Aired February 15, 2011
6 slices good-quality smoky bacon, such as apple-wood smoked bacon
Salt and pepper
1 pound whole wheat, short-cut pasta
2 pieces skinless chicken breasts, lightly pounded
EVOO Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, quartered lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 rounded tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cloudy apple cider or chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or celery greens, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 F. Arrange the bacon on a slotted broiler pan or on a rack placed over a baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 15 minutes. Chop and reserve. Switch on the broiler and position the rack in the center of the oven.
Bring a pot of water to boil, salt it, add pasta and cook 1 minute less then instructions indicate, or until just shy of al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
While pasta is working, heat grill pan or cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat. Drizzle chicken with EVOO to coat lightly then season evenly with paprika, salt and pepper. Grill chicken for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer to a cutting board and halve the pieces lengthwise, then thinly slice crosswise.
While the chicken cooks, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until light golden brown and very soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Whisk in cider (or stock), then add milk. Bring to a boil and cook, whisking, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Add thyme and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the cheese until melted.
Add the chicken, bacon and sauce to the pasta and transfer to a casserole. Broil until bubbling and browned, about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley or celery greens.