Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Confessions of a cheese addict: Mac ‘n’ Cheese

“Life is great. Cheese makes it better.”

Confession time: I have a complete addiction and obsession with cheese. Forget chocolate, crisps, candy etc it’s all about the cheese for me and the stronger the better. It’s my vice and also my love. Therefore this love affair often leads to a ridiculous abundance of cheese in my fridge and just last night I counted no less then 9 different types of cheese – who needs that much cheese you may ask? And in theory I quite agree but in practice I just can’t stop feeding my addiction to the cheese. It’s all about the cheese. Although I have to insert a disclaimer here that I can’t stand goats cheese –urgh just the smell of it makes me queasy
Anyway enough of my love letter to cheese, what it boils down to is this: I had a vat of cheese in my fridge, it was a horrible cold, dark and rainy evening, and my belly was growling at me. Comfort food was needed to soothe my soul and tummy and what better way then the good ole classic Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Now sometimes you want a simple velvety soft almost bland version which is a real comfort but not me, oh no last night I wanted excitement as well as calmness (I know I’m a mass of contradictions) and so here is my very non traditional version of an old classic – go on give it a chance,  its worth it ….
I’m sorry the ingredient measurements are kindda vague; you have to use your instinct with this dish and just keep tasting it!

Mac n Cheese

Around 100g cubed pancetta
Some breadcrumbs (I used some of my beloved panko)
Around 250g macaroni, cooked for around 10 mins, or according to instructions, and drained
1 leek, halved and sliced (omit this if you are a traditionalist because it will give your dish a strong flavour although using leeks is milder then onions)
Around 25 – 30g butter plus little extra for leeks
2 dessert spoons of plain flour
Milk (I think in the end I used around 1- 1 ½ pints of semi skimmed)
2 ½ large handfuls extra mature cheddar, grated (yum)
1 ½ large handfuls mature red leister, grated
1 ½ large handful of Gruyere, grated
Mushroom ketchup (I use this because I have a total aversion to Lea and Perrins)
1 tsp English mustard (most people use powder as it’s milder, but I like a little kick)
Tomato, sliced and quartered (This is optional of course)

So start by putting the pancetta in a pan – you don’t need to have any oil or butter in the pan as it releases its own oil when cooking. Allow it to brown for a little and then add the breadcrumbs for a couple of minutes so that they are toasted light brown.

bacon and breadcrumbs

Set aside in a dish and use some kitchen paper to wipe the pan clean. In the same pan melt a little butter and some olive oil and add in your leeks. Cook them until soft (this took around 5mins). Now being a bit unorthodox and being a bit lazy when it comes to washing up I leave the leeks in the pan and build the cheese sauce around it, this is so easy and trust me the sauce tastes just as good…. So add the butter (around 25g) and let it melt, then add in your flour. Take it off the heat whilst you make sure that the flour and butter are combined to make a paste of sorts (albeit with leeks running through it). Replace the pan on the heat and add the milk bit by bit, combining each time and constantly stirring so that there are no lumps. When you have the white sauce at a thick consistency (think double cream) add in the cheese

Mounds of my favourite thing - cheese!!

Keep stirring and add mustard and the mushroom ketchup. TIP: I added the cheese bit by bit until I had the flavour and texture I wanted.

Cheese sauce with the leeks - lush
You then add your cooked macaroni and make sure it’s all coated with the delicious sauce. Spoon it into an oven proof dish and add the tomatoes round the edge and then cover with the breadcrumbs and pancetta

Ready for the oven
Bake in oven for around 30mins at a moderate heat. Here's the finished product...

Mac n Cheese: my perfect comfort food on a cold day

I served mine with some mange tout but lets be honest you’d be just as good eating it straight out of the dish. This recipe had enough for around 4-5 portions so I also put some in containers for the freezer, ready to pull out for dinner in a hurry. I didn’t put toppings on these as you can add these fresh once it’s defrosted.

NB: I put the bacon on top rather than through the sauce as I hate reheated bacon when it’s in a sauce (odd hey) and I know that with the amount this makes there will be leftovers! Feel free to go for it though. I love the crunch of the breadcrumbs and bacon, and by adding these and the leeks and the tomatoes it brings this dish into centre stage for a lovely, filling supper!

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