Everyone has their own idea of comfort food - the one dish they reach for when times are hard and all that will help is a hug from the inside. However, there is no denying that macaroni and cheese is truly the king of comfort food. It's like a blanket in a bowl. Carbs, cheese and crispy breadcrumbs all come together in defence of your soul and nurse you back to health. So when I was sent a packet of Old Amsterdam gouda to try out, there was nothing for it but to melt it and turn it into some good old-fashioned mac 'n' cheese.
The key to a good macaroni and cheese is in the mix of cheeses. You can go as wild as you want - there are really no rules and pretty much any cheese will do, as long as you mix it up. A hard cheese like gouda mixed with a mature cheddar is just perfect; a sprinkling of parmesan just before it goes into the oven is just the icing on the cake.
I have long proclaimed gruyere to be my favourite cheese - and I don't see that changing any time soon - but this gouda certainly packs a punch when it comes to delivering the cheesy goodness needed for the perfect macaroni and cheese. I'm told it's also pretty good on a cheese board but since my other half abhors cheese in all its formats, I am bereft of cheese boards; making one up for oneself just seems a little sad, for what is a cheese board if not a communal celebration of cheese? Macaroni and cheese, on the other hand, is a dish which loses nothing in solitude - in fact, I rather think it prefers a quiet night in alone, snuggled up in pyjamas, watching a trashy movie.
A lot of people are put off making their own cheese sauce, retreating in fear to the ready-made - or worse, the packet - plagued by visions of lumpy sauce, burnt saucepans and a wasted evening. It really is worth it, though - not least for the satisfaction when it all comes together at the end and you can survey your bubbly, gooey handiwork as you lift it from the oven and straight into a bowl. It also allows you to choose your cheeses. It really isn't as difficult as it first appears, and I promise to hold your hand all the way through. It'll be ace, I promise.
For 2 servings (with cheese sauce left over), you'll need:
- 20g unsalted butter
- 20g plain flour
- 500ml semi-skimmed milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 100g mature cheddar (or another cheese of your choice)
- 100g Old Amsterdam gouda (or another cheese of your choice)
- 150g macaroni
- 5 spring onions, chopped
- 6-8 cherry tomatoes, chopped
- A scattering of Panko breadcrumbs (although any kind of breadcrumbs will do)
- A sprinkling of parmesan cheese (or another cheese of your choice)
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Mix in the flour to make a paste.
2. Slowly pour the milk over the paste, whisking to avoid lumps.
3. Once all the milk has been added, season with salt and pepper.
4. Simmer over a low-to-medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. It may take a while, so don't worry!
5. Meanwhile, pop your macaroni into some salted, boiling water and cook for around 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.
6. Once your sauce has thickened up, add in your grated cheeses and stir until smooth.
7. Drain the pasta and mix together with half of the sauce, the spring onions and cherry tomatoes.
8. Pour into an oven proof dish and top with breadcrumbs and parmesan.
9. Bake at 180°C for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the breadcrumbs have started to brown.
10. Freeze the rest of the cheese sauce ready for another day!