Makes:6 to 8 servings
Don’t let all of the smoky items in this dish scare you—each ingredient builds into a mellow smoked flavor rather than a smoke bomb. The bacon adds a meaty flavor, the paprika a more fruity smoked flavor, the nuts give a little texture and salt, and the smoked Gouda is mixed with regular Gouda to keep it subtle.
What to buy: Panko is coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs. It’s available in the international section of most supermarkets.
Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Arrange the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until browned and crispy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a large paper-towel-lined plate. When cool enough to handle, crumble into small pieces.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and place in a medium bowl. Add the panko and almonds and stir until evenly combined; set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
Add the flour and paprika to the onions and whisk constantly until the flour is no longer raw-tasting, about 3 minutes. Add the measured salt and pepper and stir to combine.
While whisking constantly, slowly add the milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
Increase the heat to medium high and, while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions or until just al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water, making sure to stir the pasta while rinsing, until cooled and the pieces are no longer sticking to each other; set aside in the colander.
Place the sauce over medium heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth. Add the pasta and reserved bacon and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Transfer to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with the reserved panko mixture and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.