When I was a kid, I took casseroles for granted. I didn’t understand the complex mathematical formula of nutrition, bulk, and ease that a casserole affords to a parent.
You mean, I can combine everything in one pan, throw it in the oven, and when I pull it out, I’ll have a happy and full family? Done and DONE!
The downside with casseroles is they tend to lack texture. They fall into that slow-cooker style of texture-less mush.
But they don’t have to!
This is one of those dishes where no matter how much extra you THINK you have, you’ll find a way to demolish the entire thing faster than your elastic waistband can expand.
If you happen to succeed in saving leftovers, it’s perfect for breakfast the next day. I like to perform a magic trick in the morning: I cut a giant square, nuke it for 30 seconds, and surprise everyone with how quickly I eat it.
I get why moms were so into casseroles. They’re easy, tasty, and 100 percent healthy. (Don’t fact-check that.)
Guanciale is cured pork cheeks (the front ones). If you can’t find it, use pancetta. If you can’t find pancetta, use bacon. If you can’t find bacon, you probably aren’t living on Earth, in which case, you should come visit sometime! Bacon’s the best thing we’ve got!
1⁄2 pound guanciale, cut into lardons, 1⁄4 inch by 1⁄4 inch by 1 inch 7 tablespoons (100 g) butter 1 tablespoon (10 g) flour 4 cups (1000 g) milk 8 egg yolks 41⁄2 ounces (125 g) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated 2 teaspoons (6 g grated) nutmeg 1 pound (453 g) penne pasta
Heat oven to 350 ̊F.
Add guanciale to a cold skillet large enough to fit it all on one layer. Turn heat to high. Turn heat to low as soon as you hear the sizzle. Cook until one side is browned, then flip each lardon and brown the other side. Once done, transfer guanciale to a paper towel–lined plate.
Make the roux. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour to the saucepan, increase heat to medium-high, and stir constantly. You want it hot enough to cook out some of the flour flavor but not so hot that it starts browning. Reduce the heat if it starts browning. Add milk and bring to a simmer while stirring. Simmer for a minute and then remove from heat. Set aside. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes so it doesn’t cook the egg mixture.
Beat egg yolks to combine in a bowl. Add cheese, nutmeg, and roux. Stir to combine. Set aside.
Bring a small pot of salted water (remember, it should taste like the sea) to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta for 4 minutes. Strain and discard the cooking water.
Transfer pasta to a 8 by 8–inch casserole dish. Add the guanciale and then the custard mix. Bake 30 to 45 minutes at 350 ̊F.