*Inspired by Victoria – thanks for reminding me of this fabulous comfort food!
OK, probably a teaching grandmother to suck eggs post. I mean, I bet everyone has their own macaroni cheese recipe. But for those of us who count points, it is sometimes useful to have had someone else sit down and stick it through the recipe builder.
I have said it before and will no doubt say it again: I am a massive cheese lover. It’s genetic I think. My Dad would literally live on bread and cheese if left to himself. And as a general rule, I don’t approve of the concept of low fat cheese. It is one of those foodstuffs that you should embrace in all its lardiness or not at all (like low fat chocolate bars. Wrong, wrong, wrong).
But, when I popped to Tesco during my lunch hour I was tempted to break my golden rule by the sight of a trial size Cathedral City Lighter pack – a brand I’d heard reasonable things about. And, do you know what, not half bad. I mean, it’s never going to find its way onto a cheeseboard – if I want to indulge in a piece of real Cheddar I go for the absolutely gorgeous Black Bomber and points be damned. For a midweek macaroni cheese supper though, it was very Quite Nice indeed. And yes, I know that 14 points is quite steep for a meal, but in my opinion, worth every one.
Macaroni cheese is a please yourself kind of dish. I personally like a nice thick layer of melted cheese on the top, so I rely mainly on the Parmesan to flavour my sauce, but there is no reason to keep to my proportions. There are plenty of potential zero point additions: onions, leeks, mushrooms (I would always soften these in a separate pan before adding or they’ll be a wee bit too crunchy; one of the beauties of macaroni cheese is all the unctious squishiness). You could whack a tin of tuna into the sauce before combining with the pasta to make a delicious tuna pasta bake. A lot of recipes suggest adding sliced tomatoes and breadcrumbs to the topping. And of course, you could vary your cheeses. But here, I’m going fairly classic.
300ml skimmed milk
20g Parmesan, grated
Tsp dijon mustard
Scrape or two of nutmeg
80g reduced fat cheddar, grated
To infuse the milk:
Onion, peeled and halved
Garlic clove, lightly crushed
Serves 2, 14 pro points per person
In my opinion, one of the secrets to a good bechamel is to infuse the milk beforehand – but if you can’t be bothered then you can always skip this stage. In any case, all you need to do is tip the milk into a saucepan with the onion, garlic, a couple of bay leaves and a few peppercorns. Bring the milk up to just before boiling point (it should be frothing enthusiastically at the edges) and then turn off the heat and cover. Infuse for as long as you like – an hour or so should be fine.
Now for the sauce. Strain the milk into a jug first of all, wipe out the infusing pan and use it to make the sauce – no need for too much washing up! Melt the butter over a low heat before tipping in the flour and stirring well to combine into a paste (or a roux if you’re feeling particularly French). Then, little by little, add the milk, stirring well at each stage to get rid of lumps. Take your time – you want to make sure you cook out the flour or else you’ll be able to taste it in the finished sauce. I would reckon on this stage taking around 10 to ensure a glossy, lump free sauce. Stir through the mustard and season with nutmeg, plenty of black pepper, the Parmesan cheese (reserve a little for sprinkling on top), around a third of the Cheddar and salt if required (but leave this till the end – the cheese itself should provide plenty of salty flavour so you may not need to add any more).
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water and drain well.
Toss the pasta through the sauce and arrange in a baking dish. Top with the remaining Cheddar and bake in a medium oven for 10-15 mins until it is gloopy and bubbling. Serve with the remaining Parmesan scattered over – and perhaps a salad on the side if you feel the urge.