Comfort food, pure and simple. Macaroni cheese is quick and easy to make – once you’ve cracked it, you can knock it up in the time it takes to cook the (dry) pasta. The basic recipe is very simple which also makes it very flexible. It takes very little to turn macaroni cheese into a pasta bake. You can also play with the type and amount of cheese. I personally like strong cheese, an extra mature cheddar, for example, but all kinds of cheeses make good macaroni cheese. It’s rich: the best accompaniment with this is salad, not garlic bread.
The base of the sauce is a bechamel, a white sauce thickened with flour cooked in fat. It can be a little tricky the first time you make it, but it’s a great sauce to know how to make, and once you’ve mastered it, it’s a very versatile sauce. (The trick is in fast whisking, and adding the liquid bit by bit.)
Serves: 2 (or one ravenous person). Prep: 0 minutes. Cooking time: 10-15 minutes.
Stores: For up to three days in the fridge.
- 150 grams macaroni (or other dried pasta)
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
- 50 grams grated cheese
- 250 ml milk (soya milk works well too)
- Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tablespoon measure, or tablespoon
- Cheese grater (optional: if you don’t have one, simply chop the cheese finely)
- Measuring jug
- Pasta pot (a large pot)
- Sauce pot (smaller pot)
- Measure out the milk in the measuring jug.
- Grate the cheese.
- Put the oil into the small pan and heat it up.
- Meanwhile, boil the kettle, fill the pasta pan and cook the pasta.
- Add the flour and whisk until smooth.
- Wait for it to start cooking – the mixture starts bubbling – and let it cook for a minute or two. Don’t let it burn – the flour does need to cook, but it shouldn’t change colour.
- Add the liquid bit by bit, whisking to keep the sauce smooth.
- After adding all the liquid, lower the heat, and add the cheese, whisking until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth again.
- Add the nutmeg and season to taste. Keep warm until the pasta is done.
- Drain the pasta.
- Mix the drained pasta with the cheese sauce and serve.
- Make it like pub food: If you want the pub version of macaroni cheese, grate 20 grams of orange cheddar over the top and grill until it sizzles.
- Make it a bake: Add finely chopped broccoli florets and sweetcorn, put in an oven-proof dish, cover with about 20 grams of grated cheese and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbly at the sides.
- Make it blue: Use a strong Stilton in the sauce. Smelly but lush!
- Spice it up: A teaspoon of wholegrain mustard adds a little pizzas.
- Pretend it’s Mexican: A finely chopped chilli and a small tin of sweetcorn makes macaroni cheese just a little more exotic without making it any less comforting. It also adds one of your five a day. Just.