The origins of macaroni and cheese are buried in time, but it is clearly an immigrant dish, blending strong American cheese, a white sauce with its roots in England, mixed with Italian pasta. President Jefferson brought a personal pasta chef back from Italy and served baked macaroni and cheese in the White House in the early 1800s. Of course, when you think about it, it’s popularity in those days was obvious. Their cheese was often shipped aboard vessels that would be on their journey for a year or more. Royal Navy cheese was as hard as rock and the US version probably wasn’t much different. White sauce could be made with fresh milk and butter, but worked just as well with rancid butter and sour milk, and if the flour had weevils, then accept that there was more protein included. Dried pasta would keep forever. The first cookbook recipe for a macaroni and cheese pie was recorded in 1896 in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Kraft introduced their ubiquitous orange product in 1937 as a way to extend the market for their processed American cheese and their brand of macaroni.
Today, we still have a love affair with macaroni and cheese, but gourmet versions have come to the dining scene. One of our favourites is lobster mac and cheese. Mac and cheese topped with bacon and tomatoes for added flavour was a hit in my original cookbook. As an experiment, I try lobster flavoured pollock, to see if it makes a difference. It is a quarter the price.
Start out with the basic recipe and adjust to fit your own tastes. You can use more sauce to make it creamier, more cheese to make it richer and different toppings to make it your own.
When you smell that rich bubbling scent of cheese coming out of the oven, and your tummy rumbles in anticipation, then you’ll know you’ve got it right.
ORIGINAL MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 tsp cooking oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked short elbow macaroni (try whole wheat for a change)
2 tbsp butted
2 tbsp flour
2 cups grated white cheddar
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp pepper
TIP: Use a pungent cheese such as strong or medium sharp cheddar. Strangely white works better than yellow. Never use pre-grated cheeses as they are covered with other chemicals to make them stay fresh and loose in the pack. Blend two or more cheeses, such as Swiss or Gruyere, together for a better effect.
Colander or sieve
Preparation and cooking
1. Fill large saucepan with water, bring to the boil, add cooking oil and salt. Add macaroni slowly so the water continues to boil. Stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom. Cook for about 6 min for al dente.
2. Set the oven to preheat at 390°F/200°C
3. Grate the cheese and set aside 1/2 cup for the topping.
4. Make a white sauce with the butter, flour and milk, using the ROUX method. Add the cheese and stir until well melted. TIP: The sauce works better with hot, not boiling, milk.
5. When the macaroni is cooked, drain using the colander or sieve, rinse thoroughly with cold water and toss to remove excess water. Return to saucepan, pour on sauce and mix well. TIP: Rinsing the pasta after cooking it al dente is important. It removes the excess starch which will adversely affect your dish when it is cooking. Under- rather than over-cook the pasta. It will finish in the oven as it bakes in the rich sauce.
6. Spoon the mix into a casserole, or individual serving dishes, and add the rest of the cheese topping.
7. Cook in the oven, on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to prevent spilling, for 15 min, then turn heat to broil for a further 5 min or until the cheese turns golden brown. Serve immediately.
TIP: This dish keeps well in the fridge for reheating as a snack.
Bacon mac and cheese: Fry several rashers of bacon, cut up a couple of ripe red tomatoes. Lay the tomatoes and bacon over the top of the mac and cheese before adding the topping. Try adding some breadcrumbs to the grated cheese you have set aside for the topping for a toasty effect.
Lobster mac and cheese: Buy a whole cooked lobster. Remove all the meat from the tail and claws and chop roughly. Stir into the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as above. Reserve the meat of one claw and place on top as a tasty decoration.
Budget lobster mac and cheese: At our taste testing, the lobster was clearly a superior taste, but replacing the lobster with much cheaper ready-to-eat lobster flavoured pollock was deemed absolutely fine. If we had not eaten the two dishes side by side, no one would have known the difference.
For a ROUX SAUCE see my blog of December 8, 2012.
PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in this recipe. Or please add your own variations for others to share.