Macaroni and cheese…mid-summer comfort food.

August 10, 2011

As I sit here at the kitchen table writing this, the oven is having its wonderfully wicked way with the macaroni and cheese…cooking it to sheer hot and creamy perfection…ARGH. I love pasta. I love cheese (and butter and so on…) – so, naturally, mac and cheese is a huge winner (i’ve even been known to reach for Kraft’s ready-made stuff…which is probably a little sacrilegious and something that I should not admit to. Oh well). I’ve never actually made macaroni and cheese before, as mum does a brilliant version herself – when I was little and mum picked us up from school, inevitably, one of the first questions we asked on jumping into the car was ‘what’s for dinner?’; the answer of ‘macaroni and cheese’ always resulted in an overexcited little squeal. In my mind i’ve forever seen it as a very homely, comforting dish, not something to be ordered in a restaurant. However, the other day, a couple of friends and I went to this (relatively) new, slightly dingy, speakeasy-style American Diner in Soho, Spuntino, where we ordered the most scrumptiously creamy and rich mac and cheese. It was absolutely delicious and so unexpected. The only other mac and cheese I’ve tasted which came close to this was in a little bistro in the Dordogne (my three-year old cousin had actually ordered it off the kid’s menu and I, like many a greedy adult, decided to polish off her leftovers, wishing that I too had been able to order off the kid’s menu….)


I’m not sure where my mum’s recipe comes from, but it is a slightly elaborate version, complete with onions and bacon. I decided to opt for a bog-standard mac and cheese – bechamel sauce, lots of cheese – bish, bash and bosh.

Smitten Kitchen led me to Martha Stewart’s recipe and it did not disappoint one teensy bit. It was wonderfully easy to make (one of the beauties of a simple mac and cheese), and came out of the oven bubbling and oozing with yummy creamy cheesiness. The only variations I made to the recipe were a) I left off the breadcrumb topping (there’s enough carbohydrate in it already) and b) I used conchiglie instead of macaroni – we had some shells knocking around in the cupboard and I thought ‘why not’. It worked well and made it perhaps a little less stodgy. (I’m also becoming increasingly lax when it comes to precise measurements and tend to just throw things together with little accuracy…whether this is down to laziness/cockiness, i’m not too sure, so this recipe might be even better if followed word-for-word!)

This is definitely going on the to-make-more-often list….

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
Couple of dashes ground nutmeg
Black pepper
Couple of dashes cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated medium/mature cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère
1/2 pound macaroni (or whatever other pasta you choose to use)

1. Preheat oven to 360°F/180 C.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook and stir for about 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick (8-12 minutes)

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cup Gruyère and set the sauce aside.

5. Boil some water, add pasta and cook for about 4 minutes, or until just underdone. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère ontop. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

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