I love cheese. Cheese is one of those things that I go absolutely crazy for, and it’s terribly upsetting that it’s so expensive here. The awesome thing about Mac and Cheese is, of course, that the actual type of cheese you use doesn’t quite matter. Mac and Cheese isn’t gourmet food; it’s food that you cook in entire batches and reheat over the week because that’s what you do when you haven’t got the time to eat properly. It is, however, awesomely delicious comfort food that is terribly sinful and fattening and probably really, really bad for your heart in the long run. Then again, I do tend to say that about every single thing under the sun that’s edible, so you can probably ignore me.
What I love about Mac and Cheese is also the flexibility of the dish: you can add a variety spices to the cheese sauce if you want a more ‘grown-up’ version of the dish, or you can opt for the ‘posh’ cheeses that I haven’t got the money for (I did mix in some Comté that I bought in Paris the second time I made this dish, just to see what would happen). It’s really about what you feel like eating.
The trickiest part of this recipe is probably making the béchamel for the cheese sauce; I burnt the sauce the first time I tried to make it, although the key here is constant stirring while making sure the pan isn’t too hot. Everything else should be relatively easy, without much prep work to be done before the cooking.
- 40 g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 2 slices white bread
- 450 mL milk
- 25 g all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tbsp salt, plus extra for cooking macaroni
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
- 170 g cheddar
- 75 g Gruyère (substitute with 75 g cheddar if unavailable)
- 200 g elbow macaroni
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, then add the macaroni and cook until the outside is just cooked while the inside is still underdone. This should take between 3 to 4 minutes; the macaroni should have a bit of crunch when you try to bite down on it. Then quickly remove the pot from heat, transfer the macaroni to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Then set aside.
Next, melt approximately a quarter of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then either cut or tear the bread slices into small pieces (about a quarter or half an inch in size). Add the bread pieces to a small bowl, pour the melted butter into the bowl and toss. Set this aside as well.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 190ºC/375ºF. Grease a 1-quart (or 1-litre) casserole with some butter. Warm the milk in a microwave and melt the remaining butter in saucepan over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour and stir using a balloon whisk for about a minute, mixing well. Then slowly add the hot milk to the saucepan, bit by bit, making sure the mixture remains smooth. Continue whisking after all the milk has been added, until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken; this would take around ten minutes or so. Once the béchamel is ready, remove the pan from the heat and stir in two-thirds of the cheddar, three-quarters of the Gruyère, salt, paprika, nutmeg and black pepper to make the cheese sauce. Finally, stir in the macaroni using a wooden spoon, mixing well.
Pour the macaroni and cheese sauce mixture into the casserole. Sprinkle the bread and remaining cheeses over the macaroni. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown. Transfer the casserole to a wire rack for about five minutes to cool, then serve with a salad or some steamed vegetables (I ate mine with some steamed broccoli gently sautéed in melted butter).