4 CHEESE MACARONI CHEESE WITH PANKO BREADCRUMBS INSPIRED BY CANDICE BROWN
The impossibly glamorous Candice had so many delicious, comforting dishes in her episode of Desert Island Dishes, it was hard to choose which one to go for. I loved the passion with which Candice talked about her love of Mac and cheese. She's a connoisseur and has taken it upon herself to taste as many as she can. A mission I wholeheartedly support. We both agreed that the appearance of macaroni cheese on the menu where once you only used to find a green salad and some chips is a surprising, but very welcome development. For when I ask would a macaroni and cheese not be suitable as a side?
Macaroni cheese is one of the most comforting dishes known to man and a personal favourite. There are so many ways you can jazz the humble macaroni up. Add a drizzle of truffle oil, or a smattering of crispy pancetta, add some cauliflower, tomato or a sprinkling of breadcrumbs on the top. Hawksmoor have an incredibly good version with slow roasted beef shin. It's amazing. You cook the beef shin low and slow and when it's meltingly tender you shred the meat and add it to your cooked pasta before engulfing it in the sauce and baking in the oven. As I write this I realise it has been too long since I had this and I need to put it on my list of things to eat very soon. That sounds like a made up list but it isn't. Oh the life I lead.
The traditional Mac and cheese we all know and which most of us love, is made with a simple white sauce to which you add lashings of grated cheese. Pretty simple and utterly comforting. White sauce is one of those things which sounds horribly complicated but could not be any easier and is just made by melting together butter and flour and then adding milk to create a delicious sauce. Master a white sauce and the world of food opens up to you. A white sauce is to cooking, what "open sesame" was to Aladdin.
So that was very much how I was taught to make macaroni cheese and I love it. However, there are more ways to skin a cat, as the old saying goes.
I stumbled across a Jamie Oliver recipe a few years ago that negated the need to even bother with the white sauce, simple as it is. From what I remember (don't quote me on this!) the sauce was made by just melting together cream cheese and mascarpone with some other cheese added in at the end, for, well, extra cheesiness. I tried it, and obviously loved it. So simple, and the absence of butter and flour made it, dare I say, lighter? Lighter could be a bit misleading there as it's laden with cheese but I hope you'll know what I mean.
Then one day my brother in law, Jimmy, cooked supper for both me and my sister. He is an excellent person and has many talents but isn't famous for any outstanding cooking ability. That isn't to say he doesn't do stirling work on the barbecue and he also makes a delicious brunch. So.. you know. Anyway, he whipped up a Mac and cheese which kind of blew me away. It was so rich and creamy and tasted like velvet. But in a really really good way. Well, I obviously had to get the recipe from him and it transpires that the secret to getting your Mac and cheese to taste really really creamy, is to add double cream. And lots of it.
This isn't his exact recipe but one I have tinkered with. Be warned, the source is based on his double cream version and you're going to love it. Unless you don't love cream, or macaroni, in which case this perhaps isn't for you. I know for sure Candice would approve. You simply cook the pasta and then leave it to soak in the cream mixture for a few hours which was a new method to me when I first tried it but now I love doing it this way. NB. Jimmy's original recipe was from Spuntino - and they know a thing or two about good Mac and Cheese. I hadn't come across the idea of soaking the cooked pasta in the creamy cheesey mixture and leaving it for a few hours so the pasta can really soak up up all that creaminess. And wow. It's a revelation. You have to try this.
Candice's book, Comfort, is so lovely and personal with lots of the recipes dedicated to friends and family that I thought it was apt that this recipe is begged and borrowed from my brother-in-law. I always like to add a bit of crunch to my Mac and cheese as lots of what makes a great dish is about the balance of textures. The satisfying crunch on the top before you get to the silky pasta is a delightful thing. I have tried all sorts of breadcrumbs, and really panko are the best. They are expensive, for breadcrumbs, but worth it I promise.
200ml milk, whole
400ml double cream
50g parmesan, grated
70g fontina, grated
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
150g mozzarella, grated (the kind you buy in blocks from the supermarket, not the balls)
100g grated cheddar
2 cloves garlic
glug of olive oil
lots of salt and pepper
For the topping:
2 tbsp butter,
1/4 tsp thyme leaves
60g fontina grated
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
First things first, get the pasta cooking and cook according to the instructions on the packet
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large bowl. Then add the milk, cream and mustard. Add half of the cheeses and give it a good stir. Season well. Now set to one side for a few hours so that the pasta can absorb the cream mixture. This is the Spuntino method and it's the game changing technique let me tell you. Try not to eat it all.
Preheat the oven to 200C /360f / gas mark 6
Meanwhile, in a little olive oil gently fry the garlic until soft but not coloured.
Prepare the breadcrumbs by melting the butter and stirring into the breadcrumbs to combine. Add the thyme.
Now add the garlic along with the remaining cheeses to the pasta mixture.
Pour into a large dish or individual dishes if you prefer. Top with the breadcrumbs and the halved tomatoes and a sprinkling of grated fontina
Bake until golden brown and bubbling. For the large dish this should take about 25-30 minutes and for the small ones it should only take about 15 mins.
Crazily delicious, probably not to be eaten every day .