We’ve been a poorly household this week – struck down with an annoying virus that has taken us all out one by one. And in our period of recuperation some simple, soul warming food has been called for.
When I was ill as a child my mum used to give me Heinz tinned macaroni cheese as a treat. I think I’m the only person in the world who likes this. I know it smells disgusting and tastes nothing like pasta, cheese, or indeed of anything that should be eaten (the words ‘cat’ and ‘sick’ spring to mind) but even now I still find it strangely comforting.
But I think my husband would divorce me if I served it up in our house so instead I opt for a homemade version. This is very easy to make and I can just about manage it (even with a stiff neck, snotty nose and aching joints). And it is just what the doctor ordered, so comforting, creamy and soft, verging on bland, but seriously moreish.
My children gobble it all up and swear that it makes them feel much, much better.
There are hundreds of recipes for macaroni cheese but this is mine.
Serves 4 generously
- 50g butter
- 50g plain flour
- 500ml semi-skimmed milk
- 1 heaped teaspoon of English mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 400g macaroni
- 75g cheddar cheese (grated or cut into chunks)
- 50g cheddar cheese or parmesan grated
- 30g breadcrumbs
- A little paprika
Heat your oven to 200oC fan.
First put a pan of water on the hob, bring to the boil and cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions or until cooked completely through.
While the pasta is cooking make the sauce. Measure the butter, flour and milk into a saucepan and put on the hob over a medium heat. Whisk the mixture continually as it heats up and the butter melts (it won’t go lumpy as long as you whisk all the time). When the mixture comes to the boil it will start to thicken. Turn the heat down and cook over a low heat for a couple of minutes (so that the floury taste cooks out). Add the mustard, cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese has melted.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour over the cheese sauce. Mix thoroughly and then transfer to a large oven proof dish, or use several smaller ones like I have in the photo below.
Sprinkle a mixture of grated cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs (seasoned with a little paprika and pepper) over the top of the macaroni and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling.
Note: I sometimes add a couple of handfuls of frozen peas into the cheese sauce before mixing with the pasta if I’m trying to get some ‘green’ into the children (there’s no need to cook them first, they will defrost and heat up in the oven).
The quantity of cheese I use results in a mild cheese flavour, if you really like your cheese then it won’t upset the recipe to up this to 100g, or you can use a mixture of cheddar and parmesan.
My mum used to place slices of smoked back bacon on top of the pasta instead of breadcrumbs and cheese. Providing the oven was hot enough the edges of the bacon crisped up and bacon juices dripped into the pasta – it was absolutely delicious.