Pancetta is basically Italian bacon. It’s used in a lot of Italian dishes and it lacks the smoky flavor of traditional bacon. I like to buy it already chopped up to save one step in my cooking process.

homemade macaroni and cheese

Just turn the heat to medium-high and put it directly in the Dutch Oven and sauté until crisp. There is no need to add any additional fat to the pan, the pancetta will render off plenty of fat on its own.

homemade macaroni and cheese

Place on a paper towel to drain off the excess fat. Leave the renderings in the pan and add the chopped onion and sauté until caramelized. They will take a while to cook, but waiting for the caramelization will make them sweet. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

homemade macaroni and cheese

Look at that golden brown goodness! Next, remove the onions from the pan and let them drain on the paper towels with the pancetta.

Now it’s time to make your Béschamel Sauce. Béchamel is a very fancy name, but it’s a very simple sauce. Just take some butter and melt it in the bottom of the pan and add an equal amount of flour and cook together to make a roux, which is simply a thickener. Next, add some whole milk, and whisk it together until thickened and voila, you’ve got a Béchamel sauce. Super simple! Add some dried mustard, salt and pepper and stir well before adding the pancetta, onions and cheeses.

homemade macaroni and cheese

You will know that the Béchamel sauce is ready when it sticks to the back of a spoon. It comes together pretty quickly, but it does need to be properly thickened before you add in the other ingredients.

Let’s talk about cheese. Please, can we talk about cheese? I could just sit down with you with a cup of coffee and talk about cheese for hours. I love cheese and the older I get, the more discerning I get about the types of cheese I want to consume. American cheese? Forget it! Mild cheddar? Why bother? We have a glorious cheese case at the local supermarket and it’s so convenient to get really good quality cheese during my weekly grocery shopping trip, rather than having to go to a specialty cheese store.

For this homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, I’ve chosen Gruyere cheese, which is nutty and melts easily. It’s one of my favorite cheeses in the whole, wide world. I’ve also chosen some extra sharp cheddar cheese. For cheddar cheese, the sharper the better in my opinion, but you can go milder if you like. Finally, some parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Parmigiano-reggiano is genuine, Italian parmesan cheese. Parmesan that is not labeled parmigiano-reggiano may be imitation. You may not even be able to tell the difference, but I can and I like the good stuff!

homemade macaroni and cheese

All of these cheese melt really well and the combination is a little sharp, a little nutty and a lot scrumptious. After everything is combined, just transfer the Dutch oven to the oven to bake for about 20 minutes and you’re done! You can even serve it right out of the Dutch oven. Don’t you just love one pot cooking?

I hope you will give my recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese a try and please come back and leave a comment and let me know how you liked it and snap a photo of the finished product and tag #ketchumkitchen on Social Media. Also, be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on any new recipes.

Thanks for stopping by where everything is made from the heart!

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese w/ Pancetta and Caramelized Onions

20 minutes

45 minutes

Yield: 8-10

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese w/ Pancetta and Caramelized Onions


  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon dried yellow mustard
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1.5 cups gruyere, shredded
  • 1.5 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water until al dente (with a bite to it), drain, set aside
  • In a Dutch oven, cook the pancetta until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels.
  • Leave the rendered fat in the pan and add the diced onions and cook until caramelized. They will be brown around the edges. Don't pull them out too soon or they won't get sweet. Drain the onions on the paper towels with the pancetta
  • Add the butter to the pan and let it melt and add the flour. Whisk together to form a roux. Make sure the flour isn't raw or the final dish will taste like raw flour. Whisk in the milk and continue whisking until the sauce thickens and will stay on the back of a spoon.
  • Add in the dried mustard, salt and pepper and stir well.
  • Add back in the pancetta and onions and all of the cheeses and stir until well combined and the cheese has melted.
  • Add in the cooked cavatappi and stir again until well combined, then transfer the Dutch oven into the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Remove, give the mac and cheese a good stir and serve.
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