I have had a lot on my plate lately. I think that calls for some comfort food.
My father, who has been in and out of the hospital for the last few years, is back in the hospital. He has an infection and other complications that require him to stay there for the foreseeable future. My mom, ever the trooper, has been staying with him as much as possible, and when she can’t be there I go in her place. He is in good spirits, but it seems like one medical issue is fixed in time for another to take its place. All this to say he isn’t getting out anytime soon. On top of that, I am still playing catch-up from a recent vacation – the details of which I will share soon – and my part-time day job has been crazy busy the last few weeks. So, to say my plate if full is not an understatement. What do I want when I am dealing with work and stress? Comfort food, and in this case it is a modified version of my legendary ‘Super Evil’ Bacon Meatballs stuffed with creamy macaroni and cheese. To be sure, it isn’t in the least bit healthy and I can’t be bothered to care.
I modified my ‘Super Evil’ Bacon Meatball recipe so it would be a little easier to handle. The original is half ground bacon, which is tasty but rather tricky to handle. Since you have to wrap the meatball mixture around scoops of macaroni and cheese I decided a more sturdy mixture would be best. I reduced the bacon by half, so the meatballs themselves are still super-freaky-naughty with a distinct bacon flavor and the mixture is easy to work with. Win! This macaroni and cheese relies heavily on sharp cheddar for its flavor, and also a touch of cream cheese. The cream cheese helps keep the cheese smooth even after baking. If you have a favorite cheese for mac and cheese – or even a tasty blend – feel free to use it. Just remember, it needs to be strong enough to stand up to the meatball surrounding it. While baking the meatballs may ooze cheese toward the end of the baking time. That is completely ok, and also quite tasty if you are the type that likes crusty, browned cheese. I know I am. I like to eat these topped with a little tomato sauce, but you could also use a creamy sauce, or forego the sauce entirely. It is up to you. These make a hearty meal with paired with a salad or some roasted seasonal vegetables. They also make a ridiculously good hoagie with mozzarella and tomato sauce broiled on top. I imagine these would also be a much discussed cocktail party nibble or appetizer. However you eat them, they are sure to hit the comfort spot.
- For the meatballs:
- 8 ounces smoked bacon
- Pound ground beef, 90/10 or 93/7 preferred
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons dry oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground fennel
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- For the macaroni and cheese filling:
- 3 ounces (about ¾ cup) elbow pasta
- 3.5 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ounce cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- ½ cup half and half
- Begin by preparing the meatballs.
- Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces and place into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the bacon until it is evenly ground and no large chunks of bacon remain.
- In a large bowl combine the bacon with the remaining ingredients. Mix gently until evenly combined. Scoop the meatballs into 30 balls and place on a parchment lined pan and chill, uncovered, for at least two hours.
- While the meatballs chill prepare the macaroni and cheese filling.
- Cook the elbow pasta according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by 1 minute. Drain and rinse to stop the cooking. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt the butter. Once the butter foams add the flour and cook until the flour is just starting to turn a light golden brown color, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the half and half. Once well combine and no lumps remain increase the heat back to medium and add the cream cheese, salt, and pepper. Whisk until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cheese in three additions, making sure the cheese has completely melted before adding in the next addition. Fold in the cooked pasta.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover loosely with plastic, and chill for at least 1 hour.
- To assemble the meat balls flatten one meat ball and add a rounded tablespoon of the macaroni and cheese filling to the center. Flatten a second ball and top the filling, then pinch the edges to seal. Roll the meatball gently in your hands to shape, then place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture then refrigerate the meatballs, covered, for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Uncover the meatballs and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the center of the meatballs are cooked through and reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Let the meatballs cool for 5 minutes before serving.
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