- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, or as needed
- 1 pound mezze (short) penne pasta
- 1 pound thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 1/2 cups shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese, divided
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese around the inside of the dish.
- Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, stir in the penne, and return to a boil. Cook the penne uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
- Place the bacon pieces into a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Retain 1/4 cup of bacon drippings. Set the bacon pieces aside.
- Melt butter and bacon drippings together in a large saucepan over medium heat, and cook and stir the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour, stirring frequently until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in the thyme, salt, and pepper, and then whisk in 1/4 cup Parmesan and 3 cups Cheddar cheese, stirring constantly until the Cheddar cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and thick.
- Stir the cooked penne pasta into the cheese sauce, then lightly mix in the cooked bacon. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese over the top. Cover the dish with foil.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the pasta is hot and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn on the broiler. Remove the foil, and broil the dish until the cheese topping is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes.
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