My first discovery, in the field of Macaroni and Cheese, was that my pantry has a distinct lack of macaroni. Or, indeed, any of the short-tube pasta family. This leads to my second discovery: Orecchiette makes perfectly serviceable macaroni and cheese. Although the name seems a little misleading, alas Orecchiette and Cheese just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
My third Macaroni and Cheese discovery is an important one: when faced with a pile of richness, such as comes with Macaroni and Cheese, possibly the very finest accompaniment is pickled red onions. I imagine that it is the case there are many other perfectly wonderful pickles that would also offer the tangy flavour contrast that pickled red onions offer, although it is important to bear in mind just how beautiful and bright they are in contrast to the shades of white in Macaroni and Cheese.
The fourth, is another insight into the making of Macaroni and Cheese: making a roux from duck fat instead of butter is a splendid idea, and works really well. The fifth – if you’re going to add something delicious and porky to it, then it’s going to be even more delicious if you brown it at the start, and allow it to cook in the white sauce.
The sixth discovery I made, is that I really should keep better track of the quantities of ingredients as I cook. The trouble with making this kind of thing by eye, is that next time your eye might lie. So here is a vague sort of a guide.
For making enough for one hungry person, or two people who don’t eat enormously…
- In a large saucepan, start boiling water for the pasta.
- Meanwhile, finely dice one shallot, and roughly chop anything delicious and porky you were thinking about adding (You do not, of course, have to add anything porky, and you could, indeed, add anything your heart desired. Mushroomy things seem like they would be delicious.)
- In a smaller pot, on medium heat, combine the shallots and porky-things with about a tablespoon of duck fat (or butter), and gently cook until it all smells delicious. Around about now, the water for the pasta is probably boiling, so go right ahead and add three’ish handfuls of pasta. You’ll get about the right amount. I trust you. It’ll get a little larger when you cook it, so imagine what your casserole dish would look like mostly filled with cooked pasta, and add about the right amount for that to happen (:
- Add some flour to the smaller pot. Within my recollection, I think I added about a teaspoon and a half; but really I shook the bag at it (carefully) until it looked right (which is not useful at all to anyone who doesn’t know what I mean. And if you already knew, you’d be making up your own Macaroni and Cheese as you went along). If you don’t add enough, you’ll end up with a sauce which is a little too liquidy. If you add too much, however, you’ll end up with something gluey. Be sure to whisk the flour in until there are no lumps. Otherwise doom..
- Once the flour has had a chance to cook, add a cup or so of milk to the pot, and embark on another round of whisking to ensure there are no lumps. Because lumps are not delicious.
- Keep on whisking while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking. It’ll thicken up after a while.
- Then, realise you haven’t done anything about cheese. Grab a wedge of blue cheese from yonder fridge. Chop it up roughly into chunks (about 1cm/half inch bits), and stir into the sauce. At this point, if the pasta hasn’t quite finished, you can turn the element off and allow the sauce to continue to be warmed by residual heat.
- Once the pasta is done, drain, then combine with the sauce. The sides of my saucepan are higher than my casserole dish, so I dump pasta on the sauce, stir to coat, and then transfer to a casserole dish. On top, I added finely grated pecorino, since that’s what lives in my fridge. I hear breadcrumbs are popular (panko, in particular), but breadcrumbs are not something that lives in my pantry, so no breadcrumbs for me.
- Casserole goes into the oven (About 180°C) until it smells delicious and has browned on top. I’m not sure how long it was, I was hungry and in a trance, waiting for my delicious food. It was probably about 15 minutes. However, the kind of time dilation that takes place while you are waiting for pizza to be delivered was taking place, so there’s no way to be sure.
- Once done, let it sit for five minutes before attempting to eat. That gives a chance for the sauce and such to make friends and be more delicious. And if you did try and eat it, you’d go “Ow, my mouth. My burning mouth”. So it’s for the best, really. You’ll thank me.
Then the eating! Don’t forget to add pickles (: They really are a very nice flavour and texture contrast to the carby-cheesy delight that is… Macaroni and Cheese.
(Here’s a funny thing about me and Macaroni and Cheese: For a ridiculously long time I’ve been terrified of making bechamel sauces. To say that I am terrified is to overstate massively, I assure you. It’s less terror and more aware of my incompetence – the times I tried, they turned out horribly. Turns out I was probably adding too much flour all along. Oh well, now I know. For Christmas dinner, I was recruited as chief sous chef. Job number one, the most important job among all jobs I had to do: make four cups of mornay sauce. Oh the horror. As it turns out, it worked out amazingly, and thus, I appear to have inadvertently gained the super power of making bechamel based sauces. Victory for me! I rather suspect that I should make efforts to conquer my other sauce nemesises: mayonnaise and hollandaise.)