This is one of those dishes from the distant past. However, it was relatively late in the period for us as our family didn’t really discover proper pasta until the 1980s. As kids though, we were fully aware of tinned spaghetti, a rare treat on the occasions our parents could afford it. We didn’t call it pasta and we had no idea spaghetti could be obtained in any form other than a tin.
Mum’s first discovery of dried pasta was in fact not packet dried spaghetti but macaroni.
Olive’s Macaroni Cheese
Olive would boil the macaroni and add it to a béchamel or white sauce with cheddar cheese stirred through it. The range of cheeses available then was rather limited, to say the least!
A rough approximation of her method is as follows. For two to four people, make a roux from two tbsps butter and two tbsps plain flour. When the flour has changed colour (but not browned), pour in 200 ml milk or so in a couple of stages until it thickens. Add 100 ml pouring cream. Keep sauce warm. Cook 200 g dried macaroni (or equivalent pasta). When cooked, drain the pasta and stir through the sauce along with 150 g to 200 g grated tasty cheeses. Season with salt and pepper and add more milk or cream or cheese if necessary. Serve immediately, perhaps with a sprinkle of sweet paprika.
Heston Blumenthal’s Gratin of Macaroni
In 2002 The Guardian published an article by Heston Blumenthal which included a recipe which might go closest to being ‘the classic’ version of macaroni cheese.
Blumenthal wrote: “With the extravagant exception of morel and truffle sauce, I’m not a fan of cream-based pasta sauces. This Lyonnais classic is the exception, however – this recipe comes from the late, great Alain Chapel. Use the largest macaroni available.”
For six people:
- 300g macaroni
- 1 garlic clove
- 300ml double cream
- 60g Gruyère
- 30g Parmesan
- 20g butter
- Pinch grated nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
Purée the garlic with a dash of salt and a flat knife. Grate the Gruyère and Parmesan into separate bowls, and set aside. Put the garlic and cream in a small saucepan, bring to the boil, then add the Gruyère, nutmeg and seasoning, simmer for five minutes, and set aside. Meanwhile, bring three litres of water to the boil and add 30g salt. Pre-heat the oven to 175C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook the macaroni in the boiling water for around eight minutes, then drain and combine with the garlic and cream base, adding a tablespoon or two of the cooking water.
Tip the lot into a baking dish big enough to hold the pasta. Dot with butter and sprinkle over the grated Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, and serve piping hot.
- Equipment: Baking dish.
- Difficulty: 1/5, Very Easy. Five to 10 minutes preparation.
- Serve: Serves six people as entree or four as main course. Serve with a salad.
Neil Perry’s Mac and Cheese
One can, of course, break from tradition. Here is the link to the macaroni cheese dish served at all of Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill restaurants. Use it, and the two versions above, as an inspiration for a macaroni creation. We use it as a base, using whatever is on hand. For example, we might saute thin slices or dice of vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, red pepper, zucchini, leeks or spring onions, and varying the type of pasta. We might add some soft cheese (such as Camembert of Brie) or something strong like provolone or Gorgonzola. Though it means a dish somewhat removed from the classic version!
If you have any examples of where the choice is between a classic dish, an adaptations thereof or a quick version, we are happy to hear about them, including the ingredients and methods, (good quality photos if you want to submit them) and some of your thoughts.