Recipe: Macaroni cheese

A comforting main course – or an ideal barbecue side dish

I know, I know, we’re all sweltering. Despite my best efforts, my garden is wilting, and I’m not far behind it. The prospect of standing over a hob or turning on the oven at the moment is not a terribly attractive one. There’s a temptation to abandon cooking all together, live off watermelon and feta, cool drinks, and tomato salads. But as a nation, we delight in cooking at temperatures to match the weather: standing, sweating over glowing coals as we grill cuts of meat we avoid for the rest of the year. And anyway, this heat wave now seems to be less of a wave, and more of a whole season, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to send you into the weekend without this recipe up your sleeve.

In England, we tend to think of macaroni cheese as a comfort food, reserved for when the weather cools, but we should take a leaf out of the books of those who deal with hotter temperatures for more of the year. If it works for those in the Deep South, and the Caribbean, who are we to question it? In these places, it is unequivocally an accompaniment to meats cooked hard and fast, or slow and low, blackened and sticky. Macaroni cheese is the perfect barbecue side, and this recipe is a great one: it is comforting and sharp, squelchy and stringy.

Macaroni cheese

Makes: Serves 6 as a side
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: 40 minutes

50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
500g whole milk
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon English or American mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
75g mature cheddar, grated
300g macaroni
50g gruyere, cut into small cubes

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Cook the macaroni in lots of very salty water for one minute less than the packet instructions suggest. After the pasta has been cooking for a few minutes, scoop up a small cup of the starchy pasta water and set to one side. When the pasta is cooked, strain and set to one side.
3. Make a roux by melting the butter in a medium sized pan over a low heat and stirring the flour into it. Allow the roux to cook out for a couple of minutes, sizzling on the bottom of the pan as you stir it – this will stop your sauce tasting of flour. Add the mustard powder and smoked paprika and stir through.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the milk into the pan slowly, whisking the whole time. Once all the milk has been added, return the pan to a low heat, and continue whisking until the mixture has thickened. Throw in the cheddar, stirring until it has melted, then add the white wine vinegar and mustard. Pour in the pasta water little by little until the sauce is silken and runny rather than gloopy. Taste the sauce and season accordingly. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. You can follow the recipe in advance up to this point and refrigerate: place clingfilm so that it is touching the surface of the cheese sauce to prevent a skin forming.
5. Stir the macaroni through the cheese sauce, followed by the cubes of gruyere. Pour into a large, oven-safe dish, and bake for 40 minutes until the top is golden-brown and the sauce bubbling at the edges.


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