There are no strange ingredients or weird additions in this Mac recipe, unless you count my home smoked butter which is optional. What I’ve tried to do with this recipe is make the very most out of a few run of the mill ingredients that are easily sourced.
This is true comfort food for me, and as far away from the canned stuff as you can get. It’s rich, creamy and full of flavour and although we usually treat it as the star of it’s own show, it makes a great side dish at a BBQ. You want it to be able to stand up to the big boys though, and not be a bland afterthought. Otherwise what’s the point?
The method may seem pretty lengthy for macaroni cheese, but the way I see it is, if you’re going to make something from scratch, why not make it the best it can possibly be?
The most important stage here is the infused milk. Not difficult at all, but vital for a tasty cheese sauce base. Don’t skip it.
Serves 4 as a main dish. 6-8 as a side
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
A good grate of nutmeg (a big pinch)
2 fresh bay leaves (optional)
6 slices of dry cured, smoked streaky bacon, chopped into lardons
40g butter (I used home smoked, but it’s optional, I realise it’s not easy to come by)
40g plain flour
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
275g Extra mature cheddar, grated
25g Parmesan, freshly grated
Start by making the infused milk. This is best done at least an hour in advance. Place the milk, onion, garlic cloves and grated nutmeg in a small saucepan. If you have any fresh bay leaves, bruise two by scrunching them up in your fist and throw them in too. Over a medium heat, bring the milk up to a simmer, cover and take it straight off the heat.
Fry the bacon pieces in a dry, non-stick frying pan. Once nice and crispy, remove from the pan and set aside leaving the excess bacon fat behind. Don’t throw this away though. Let it cool a bit and pour it into a clean glass jar. It’ll keep for ages in the fridge, and fried eggs are amazing cooked in it!
Cook the macaroni for about a minute less than the packet instructions dictate. You need the pasta to have a bit of bite to it, so keep checking it while it cooks. The last thing you want is soggy pasta. Drain the pasta in a sieve and run it under cold running water for a minute. Set aside over its pan to drain.
Next make the cheese sauce by removing the onion, garlic cloves and bay leaves (if used) from the milk. Add the flour, mustard powder and butter and whisk constantly over a medium heat until thickened. It should reach the consistency of thick double cream.
Remove from the heat and add the cheddar cheese, whisking until combined. Add the bacon and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste the sauce at this stage and add salt to taste. It’s important to taste it because the bacon and cheddar you use will dictate how much salt you will need. Under seasoning is a sin!
Now combine the sauce with the cooked macaroni and mix well. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle over the Parmesan. Place in a preheated oven (200˚C) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until browned and bubbling. Leave to stand for a minute before serving.
We love to eat ours with homemade, herby garlic ciabatta.