Chicken and Bacon Mac-N-Cheese

•6 slices good-quality smoky bacon, such as applewood-smoked
•Salt and pepper
•1 pound whole wheat short-cut pasta
•2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lightly pounded
•Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 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 fresh thyme, chopped
•Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
•1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
•1 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
•Chopped flat leaf parsley or celery greens, for garnish
PreparationPre-heat the 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 a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook 1 minute less than the instructions indicate, or until just shy of al dente. Drain and return to the pot.

While the pasta is working, heat a grill pan or cast iron griddle over medium-high heat. Drizzle the chicken with EVOO to coat lightly, then season evenly with the paprika, salt and pepper. Grill the 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 size saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until light golden and very soft, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Whisk in the cider (or stock), then the milk. Bring to a boil and cook, whisking, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, 3-4 minutes. Add the thyme and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the cheeses 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 the parsley (or celery greens).

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