Macaroni Cheese, or Mac Cheese to most, makes a great Saturday evening pasta bowl dinner while catching up with that DVD backlog or the latest “Strictly…”.
This probably serves 3 people or a very hungry couple with some leftovers for supper or the following day’s lunch. (I have to say that microwaved leftover Mac Cheese is definitely a good thing.) Personally, I like Marshall’s small macaroni pasta tubes though some prefer a penne size where more sauce can get into the tube. Cheese-wise I like the slightly milder Gruyere, though there’s nothing wrong with a cheddar. I like it fairly traditional and simple. If you think pre-seasoning the milk with bay and shallot is a load of old cheffy guff, then don’t. I sometimes put a small amount of thinly sliced tomato on top and then sprinkle the grated cheese, tomato haters won’t. If things like chive are anathema to you then leave ’em out.
- 60g plain flour
- 60g butter
- 1 tsp English mustard powder, or 1-2 tsp of dijon mustard
- 850ml Milk (I use semi-skimmed but any should do)
- Bay leaf
- 250g Macaroni pasta
- Gruyere cheese 200-300g to taste
- 1-3 tbsp chopped chives (to taste)
- Seasoning (salt & pepper)
- Tomato (optional)
In summary, you make a roux, to make a béchamel sauce. Cook the pasta. Combine with the béchamel (into which you put three-quarters of the grated cheese). Sprinkle with cheese and oven bake for 15-20 minutes. In detail….
- Up to an hour before warm the milk with the bay leaf (and some peppercorns, if you like, even a few slices of onion or shallot wouldn’t go amiss) and leave to infuse for 60 minutes. This adds a nice warm bay/savoury flavour to the milk.
- Preheat the oven to 180C Fan
- Put a big pot of salted water on to boil in preparation for the pasta
- Melt the butter in a pan, and then whisk in the flour to make the roux. Let it cook off on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. This prevents the béchamel having a floury taste.
- Make the béchamel by slowly adding and whisking in about half to two-thirds of the milk. (Making it too milky at the start means the milk might burn on the bottom of the pan. You can add the last of the milk later.)
- Simmer the béchamel very gently for about 5 minutes, again this cooks out a flouriness. Add a pinch of salt and a good twist of black pepper. Also, grate in a decent amount of nutmeg. I find about a third of a whole nutmeg is OK. Find what works for you.
- Put the pasta on, 10 minutes is fine. Keep stirring the béchamel as it continues to simmer so it doesn’t burn.
- Grate the cheese, a coarse grate is Ok, and it’s quicker.
- Add the last of the milk to the béchamel to warm up
- One minute before the pasta is ready put in about three-quarters of the cheese to the béchamel, so it begins to soften and melt into the sauce, taking the pot off the heat.
- Stir in the chopped chives if you are using
- Drain the pasta and put in your oven dish
- Add the cheesy béchamel and stir gently to mix through
- Add tomatoes on top or any other garnish if using. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a smirr of Nutmeg
- Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes
- If it’s too pale on top turn the heat of the oven up to max for 6-8 minutes to brown the top slightly
Remove it from the oven and let it stand for at least 5-6 minutes to settle and cool slightly. Serve in pasta bowls, which you won’t need to pre-heat as it’s such a hot dish.
- You could add some browned pancetta to the béchamel sauce
- Mix some breadcrumbs with parmesan and layer the top with this to form a crunchy texture