In the last few days I’ve seen at least 3 recipes for macaroni cheese – the first one by Simon Hopkinson on The Times website, then flicking through the October chapter of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries yesterday and then finally trawling for inspiration in Annie Bell’s Gorgeous Suppers. I felt this was a sign. For a pregnant lady its the ideal combination of carbs and, well, carbs. And cheese.
Yet again I’ve gone for the no meat option but I thought I’d get away with it this time as my husband has just been on a business trip to Nigeria and foolishly ate a piece of meat when offered a plate during a meeting. Unsure exactly what it was he turned to the Nigerian gentleman next to him. ‘Is this pork?’ ‘No, chicken.’ ‘Really? Which bit?’ ‘Gizzard’. Yummy. He was happy to give meat a miss but I had some bacon on standby just in case.
Below is the Simon Hopkinson version as, despite his cookbook ‘Roast chicken and other stories’ being voted the “most useful” fairly recently, I’ve never felt particularly moved to cook any of his recipes. It was pretty simple to make though it used about 5 different pots and pans – so low score for being washing up friendly). The thing is, making a white sauce always makes me slightly nervous. I’ve never taken so long to let the white sauce cook before (10 mins of constant stirring) and would do it again that way as it seemed to work out well but I still felt like I could just *very slightly* taste the flour in it when I came to eating. Is this because I haven’t cooked the roux for long enough first? Next time, why do my apple crumbles never taste as good as the ones my mother makes? and other pressing dilemmas.
By the way, I don’t normally like cooked tomatoes since they’re usually soggy on the outside, raw in the middle, but thinly sliced like Simon Hopkinson suggests makes a pretty top to a fairly ordinary looking dish and doesn’t really taste particularly tomatoey – they just crisp up nicely under their layer of parmesan.
Prep: 10 mins Cooking: 50 mins
1 bay leaf
Freshly grated nutmeg
25g plain flour
100g mature Cheddar or Lancashire, grated
Freshly ground white pepper
150g macaroni [if you are 2 hungry people I would up this to 200g, as this was only just enough…]
4 small, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
To make the cheese sauce, heat the milk with the bay leaf, the nutmeg and a little salt. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and leave for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook gently for a minute or two to make a roux, but on no account allow it to colour. Remove the bay leaf from the milk, add to the roux and whisk together until smooth.
Set the sauce to cook on the lowest heat possible (preferably using a heat-diffuser mat) and stir, fairly constantly, using a wooden spoon. The consistency will soon become silky and unctuous. After about 10-15 minutes, stir in the cheese, then add white pepper, taste and adjust the salt if necessary. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes, then switch off the heat, and cover with a tight-fitting lid; this helps to prevent a skin forming. Set aside and keep warm. [I don’t see why the macaroni couldn’t be cooking while you’re stirring the cheese so all ready to assemble at the same time?]
Add the macaroni to a pan of lightly salted boiling water. Boil until tender, then drain thoroughly. Mix the macaroni with the cheese sauce and spoon into a lightly buttered baking dish. Cover with the sliced tomatoes, slightly overlapping the slices, and sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are lightly blistered and the edges are nicely bubbling up from underneath.