Believe it or not, before I made this dish, I was practically a mac and cheese virgin.
I’ve ordered it as a side dish plenty of times in restaurants, but have never eaten it as a main course before and have NEVER cooked it myself. The UK doesn’t appear to love mac and cheese as much as our american counterparts, but the realisation that I’d never cooked this iconic dish surprised me.
Obviously, this need to be rectified right away and with american food still at the top of the food trend list, a delicious sounding recipe was pretty easy to find.
I don’t know why I waited so long to make this. It’s creamy, cheesy and pretty much everything you need out of a bowl of comfort food.
- 1.2 litres whole milk
- 1 medium onion, thickly sliced
- 5-10 cloves
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- ½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
- 100g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 90g plain flour
- 500g macaroni (I used gluten free pasta)
- 500g cheddar or other mature hard cheese, coarsely grated
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
- 6 tbsp double cream
- 50g coarse, day-old white breadcrumbs
- For the salad
- 100g streaky bacon or pancetta, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- ½ tsp maple syrup
- 4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 150g mixed leaves, such as baby spinach, watercress and rocket
1. Put the milk, onion, cloves, bay leaves and cracked peppercorns into a large pan, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and set aside for 20 minutes to infuse.
2. Return the milk to the heat and bring back to the boil, then strain into a jug. Discard the flavourings.
3. In a separate large pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the flour and cook gently, stirring, for about 30 seconds, then remove from the heat. Gradually beat in the hot milk, then return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring. Lower the heat, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.
4. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water for 10 minutes or until tender but still a little al dente. Drain, then return to the pan, off the heat.
5. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Take the sauce off the heat, then stir in 450g of the grated cheese, half the cayenne pepper, the 1 tbsp mustard and the cream, then season with salt and white pepper. Stir the sauce into the cooked macaroni. The mixture should be nicely moist. Spoon into a buttered, deep 3 litre ovenproof dish.
6. Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining 50g grated cheese and ½ tsp cayenne pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over the macaroni, then bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling hot.
7. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium-high and make the salad. Put the bacon/pancetta slices side by side on a foil-lined baking tray. Bake in the oven with the macaroni for 6-8 minutes until richly golden. Remove the bacon/pancetta from the oven, then lift onto kitchen paper and set aside to cool. Crumble into small pieces.
8. In a small bowl, whisk the 1 tsp mustard, vinegar and maple syrup together, then gradually whisk in the olive oil to form a smooth, thick dressing. Season with a little salt and pepper, then set aside.
9. When the macaroni cheese is cooked, slide the dish under the grill for 1-2 minutes. In a salad bowl, toss the leaves with the dressing and bacon/pancetta pieces and serve with the mac ’n’ cheese.