Ok, a disclaimer. I had this post planned and written before this week’s Masterchef mac and cheese challenge – although to me it’s mac cheese and never ever mac and cheese. You see, I have a thing about mac cheese – so much so that I’ve always said that one day I’d write a cookbook (naturally for mine and my family’s viewing only) devoted purely to mac cheese. I’ve even got some potential titles: Mac Attack or It’s All About the Mac or even Mad About Mac.
To me, it’s the ultimate in luxuriously, indulgent comfort food – and is more versatile than you’d think.
For starters, there’s the basic mac. This one is best with crumbly bacon bits over the top and served with chips. Then there’s the tuna mac – which is sort of like tuna mornay but with a cheese and corn sauce.
When we really want to over indulge I go for the cheffy quattro formaggio souffled mac cheese, and when it’s fireside warmth that I’m after, a drier baked mac cheese with leek stirred through it is the go.
Of course, there are more – many more – but this one is probably the healthiest of all the macaroni recipes I regularly use – if “healthy” is an adjective one can apply to Macaroni Cheese!
It’s got a fabulous golden colour, a crunchy herby topping, and beautifully squidgy insides. The quantities are fairly loose- I don’t tend to weigh stuff out. You can if you want. I’m also not precious about the type of cheese I use – romano, parmesan, whatever…just make sure it’s freshly grated and not that powdery, smelly stuff.
I normally make this recipe with low fat milk – for 2 reasons: it is usually all I have in the fridge and also, but naturally more importantly, it makes me feel so much more virtuous, if, indeed one can feel virtuous making macaroni cheese!
Likewise, even though the pancetta does give a far superior taste and is worth the trip to the deli section if you have time or are planning ahead, I’m not great at planning ahead, so tend to make do with the bacon that’s usually in the fridge.
If you really want to kid along with the faux healthy thing, serve it with a green salad- it helps cut through the cheese – but we prefer to eat it out of noodle bowls on our laps in front of the telly with a glass of red.
What you need:
- Olive Oil
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1 dried chilli, crushed, or 1 large pinch of dried chilli flakes
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 1 large butternut pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into 2cm chunks
- 400g macaroni
- 300ml milk
- 1 cup (250ml) thickened cream
- 150g parmesan, grated
- 8 slices rindless bacon or pancetta, roughly diced
- Sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
- 3-4 slices day old bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks (about 150g)
What you do with it:
- Add a splash of olive oil to a saucepan over medium-low heat and fry the garlic gently until light brown.
- Add the chilli, cinnamon & pumpkin and a glass of water or 2.
- Cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for about 20mins or until the pumpkin is soft.
- Uncover & boil the liquid around the pumpkin until reduced to almost nothing.
- Remove from the heat and take out the cinnamon. Mash the pumpkin (I usually use a fork) & season. I usually mix through the milk & cream at this point.
- Meanwhile, cook macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente. Don’t overcook the pasta at this stage as will be getting additional time in the over with the sauce.
- Drain it well and toss it into the mashed pumpkin mixture.
- Add ¾ of the parmesan and season. Spoon it into a large (2 litre) baking dish.
- Cook the pancetta or bacon in a large frypan over medium heat until light brown. Add rosemary and bread, fry gently for 1-2 minutes & then pulse in a food processor until chopped.
- Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining parmesan, then top with the bacon, bread & rosemary crumbs.
- Bake in an oven that you’ve had the forethought to heat to 200degCfor 30mins or until warmed through, and crispy and bubbling on top.
If you’re gluten free simply substitute the macaroni for your usual gluten free pasta and omit the breadcrumbs.
Ok, it’s Thursday, so that means sharing our happy. Like the Partridge Family sang C’mon Get Happy! Am I the only sad case old enough to remember that?
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