Macaroni cheese is a staple meal in our household. My eldest daughter ranks it as her joint #1 meal (along with fish and chips) and my husband is a massive fan too since it was his favourite dinner as a child. Therefore, I thought it was about time that I shared my recipe for a classic macaroni cheese. I've called it 'classic' because it is a fairly basic version that could easily be adapted to include other ingredients. I like to mix in cauliflower and broccoli florets, and my family enjoys it with sweetcorn and ham. To be honest, I don't always add the crunchy topping because the kids are often screaming (literally!) for their dinner and don't want to wait the extra five minutes it'll take to sort this out. It is a nice addition on those occasions when mealtimes aren't quite so fraught though.
I feel I should apologize for posting yet another pasta recipe but the truth is that my family eats a LOT of pasta. I have to make a conscious effort to limit pasta to just three dinners a week, such is my small girls' appetite for the stuff! I am yet to meet a child that doesn't like pasta (although I'm certain they must exist) but when I was growing up in the 1980s we only ever had pasta as spaghetti Bolognese and canned spaghetti in tomato sauce. I often wonder how my mother coped without this fantastic fallback ingredient, which is so cheap, easy to store, quick to cook, and versatile.
For ages, I didn't think I could make cheese sauce – I remember using cheese sauce granules that you mixed with boiling water when I was a student. It was pretty artificial-tasting! I finally got the hang of making cheese sauce when I was cooking baby purées for my oldest child – she developed a taste for a particular purée that was made from cheese sauce mixed with mashed cod and vegetables, which I ended up making countless times. I discovered that warming up the milk before adding it to the butter and flour mixture made the process a lot easier, not to mention quicker, and I've never looked back!
Classic macaroni cheeseServes 2 adults and 2 children (generously)
300g dried macaroni
30g plain flour
300ml full-fat milk
good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
90g vegetarian extra-mature Cheddar cheese, grated
20g natural dried breadcrumbs (I like to use panko)
30g vegetarian extra-mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil. Add the macaroni, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10–12 minutes (I find that macaroni takes longer to cook than other pasta shapes), until tender but firm to the bite.
Make the cheese sauce while the macaroni is cooking. Put the butter in a small saucepan and melt over a low–medium heat. Pour the milk into a jug and microwave for 2 minutes to warm through. Once the butter is bubbling, add the flour, stir to make a paste and allow to bubble for 1 minute. Start adding the warmed milk to the butter and flour mixture, a little at a time, stirring vigorously until each addition has been incorporated. To start with, the mixture will form into a lump but just keep stirring frequently and once you've added enough milk it will transform into a smooth sauce. When you have added all the milk, increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for a further 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the nutmeg and cheese, then stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.
Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium.
Drain the macaroni and tip it into the saucepan containing the cheese sauce. Stir until the pasta is thoroughly coated in the sauce. Transfer to a 1.5-litre baking dish.
Mix together the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese, then scatter over the macaroni and cheese sauce. Place under the preheated grill and cook for 5 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. Serve with freshly cooked vegetables (frozen sweetcorn and peas are our favourites) on the side.