- Food & Drink
Just after Christmas I saw a tweet from The Cheeselover (who masquerades as @winematcher on Twitter) reminding the food blogging world of her Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge. My mind filled with images of steaming pasta and pools of cheese sauce, so I went to my wardrobe in search of my thinking cap. This was a challenge I wanted to get stuck into.
Flicking through Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper, I hit on a recipe for macaroni tossed with cream, butter and flour and then finished with melted Parmesan. My mind leapt from that to Mrs Beeton’s nutmeg-scented cauliflower cheese, which I’ve been making to go with Sunday roasts since I was a teenager. Between these two dishes, there was a macaroni cheese recipe lurking that might come close to being described as The Ultimate.
This is the best kind of plain food. The bay and nutmeg do their best to take the edge off the stomach-punchingly rich flavours of the cream, cheese and butter but in the end, it’s still as warm and cosy as climbing under a pile of blankets with a hot water bottle. And after eating it, you’ll struggle to do anything other than slump into sleep. It needs a salad of bitter and spicy leaves (such radicchio, watercress and rocket) with it or after it. A pudding would probably be excessive, but if you’ve still got some Quality Street to finish, that might work.
50g plain flour
450ml whole milk
300ml double cream
1 bay leaf
350g macaroni pasta
Nutmeg, to taste
150g strong Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 tsp Dijon mustard
30g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then stir in the flour, a sprinkle at a time, with a wooden spoon to make a smooth paste. Cook, stirring constantly for 3–5 minutes until lightly golden. Combine the milk and cream in a jug and slowly pour into the roux, a splash at a time, stirring constantly to combine. Once all the milk and cream has been added, add the bay leaf. Keep over a low heat and cook, stirring, for 15 minutes until thickened.
2 Meanwhile, add the macaroni to a large pan of boiling water and boil for 8–10 minutes, or until tender but still with some bite. Drain and return to the pan.
3 Take the sauce off the heat. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the Cheddar and Dijon. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Pour over the macaroni and toss to coat the pasta. Spoon the pasta and sauce into a heatproof dish and sprinkle over the Parmesan. Grill for 2–3 minutes, until golden, crisp and bubbling. Serve immediately.