As discussed in my last post, I recently decided that it was time for me to make – and eat – macaroni and cheese for the very first time. Whilst searching for a suitable recipe, it soon became obvious that (1) an incredible number of people are apparently obsessed with macaroni and cheese, and (2) there is a remarkable variety (from the very basic to the bizarrely extravagant) to choose from. Although many of them sound incredibly interesting I wanted to start with something simple, homely and traditional.
After some time, I found myself increasingly drawn to a recipe published by Saveur, an award-winning American food magazine that claims to be as interested in celebrating the cultures, environments and people who create food, as the dishes themselves. Following this philosophy, their first book (Saveur Cooks Authentic American) includes recipes taken from “real-life American stories”, and they have this to say about macaroni and cheese:
“We don’t much hold with uptown versions of this classic American ‘comfort food’– the ones made with fancy pasta and three kinds of goat cheese”
Of course, I don’t know that others would agree that what follows is indeed a classic recipe for macaroni and cheese, but it was enough to persuade me that this should be my starting point. Their recipe serves six people. I made half the amount for two and had some left over for lunch the next day.
So. My verdict… I’m happy to say that I really did enjoy it, and certainly understand why it’s such a popular comfort food. But I was surprised that it didn’t feel more decadent – richer, creamier. I actually thought that it should have been, well, cheesier.
It’s not clear to me whether this is simply about having unrealistic expectations. Perhaps it’s a consequence of this particular recipe, or that I didn’t manage to cook it quite as it should have been. I only made one (minor) change, using freshly ground black pepper as I didn’t have any white pepper. I don’t think that this would have made a huge difference, but maybe I’m wrong? I would certainly include more cream next time, adding the full ½ cup even if I make the smaller quantity again. Let’s just say that it’s a work in progress.
Anyway, before returning to this recipe I will be trying a more ‘uptown’ version, and the hunt for a suitable recipe has already begun… Any suggestions?
By the way, the salad that I served it with is by the truly inspirational Yotam Ottolenghi (chargrilled cauliflower with tomato, dill and capers), and although it probably breaks all kinds of rules as an accompaniment to macaroni and cheese, it’s absolutely delicious and actually goes with it very well indeed.
Recipe: Macaroni and Cheese
8 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
½ tsp cayenne
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 ¾ cups hot milk
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 lb short macaroni, cooked
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
Melt 6 tbsp butter in a heavy saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes (the flour mixture must foam as it cooks, or the sauce will have a raw-flour taste). Stir in the cayenne and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Whisk in the hot milk, ¼ cup at a time, and cook, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Reduce heat to low and stir in 2 cups of cheese. Cook, stirring, until cheese melts, about 2 mintutes.
Combine the cheese sauce and cooked macaroni in a large bowl. Sprinkle ½ cup cheese over the bottom of a buttered 8-inch x 11-inch baking dish. Put ⅓ of the pasta in the dish, top with ½ cup cheese, then repeat, layering pasta and cheese, ending with cheese (and making three layers in all).
Bake until the crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.