Though the weather this weekend begged to differ – hot, sticky, and restlessly stuffy – in my head, and according to the falling, browning leaves it’s autumn now. I’m really looking forward to the crisp London mornings and cosy, dark nights (I will regret this when it’s raining upwards and freezing cold) and in a bid to make life feel more wintery, I spent last night cooking one of my absolute favourite comfort foods: mac ‘n’ cheese.
This may have been ill advised: last night I spent another night lying on top, rather than underneath my duvet, so it’s hardly the weather for rich creamy dishes – but as this tastes and smells nothing short of amazing, I couldn’t help myself. It is also (and here comes the disclaimer) absolutely gigantic: a Godzilla of all simple pasta dishes. It’s so big I’m wondering where to start and whether I’ll finish (I already know the answer: you always finish your mac ‘n’ cheese) and whether this will be the time that I’ll get bored of it after having it for lunch in the office four days running (I know the answer to this one too: last time I cooked it for this purpose, I genuinely considered whether I could cook another fresh dish of it for the next week without colleagues wondering whether I was fundamentally odd).
So without further ado, here’s the recipe, with a big nod to Ryan, who tested it first.
For your mac:
500g of macaroni pasta (penne works well too)
For your cheese:
1 litre / 1 quart of milk
350g / 12 oz. grated Gruyere
250g / 8 oz. grated cheddar
6 tbsp of butter
1/2 cup of plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp Colman’s mustard
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
For your fun*:
200g / 6 oz. chopped ham hock
2 leeks, washed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups of frozen peas
* This can be altered according to taste. 400g of crab meat is a posher and very delicious alternative or chopped biltong a wackier addition.
1. Preheat oven to 200 deg centigrade.
2. Melt 3/4 of the butter in a very large saucepan (or wok) on very low heat, until entirely liquid. Add the flour and stir like crazy (with a wooden spoon, unless you want to ruin your non-stick pan) until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow. Meanwhile, get your pasta going.
3. Once it’s properly mixed, up the heat on the butter and flour very slightly and add the milk in stages, mixing thoroughly. Once the mixture is combined, and the flour and butter has dissolved, reduce the heat again. Let this white sauce thicken, stirring regularly. If you want, use a plastic balloon whisk instead.
4. Once the white sauce is noticeably creamier – it should take around 10 minutes – add the grated cheese by the handful. Up the heat very slightly again, stirring the while, until the cheese is fully melted.
5. Add the nutmeg, mustard and pepper to the cheese mix.
6. In a very large mixing bowl combine your mac – which should be done by now – and the cheese, and amalgamate well.
7. Throw in your fun bits (so to speak) – in this case, the ham hock, chopped leeks and frozen peas – and mix thoroughly. Transfer to oven proof dish, adding a final garnish of gruyere (chives and pine nuts would also be delicious) before transferring to the oven. Bake for 20-25 until golden and starting to brown.
8. Scoff. Nom nom nom. I can haz mac ‘n’ cheez.