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Tuesday 28 January 2014

Recipe: Mac 'n' Cheese (Macaroni Cheese - Rigatoni Actually)

Mac 'n' cheese is an uber classic! It was one of the first things I tried to perfect when I left home! It's a super comfort food, and so versatile. As far as the basics go all you need to be able to make are a béchamel sauce and to make that a simple roux. the rest is cheese, your favourite pasta and all manner of variations depending on your mood! It's great for incorporating leftovers and stands on the plate without need for accompaniment. In fact I suggested an accompaniment for this one and got a reet (I think that's a northern term I might be wrong) good re-educating from my Italian flatmate . . . . . You do not serve a salad with a mac 'n' cheese, that's a different course!!

The cheeses I used for this particular mac 'n' cheese - which make's it the mac daddy were these:

murgu - swiss from belp - raw cows milk
vintage gouda 3yr - dutch from het groene hart - pasturised cows milk
schneeflockli - swiss from rougemont - raw cows milk
munster - french from alsace-lorraine - cows milk

They were leftovers form a rather nice cheese board I put on just recently! (sacrilegious I know . . . but soooo goood!)

My flatmate liked the mac 'n' cheese, I chucked the salad out of the window while no-one was looking!! ; )  

ingredients (serves 6-8)

for the mac 'n' cheese
500g rigatoni / macaroni
300g cheese (grated) (your favourite - better to pick a relatively strong one)
tomatoes (diced)
onions (fine dice)
4 cloves garlic (fine dice)
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin seed
50ml olive oil
1L water
100g butter
100g flour

Cheese: a nice mix that wont hurt the bank too much - Red Leicester, Parmesan or Gran Padano and Mozzarella.

for the topping 
200g mature cheddar (grated)

apparatus / equipment
stick blender (optional)

Hard to tell but this mac 'n' cheese is over a foot wide!!! 

method - the basic steps are as follows:
* Cook the rigatoni / macaroni
* Make stock for the sauce
* Thicken the sauce with a roux
* Add the cheese to the sauce
* Mix sauce and pasta
* Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 20mins @ 180C

here's how in more detail:
Put 1L of water, the onions, cumin, tomatoes and olive oil in a pan and bring to the boil, then set to simmer for 20mins.
Once the stock is ready use a stick blender to make it smooth and pass the stock through a sieve. If you don't have a stick blender skip this step and go for an artisan style sauce personally I quite like it with a little texture!! Smooth is good too!

In a separate pan add 1.5L water and 1tbsp of table salt and bring to the boil. Once boiling add the rigatoni and boil for 7mins.

Worth pointing out here that this is undercooked. If the rigatoni was for meatballs for example, or another sauce to be served immediately 7mins wouldn't be enough!!  9mins would be al dente and 11mins would be soft. We want it undercooked because it's going to be in the oven for 20mins in sauce cooking more!! : )

But you can cook it longer if you want to have a softer mac n cheese. 


Next make a roux to thicken the stock. A roux is a mix of flour and fat. This recipe is vegetarian so I'm going to use butter, but you can use most fats, veg oil, bacon fat, duck fat etc for different flavours.

Melt butter and add the flour, mix well, and stir continuously over the heat to cook out the flour.
Add a fifth of the stock and bring to the boil and mix it in to create a smooth paste.
Repeat: adding the rest of the stock to the mix a third at a time, stirring until you have a smooth and even sauce.

add cheese
Next add the cheese to the sauce, stirring until it's melted and completely dissolved in the sauce. Season it with salt and pepper. Then add the pasta and mix well.

Put the mix into an oven proof dish, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 20minutes @ 180C until it's golden brown!!

thinking ahead
This is a great dish because, it will last over night in the fridge and be easily reheated in the oven (or microwave if you insist!) and you can also freeze it with very little side effects. 

Are you kidding the list is endless, it's a great way to use up odds and ends: Use a tomato based sauce and just top with cheese for a healthier version. Add aubergine caviar, or ham and oregano. A chicken based variation is also pretty good!! : )
As you can see I tried an avocado topping as an experiment, and although it didn't detract from the dish it was a bit like adding double cream to single cream - pointless!

Aubergine caviar mac 'n' cheese

Classic cheddar and chicken mac 'n' cheese

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