When it’s cold and there’s nothing much to look forward to, except more of the same, it’s tempting to reach for some comfort food. I’m encouraging my beloved to eat more of a plant-based diet in January – less work for me – but, the other day, he demanded the ultimate comfort food, macaroni cheese.
To be honest, we had plenty of bits of cheese hanging round in the cheese box crying out to be used so I was happy to oblige. I made enough for six and froze the rest.
1.For the macaroni cheese, pre-heat the grill to its highest setting.
2. Cook the macaroni in a large saucepan of salted, boiling water according to the packet instructions.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, heat the butter until melted, then whisk in the flour until smooth and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.
4. Whisk in the milk a little at a time, waiting until the mixture has thickened after each addition before adding any more and whisking continually. After all of the milk has been added to the mixture, you should have a smooth sauce with the consistency of double cream. If you want to make it extra special, replace some of the milk with single (half and half) cream.
5. Add all of the cheeses (either grated or finely chopped), stirring all the time, until it has melted. Season, to taste, with salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg.
6. Drain the cooked pasta and tip it into the pan containing the cheese sauce. Stir well to coat the pasta and pour into an oven-proof dish.
7. In a food processor, prepare the crispy topping by processing the parma ham, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and fresh parsley. Scatter over the top of the macaroni.
8. Pop under the grill for 2-3 minutes, or until the topping is golden-brown and bubbling. When it’s ready, serve with a fresh green salad.
1.I used a mix of Emmental, ricotta, mozzarella and goats cheese in the cheese sauce but feel free to use what you have available.
2. If you want the dish to be vegetarian, just leave out the parma ham in the crispy topping. Or, for a more Italian feel, use basil leaves instead of parsley. Or omit the topping entirely.
3. If you want a vegan version of the dish, you’ll find it here.
4. You can leave the dish to cool and re-heat in the oven on high for 25 minutes in which case I would undercook the pasta by 1-2 minutes.
5. You can, of course, add other stuff to the macaroni. Lobster would make it really luxurious, as would truffles or porcini mushrooms.
6. As you can see from the photos, my beloved likes a fairly solid macaroni cheese. If you like yours saucier, increase the sauce ingredients proportionately to 750ml (3cups) or decrease the amount of pasta.