This delicious and easy macaroni cheese recipe is taken from my first cookbook Friends, Food, Family.
It is still in print on Amazon US here with this MUCH nicer cover (below). I loathe the British cover!
We ate a lot of macaroni cheese as children, and I think it is now hard wired into my brain as the ultimate comfort food. Whilst we often had variations, maybe Sunday’s roast beef leftovers minced on Monday and layered over the pasta, or a layer of buttery fried breadcrumbs added to the grated cheese topping, it is the simple version to which I always return, seduced by the silken smooth sauce, powerful cheese hit, and tummy-filling goodness.
I’ve never really understood the approach that sees the traditional béchamel sauce replaced by a mixture of cheeses, even God forbid, cottage cheese. Use too much cheese and the mixture goes grainy, often separating to leave a film of orange oil on top of the pasta.
My special ingredient is Dijon mustard: the kick enhances the cheese flavour beautifully, without tasting, well, mustardy, and it also serves to help thicken the sauce too. I also find that it slightly lessens the amount of cheese that you need to use, as it adds so much rich flavour.
On that note, be careful not to over thicken the sauce before you add the pasta, as the macaroni will absorb some of the liquid when it is flashed under the grill to melt the cheese topping and you will end up with claggy macaroni cheese – the cardinal sin.
Ingredients to serve four people
350 grams Macaroni
1 litre milk (I like whole fat, but it really doesn’t matter – use what you have to hand)
50 grams flour – any flour is fine. You could even use cornstarch
3 tablespoons mustard
250 grams Cheddar cheese
45 grams butter
For the topping:
150grams Cheddar cheese (or as much as you like)
If you want to have a fried breadcrumb topping I would estimate about three slices of bread, crumbled – you’ll need to do this in a food processor, and then fried in a tablespoon of butter/ghee/oil, and a little salt, would be about right.
MACARONI CHEESE METHOD
Grate the cheese for both the sauce and for the topping. I use the grating attachment on my food processor, but you can equally do this by hand. (I tend to keep bags of grated odds and ends of cheese in the freezer, and add this straight to the sauce without defrosting.)
Cook the macaroni in plenty of boiling water according to packet instructions – usually about eight minutes. After you have drained the pasta, pour over a kettle of boiling water to rinse off some of the starch, as this helps reduce the risk of clagginess.
Meanwhile, melt the butter until it sizzles, and sift in the flour – do sift, as it helps avoid lumps. Stir together rapidly, until a smooth paste is achieved. Then start to add the milk. I like to start with about 150ml, just to get the sauce going, when that is mixed together, add about 250ml, whisk this together, being sure to scrape the corners of the pan, where the paste congregates. When it has started to thicken, add another big slosh of milk, and vigorously whisk together.
Add the mustard, which you will find helps the thickening process, and whisk.
Continue until all the milk has been added. (I like to add the milk in increments as I find it thickens quicker this way, and there is less likelihood of the sauce catching.)
Add the cheese, and beat into the sauce with a wooden spoon.
Turn on the grill.
When the sauce is thick, but still slightly runny, tip in the pasta, and stir carefully together.
You can either serve this in one big dish, or in individual ones. I find it fills about six small pots.
If you like, a few sliced tomatoes on the top before you add the cheese can be very nice.
Strew the grated cheese over the top of the pasta sauce. If you are using fried breadcrumbs for a crispy topping, then sprinkle these over the cheese.
With breadcrumbs – place in the oven for about 15 minutes until the dish is bubbling.
With grated cheese topping only – place under the grill for about 5-10 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling. Do keep an eye on it, as it can burn in an instant.
Serve with a green salad for health. Or just pile it into bowls and eat on your laps, curled up on the sofa with the dog and remote control.