Cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake

This hearty baked pasta dish is perfect family food. It’s easy and quick-ish (what it lacks in super speediness it makes up for in ease), fills tummies and, most importantly, is really good. Adam, who normally isn’t that enthusiastic about ‘pedestrian’ dishes like this, really liked it and kept picking afterwards… It also re-heats well, which is good as I made enough for 8-10 people. 
I don’t know why I feel the need to make enormous portions, thank God I’m not a single woman living alone as I don’t actually think I can cook in small portion sizes! Maybe it’s a deep down longing for a couple more children?? Who knows, but without a freezer at the moment (we are in short term rented property whilst our house is being renovated) I can’t even store stuff for later that way. 
My bechamel sauce is a microwave all in one method and is an absolute life saver. Want less sauce? Simply change proportions (I often make 750ml / 50g / 50g). This would be a great recipe to turn to if you had some leftover pasta – I sometimes find myself with a bowl of the stuff in the fridge, all stuck together, and sometimes it gets slung. I shall sling no more – next time I shall make a creamy pasta bake. 
Guys feel free to adapt away too! Replace the leeks for spinach (wilt and squeeze out moisture first) or even cooked broccoli florets. Leave out the bacon entirely even. Salmon and peas would work well. Replace the cheddar for stilton. Use the basic premise of pasta, cheese sauce and the rest is up to you. 
Serves: About 8 (my pie dish is very large, simply half or reduce by a third if using smaller baking dish)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes 
Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:
400g pasta 
3 medium leeks, rinsed then cut into 1inch slices
4 rashers of smokey streaky bacon, rind removed and cut into lardons 
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon oil 
Knob of butter
For the sauce: 
1 litre of whole milk 
75g plain flour
75g butter 
Salt and pepper
Spoonful of English mustard 
125g mature cheddar cheese 

For the topping:
Handful of breadcrumbs (optional)
50g parmesan

Instructions: 

  1. Render the lardons on bacon down quite slowly until crispy. This takes about 15 minutes. 
  2. Then soften the sliced leeks in the bacon fat, add the garlic after 5 minutes. You want to get them nice and soft, so that the inner rings pop out easily. It’ll take about 15 more minutes. Add a knob of butter to help the leeks soften. (You could fry off the bacon and leeks at the same time in separate pans, saving time but not washing up.) 
  3. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water until al dente. Drain but retain a mugful of pasta water!
  4. Make the sauce in the microwave. Put the flour, butter and milk in a large microwaveable jug or bowl. Set on high for ten minutes, whisking every minute or so. It will suddenly thicken, at that point turn the heat to medium and cook out for two more minutes. Add the cheese and mustard. 
  5. Mix the bacon and leeks, cheese sauce and pasta and pour into a baking dish. Add a small splash of pasta water – this prevents it from being too claggy (and makes it more saucy – remember the pasta soaks up sauce in the oven). Top with breadcrumbs and grate fresh parmesan on top. 
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. 
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