I made mac n cheese last night for a friend who came over to supper. He wanted to go over his pitch for a business idea – he’s made it to the semi finals of an entrepreneurial competition (very exciting) so it was a bit of a working dinner. He’s eaten my mac n cheese before and loves it, so it was the obvious choice.
I made up a big batch which I have frozen. Once defrosted I’ll heat it up in a saucepan rather than the microwave, adding some extra cheese and a bit of milk to loosen the sauce (which stops it being too dry the second time around).
The secret to my macaroni cheese is a really thick and really cheesy sauce. I often use a combination of different cheeses but on this occasion I used a very mature cheddar (and loads of it). I always add some cayenne pepper and a good dollop of Dijon mustard to the sauce (along with plenty of seasoning). I’ve made mac n cheese with margarine but I don’t think you can beat butter as the basis for the white sauce.
Giving it the elbow
My personal preference for the pasta is elbow macaroni because it holds the sauce well – although last night I used the short, traditional macaroni shape because that’s all I could find in the Co-op. I actually prefer my pasta to be well cooked, rather than al dente (yes I’m a freak) but with macaroni cheese I don’t think it matters anyway. Face it – you are mainly here for the cheese sauce.
Some people might serve this dish with a nice crisp salad but I think it’s best on its own (or maybe with a massive squirt of Heinz ketchup and washed down with a nice big glass of red wine). I’ve added some teeny tiny, sweet tomatoes to the top of the bake because they needed to be used up but they’re really not necessary. Just make sure you bake it enough to get a crispy topping ( I think I should have baked it a tad longer actually). If you do you’ll be coming downstairs after midnight (if Nigella can do it, so can you) to scrape off some crunchy bits to stuff in your mouth – either standing in the kitchen or to take back to bed with you.
Finally I’d like to say I hope you weren’t expecting anything photogenic or Instagram worthy for the feature image of this blog post. Really good macaroni cheese has far too much style to worry about what it looks like.
Makes six portions.
- 150g butter
- About 150g plain flour
- About 650 mls milk
- 500g macaroni
- Heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
- Half teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 500g cheese (I like mature cheddar)
- Salt and pepper to season
- Tomatoes for a garnish topping (very optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook for 7-9 minutes and drain.
- In the meantime heat the butter in a saucepan and gradually add the flour, stirring. Cook for about five minutes.
- Warm the milk (I warm the milk in the microwave for about 50 seconds. You don’t want to put milk straight from the fridge into the sauce).
- Add the milk to the roux (butter and flour), stirring constantly. Keep the heat fairly low at first, increasing it gradually. Stir with a whisk to avoid lumps in the sauce.
- Add the cheese, keeping some back for the topping. Add the mustard, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Keep stirring and cook for about 10 minutes.
- Pour the pasta into an oven proof dish then pour over the sauce, mixing well and finishing with a generous layer of grated cheese (and tomatoes if you like). Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until bubbling and crispy.