Macaroni cheese has been popular in the UK since 17th century; it was clearly an English attempt to recreate an Italian pasta dish. In fact, macaroni became so fashionable that by the 18th century the word "macaroni" was used as a slang term to describe the aristocratic fops and fribbles in their preposterous pasta shaped wigs. (This may have derived from the fact that the word "maccherone" is Italian for "buffoon").
You can just make a standard béchamel sauce. I also tend to use a mixture of strong cheddar and Parmesan. I often use whatever cheese needs to be used up, which could also include Fontina, Edam, Pecorino, Gruyere or Emmenthal. I have even used bits of blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola. I also like to use a larger tubular pasta such as penne or rigatoni rather than macaroni as I prefer the texture.
Skill level: Easy
1 x small onion, peeled and quartered
1 x stick of celery, roughly chopped (optional)
1 x small carrot, roughly chopped (optional)
2 x sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp grated nutmeg
6 x black peppercorns
400g macaroni pasta (or penne or rigatoni)
200g grated cheese (I use a mixture of strong cheddar and Parmesan)
1 tbsp fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
- First infuse the milk by placing the milk together with the onion, celery, carrot, thyme, nutmeg and peppercorns in a small sauce pan and gently bring to the boil. Take off the heat and cover, then set aside to infuse and cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Melt the butter over a gentle heat in another saucepan.
- When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour, a teaspoon at a time. After each teaspoon of flour, stir vigorously to ensure that all of the flour has absorbed the butter to create the roux.
- Cook the roux for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. You need to cook the roux in order that you don't end up with the taste of uncooked flour.
- The roux is ready when it has started to colour and smells of caramelised butter. It will also begin to look like honeycomb.
- Strain the milk into a jug and pour about one third of the strained milk into roux. Stir vigorously to ensure there are no lumps. When the sauce is smooth and thick, add the next third. Continue stirring and then add the remainder of the milk and stir to ensure that the sauce is smooth.
- Bring to a gentle boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. The sauce will start to thicken. Stir occasionally.
- Add the cheese and stir until melted. Add plenty of black pepper. (You probably won't need any salt as the cheese should make it salty enough). Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions in plenty of boiling water. Make sure that you under cook it by about 2 to 3 minutes. So if the instructions tell you to cook for 8 minutes, cook for 6 minutes. (Later on you will bake the pasta and it will continue to cook in the cheese sauce). Drain and tip into a large shallow ovenproof dish which has been lightly buttered.
- Add the roasted tomatoes and mix gently, so that the tomatoes don't break up.
- Pour over the cheese and mix gently. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove the foil and cook uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes, until the top is bubbling and golden..
- Wait a few minutes before serving. Be careful, it will be very hot!
- Add a teaspoon of French mustard to the cheese sauce for extra bite.