Pasta Gratin with Hazelnuts and Lardons Recipe

Gratin de Pâtes, Noisettes et Lardons

[Pasta Gratin with Hazelnuts and Lardons]

Inspiration came from a recent meal at Le Caméléon, during which one of my dining companions ordered a jumbo foie de veau (veal liver). It appeared, a stately Pasha in a mantle of reduced vinegar, with a side of gratin de macaroni au Parmesan served in one of those miniature cast-iron cocottes that are all the rage these days and that you just might be able to afford with a ten-year payment plan.

The liver was good, the glorified mac ‘n cheese was great — bites were exchanged all around — and the idea stuck with me, ready to resurface on my dining room table this past weekend. Because my main dish of Compotée d’Echine de Porc au Cidre was going to have a sweet persona (the cider, the shallots, the gingerbread spices), I had to give it a frankly savory partner to dance with.

I used penne instead of macaroni (this is what I had on hand) and added a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts and lardons (diced bacon) for bite and flavor, but you can omit or replace these depending on your personal preferences, deadly allergies, and assorted dietary requirements: mushrooms, diced tomatoes, baby spinach or rocket, roasted vegetables, broccoli, brine- or dry-cured ham, quality canned tuna, and leftovers from a roasted chicken would make appropriate substitutes, though not all at the same time. A pasta gratin can also be served as a comforting main dish, with a green salad on the side.

Miscellaneous notes on cuts of meat, bacon, and lardons, because we always need more of those:

- What is referred to as pork belly in English goes by the name poitrine de porc in French (literally: pork chest) or, more fashionably, poitrine de cochon (pig chest).

- In France, if you ask your butcher for bacon, he will give you what is called “Canadian bacon” in the US — round slices of lean, cured pork meat. If you want regular bacon — the artery-clogging kind — the magic words are poitrine fumée. It is classically sold in a thick slice (about 1 cm or 1/2 inch in thickness) so you can dice it to make your own lardons, but if you want bacon for a full English breakfast (good luck finding proper bangers now that M&S has deserted us) just ask for thin slices.

- Bacon-flavored potato chips are available from any French grocery store; I don’t know what sort of bacon they mean by that.

- Pre-cut lardons (diced or matchsticked) in plastic trays are also available from any French grocery store. They are water-injected and full of preservatives; don’t buy them.

Gratin de Pâtes, Noisettes et Lardons

- 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds) small tubular pasta (penne rigate, macaroni, rigatoni, ziti…)
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 50 grams (6 tablespoons) flour
- 2/3 liter (2 2/3 cup) milk
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Freshly ground nutmeg
- 60g (1/2 cup) freshly grated parmesan (comté or gruyère would be good, too)
- 150g (1/3 pound) thickly cut bacon (poitrine fumée), diced and sautéed until crisp
- 60g (1/2 cup) hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (walnuts would work just as well)

Serves 6 as a main dish, 8 as a side.
(The recipe can be halved.)

Cook the pasta to an al dente consistency in a large amount of salted water. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, and leave in a colander to drain.

Prepare the béchamel; have the butter, flour, and milk measured and ready. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to sizzle, add the flour all at once and stir it into the butter with a wooden spoon (this is called a roux blanc). Cook for 3 minutes without coloring, stirring continually until the mixture turns from lumpy to creamy.

Pour in the milk and whisk it energetically into the roux blanc, making sure you don’t leave any clumps on the bottom and sides of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes, stirring with the wooden spoon or the whisk as the mixture thickens. Transfer the béchamel to a large mixing-bowl and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Season the béchamel with salt, flavor with pepper and a hint of nutmeg, and fold in the pasta. Pour half of this mixture into a large gratin dish (glass or ceramic), sprinkle with half of the cheese, and all of the bacon and hazelnuts. Top with the remaining pasta mixture. (The gratin can be prepared a few hours ahead up to this point: cover with foil and refrigerate.)

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Sprinkle the gratin with the remaining cheese and bake for 20 minutes, until heated through and golden at the top. Serve immediately.

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  • Pesql

    MMM mac&cheese… I had the spinach version earlier this week.

  • http://www.superfood.blog-city.com Richard Leader

    My preference is usually for penne rather than the thin elbow-macaroni – I think a nice thick sauce like this one is all the better for flowing through and around the pasta – with macaroni, it doesn’t tend to flow through…

    In terms of bacon here in the UK, we’re usually offered ‘back’ or ‘streaky’ – the streaky bacon is that which comes from the belly and is fattier than the more meaty back bacon. Of course, my preference is for the fatty version any day!
    What tends to be harder is finding bacon in a good thick slab – supermarkets tend to sell just rashers (and they’re often too thin) but a good butcher should be able to provide the thicker stuff. My butcher smokes his own, but you have to ask for a thick piece if you’re looking for lardons and he’ll cut it for you there and then

  • http://www.monikakorngut.com/main.htm Monika Korngut

    Yummy, yummy. I miss cheesy pasta! I’m sure it was delicious.

    Take care,
    Monika :-)

  • http://www.bleedingespresso-sognatrice.blogspot.com sognatrice

    This sounds delicious! I do a baked cheesy pasta with ricotta, mozzarella, and pancetta :)

  • http://www.carablack.com Cara

    And for us veggies…would fake Bac-o Bits work to give the flavor or…?
    You inspired me a few posts ago to make a beet salad with blood orange viniagrette…pre-cooked beets are now available, like in France, at T Joes…merci, Clotilde

  • http://www.blueVicar.com blueVicar

    Yikes! I’ve been buying those lardons in the plastic trays for years! Guess I’ll have to start speaking with the boucher instead. This dish sounds great…it reminds me of many memorable meals of mac and cheese (the ordinary American kind)…hmmm…I might feel a story coming on…

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  • http://bluekitchen.wordpress.com Terry B

    Clotilde–This recipe sounds like a whole new level of comfort food. My tastebuds thank you; my arteries are less pleased.

    Regarding flavored potato chips, I’m a minimalist: I believe in potato chip-flavored potato chips. But on a trip to Canada, I discovered all kinds of exotic chip flavors, including dill pickle and catsup! I didn’t eat them, but brought some catsup-flavored ones back to the states, thinking they were so odd that even my less-than-chip-purist colleagues at work would be grossed out. After a little hesitating, they tried them and proclaimed them good. Sigh.

  • Fiona

    Thanks for your explanation of various cuts of pork. What would be the translation of ‘gorge de porc’?
    I am interested in making Caillettes d’Ardeches but am unsure of which cut of meat it uses. I’ve looked in various cooking dictionaries but never find the exact translation. Perhaps there isn’t a direct translation but I’d be interested in knowing the nearest equivalent.

  • http://thisisthekat.blogspot.com Kat

    Hello, Clotilde! I have been enjoying your blog for about a month now. Your writing is such a pleasure, and your recipes make me drool, but it was only today that I finally had a chance to make something of yours — almond croissants, and they were fab.

    I live in Taiwan, where procuring western ingredients is a challenge. I have seen thick-sliced pork belly at the meat counter, but I don’t believe it’s smoked. I will have to get out my Chinese dictionary and see what sort of understanding I can hash out with the butcher. I am assuming that lardons are smoked, as they fall into the bacon category.

    I think I will put together the gratin tonight, sans lardons. Thanks for suggestioning substitutions.

  • http://www.alwaysace-thelatebloomer.blogspot.com Alice

    Yum, perfect complement to the échine de porc — I’m going away for about a week to Spain, but on my return, I’ll be pulling together these last two recipes. I can’t wait!

  • http://hungryinhogtown.typepad.com/ rob

    Clotilde, what a great take on macaroni. I’m especially intrigued by the addition of nuts. Some crispy lardons is also a great way to make macaroni sing. By the way, you say “hazelnuts, toasted.” Does that mean you use them whole?

  • http://foodblogga.blogspot.com Susan from Food “Blogga”

    This is an elegant take on classic comfort food. The fragrant nutmeg and meaty hazlenuts sound like the perfect additions.

  • http://comidagifs.blogs.sapo.pt buxi

    Hi! This photo really looks iami, but i am on a diet …:( But when i get thin , i will try to make something similar!
    In portuguese we say costoletas de porco for pork belly. hehe
    Kisses from Portugal

  • Joan

    ah Clotilde, perfect! I will joyously copycat that pairing tomorrow when friends visit…looks scrumptious

  • Bliss

    When I first read this recipe I turned to my husband and asked, “Would you eat macaroni and cheese with hazlenuts and bacon?”; bracing myself for a hearty negative. He looked out into the distance meditatively and replied, anti-climactically, “Sure”. As a reward for his open-mindedness I chopped the hazlenuts until only a bit of a crunch remained and toasted them in the butter for the bechamel. We were both quite pleased with the addition of cayenne pepper (do people use that in France?) and with replacing one fourth of the milk with chicken broth. Thank you C&Z for a truly lovely remix.

  • http://www.ifoods.blogspot.com Niall Harbison

    i am a chef who spends a lot of time in France cooking but am Irish. The french do so many things well, infact perfectly except for bacon! Its one of the few things the english/irish could teach them! Trying to make a decent bacon butty for the staff on a saturday in France is a nightmare. Infact i usually end up stocking up in the english specilaity shop in Antibes! Something else i find funny in france is when you order roast beef from a butcher they seend it to you and it’s an actual cut of beef called rosbief, named after the english “les rosbiefs”

  • Paola

    It makes me sad to see a first dish like pasta used to make the garniture of a second dish, but it’s too sadly common here in France.
    The saddest thing is tagliatelle besides a steak.

  • http://www.theroadislife.blogspot.com lacey

    I see your reading Dave Eggers— he is a fabulous writer, isn’t he?!?!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Cara – To make this vegetarian, you could just omit the bacon, or perhaps add in a little smoked paprika to give the flavors a bit of meaty heft.

    Fiona – I’ve never used gorge de porc and unfortunately I can’t offer a translation. However, from what I’ve read, it seems to be a cut that’s used for its fattiness, so you could probably use a piece of pork belly — like bacon, but not smoked.

    Rob – Thanks for pointing this out. The hazelnuts should be chopped, and I’ve corrected the recipe.

    Lacey – Absolutely! I love Dave Eggers’ writing and this collection of stories had some real gems (my favorite being Up The Mountain Coming Down Slowly).

  • paola

    may I suggest that you do not rinse the pasta in cold water? It will make it so incurably tasteless…A good quality pasta, boiled half the suggested cooking time, will not overcook when baked. Trust an Italian pastalover!

  • Bethany

    I have a recipe, very similar to this one, which is one of my staples. People request it all the time–especially my husband. The difference is that I use Gruyere, and I had never thought of hazelnuts! I’m from Seattle where hazelnuts (filberts) are very plentiful, and I can’t wait to add them to my recipe.

  • http://angierex.wordpress.com/ Sunshine

    Fiona- Gorge de porc is the meat from the neck area of the pig.
    It is a fatty meat, not nearly as fatty as pork belly and can be to make a wonderful roast full of fatty flavors.

  • Céline75

    Cooked this week-end : it was delicious !

    Thanks for the recipe !

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      So pleased to hear it Céline, thank you!

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