We all need a little r & r now and again. Life has become relentlessly active these days – work hard play hard – with little time to slow down and breathe (unless you’re nursing a hangover). The Sunday ‘Doomsday’ dread has never been more tangible when we start the five day count-down to ‘Fri-yay!’. Play time can then begin and we pack as much activity in as possible until Sunday evening approaches accompanied by a new wave of doom. With all this restless activity it’s no wonder adults today are struggling to sleep, unable to switch off and rest.
Instead of pleasing our sense of achievement, our social standing and our Instagram profiles, we need to please our soul. Put your feet up, bury your head in a good book as you nurse a cup of tea. I can’t tell you how soothing it is to rest my legs on the sofa after a day of standing – my cankles are evidence enough especially with a sightly indent from my socks’ elastic. Without even realising how tired I am, twice this week I have dozed off just nestled on the sofa, my book slumping in my relaxed hands.
Yesterday’s rain brought some release. We curled up on the sofa, I baked mini morsels of chocolate cheesecake (I will always have energy to bake) and as the rain plummeted and the cars flashed passed, windscreen wipers whirling, we soothed our soul with macaroni cheese.
Macaroni cheese is old-fashioned stodge, first appearing in the fourteenth century and later included in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861, yet now it’s bang on trend. Street food vendors at markets and festivals cook up vats of glossy, stringy cheese sauce, bucket loads of squiggly macaroni and serve it in paper cups topped with various flavourful adornments. No traditional grilled tomato seen here. Instead we can choose from roasted sunblush tomatoes, chorizo, chilli con carne, apple and bacon, harissa and chilli to name a few. In keeping with this trend, Calum and I perked up our cheese feast with caramelised red onion and chorizo. Not satisfied with one form of cured pork in his pasta, Calum bought some pancetta lardons for that extra dose of porkiness. Coated in cheese sauce everything is dolloped into a baking dish and covered in breadcrumbs and Parmesan. The breadcrumbs fry gently in the oven’s heat turning crisp and golden as they soak up the cheese.
Best served in winter it is also perfect on a rainy summer’s night, and I won’t lie to you, it slips down a treat when your soul needs soothing.
Everyone eats different amounts of pasta. The exact quantity depends on the sauce, and your own hunger. A portion is between 50g and 100g of dried pasta so I aim for 75g per person… plus extra for hungry males.
Half a red onion, finely sliced
50g chorizo, sliced into chunks
1 packet of pancetta lardons
175g dried macaroni
1 small clove of garlic
Dash of Dijon
25g plain flour
25g unsalted butter
75g grated cheddar
10g grated Parmesan
15g dried breadcrumbs
- Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. Once hot add the sliced red onion, lower the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes. Do not let it burn or get too much colour.
- Throw in the chorizo chunks and cook until seared and crisp. Drain the oily-meaty mixture through a seive and clean the pan of excess oil. Fry the pancetta lardons.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/374°F.
- Meanwhile, boil the kettle and weigh your pasta. Fill a pan with the hot water, season with salt and add the macaroni. Cook for two minutes less than the packet instructions – approximately 6 minutes.
- Put the butter and flour in a sauce pan, along with the crushed garlic and blob of mustard. Allow the butter to melt before stirring them together into a thick paste. Cook the roux for two minutes to remove the taste of raw flour then remove from the heat. Add a large splash of milk to the pan and beat to combine with the roux. Repeat this, adding glugs of milk and beating it together vigorously to keep it smooth and remove any lumps, until over half the milk is incorporated. Pour in the rest of the milk and stir with a whisk to ensure it is smooth. Put the pan back on the heat and bring to the boil.
- By now the pasta will be cooked and drained. Add the cooked meats and red onion and stir to combine.
- Stir the roux sauce once it is bubbling and taste a little to make sure it is cooked. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat before chucking in the cheddar and stirring to melt.
- Pour three-quarters of the cheese sauce over macaroni and stir so it is all evenly coated. Pour it all into a baking dish then cover in the rest of the sauce.
- Mix together the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan and sprinkle over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese sauce is bubbling.