Day two. Entry Two.
I don’t think I have been this excited since I realised that if you had a bit of bum-fluff on your top lip at the age of 13, the local newsagent would sell you cigarettes. I have stopped smoking since then but, as I may have mentioned yesterday in my first entry into The Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge, I still love Mac ‘n’ Cheese and will never quit making it.
It has been tough 24 hours. I have recounted every version of Mac ‘n’ Cheese that I have ever made, trying to enter a recipe is going to be tough. I have gone through many stages of my life and along the way the recipe for Mac ‘n’Cheese has changed with me.
As a young boy the recipe was pure and simple, unadulterated - nothing but short pasta and bechamel sauce with a generous handful of maturing cheddar melted in, baked with a sprinkling of cheese atop – slowly melting and releasing its oils, browning the dish. The little spiky edges of macaroni popping out of the thickened hot cheese sauce, crispy and dark.
As I grew older, I discovered new cheeses and experimented with them, I added all manner of ingredients to the mix and I used all manner of shapes of pasta. There was the 3 month period at the end of 2006 where I thought that Elbow Macaroni was better than Ditali when Mac ‘n’ Cheese was to be an accompanying dish to something a little meatier, and also more of a spoonable affair – less baked. I was completely wrong, I don’t know what happened to me.
I now have an handful of recipes that I use, tried and tested, a version for any occasion – a quick snack/ a side dish/ a meal on its own/ a special occasion/ to impress/ for a group/ for a lover – Some are adaptations of dishes I have tasted and some have been honed over time.
Whilst ambling down this cheesy path I have been reminiscing about the many Mac ‘n’ Cheese’s I have eaten in restaurants, many are not worth mentioning but the good the bad and the downright ugly made it out of my head and onto the page:
Adam Street – I still think it is the best Mac ‘n’ cheese I have eaten in London town – Simple, strong cheese kick and (although not my preferred topping, i have grown to love it) three slices of tomato on top.
Canteen – Disappointingly dry (unusual for the venue) and reminiscent of Kraft packet Mac ‘n’ Cheese (which is not a bad thing)
Bob Bob Ricard – A vile, distressing mess. Overcooked pasta, cheese-less tasting sauce and breadcrumbs on top!
Hawksmoor – I know that this is a Food Bloggers fave place to eat, but they should stick to the steaks and burgers.
Bumpkin – A decent attempt, worked well as a side dish to a steak. Creamy and Cheesy.
Black Calvados (Paris) – Late night Mac ‘n’ Cheese with truffles – Probably a little too worse for wear to remember how good it was! I do remember it being perfectly cooked and flecked with black truffles which really released their perfume in a late night club.
Jamin (Paris) – Post Robuchon – Benoît Guichard (his protegé) made the most amazing Macaroni Gratin, pasta cooked in milk, Gruyère crust. Amazing – had it with veal fillet.
L’atelier Joel Robuchon (Monaco) – The ultimate and most revered Mac ‘n’ Cheese with truffles. It is sublime and the master does make it exceedingly well. Tho’ when had in London recently it was only good, not great!
After all that, I still have to enter a recipe. Mac ‘n’ Cheese á la Garlic Confit, if I get a decent camera from the insurance company before the 18th I will enter a picture of this dish.
Mac ‘n’ Cheese á la Garlic Confit
250 gms Good, Straight Macaroni/ Maccheroni (not elbow or short ditali)
150 gms Pancetta
75 gms Sundried Tomatoes
6 Big Cavolo Nero Leaves
675ml Full Fat milk
150 ml Double Cream
75 gms Good Mature Cheddar (Keen’s, Isle of Mull)
5ogms Hard Alpine Cheese not too aged (Gruyère, Beaufort and even Emmental)
1 large heaped tbs of plain flour
4 Cloves of Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
1 Small Shallot
This may seem a little involved but once you start it just all fits together.
Firstly take 425ml of the Milk, half the cream, the peeled shallot, peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic. Put in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Take of the heat and set aside to infuse.
Take the Cavolo Nero leaves, remove the spine and chop into 1 inch slices. Cover in a bowl with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes then drain.
Slice the pancetta into short, thin slices. Pop in a frying pan on a high heat and cook till crispy, set aside the fat in a bowl and add the Pancetta to the Cavolo Nero.
Strain the milk into a jug. Remove the bay leaf from the strainer and discard. Put one clove of garlic, the peppercorns and the shallot into a blender with the parmesan, the reserved pancetta fat and the sundried tomatoes and pinch of salt. Blitz till it is a rough paste. Then mix in with the Cavolo Nero and Pancetta.
Put a large pan of water on to boil add a stock cube and the remaining milk, cook the pasta for 3/4 of the packet timing. Drain and refresh immediately in and ice cold bowl of water. Drain and make sure the pasta is cool. Set aside.
Put the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat, when melted add the flour. Incorporate the flour and continue to cook until you have a breadcrumb like substance in the pan – do not let it brown. Over a low heat slowly add the reserved milk a glug at a time, always making sure you have incorporated the milk before you add more. When all the milk has been added continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until the taste of flour has disappeared. While still warm but off the heat add 60gms of the Cheddar and the Alpine cheese to the sauce, fold until it is all melted in. Then add a good grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Cool and add the remaining cream to the sauce and then the cooled pasta.
In an oven dish about 2inches deep and approx 30cm x 25cm – layer the bottom of the dish with the Cavolo Nero mixture and then Macaroni mixture, sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.
Place on the middle shelf of the oven at 190c (fan) for 15-20 minutes (depending on how good your oven is) and then pop under a grill for a minute to brown off the top. The sauce should be still slightly wet, the Cavolo Nero should colour the underside of the pasta red and green when you spoon it onto your plate and it should just all hold together.