Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Macaroni cheese

I suspect that macaroni cheese was one of the dishes that made me hide behind the settee when I was a little girl refusing to go to school on account of the vomit-inducing meals. In retrospect the dinners themselves may have been okay - I was horribly picky - but they were semi force-fed and (as far as I recall) dripping in watery grease. I could, of course, be projecting erroneously here - I will admit that my school dinners were probably way better than the dinners we saw on Jamie's programme (turkey twizzlers...). Nonetheless, they instilled in me hatred of certain foods that it has taken me years to combat - milk (it always had a skin); rice pudding (ditto); suet (not sure why); watery mash. I am convinced that stodgy macaroni cheese, clagged up with bechamel, was on our school menu; I can almost remember trying to tip it off my plate before a scary dinner nanny force-fed it to me. It returned to haunt me at university, again in its most stodgy form (and served with chips, would you believe) but at least there we had a choice (which could be delicious but was mainly vile food under pretentious pseudonyms - imagine florets verts et blancs, which was actually cauliflower and broccoli cheese...). Since then I have never, ever, ordered macaroni cheese out of the house but I have eaten it, thanks to one of Jamie's 'quickies' in Delicious magazine a couple of years ago. That version had butternut squash in it and was topped with rosemary breadcrumbs and pancetta - dolled-up macaroni cheese with a real kick! I really liked it but somewhere along the line I seem to have forgotten about it - that happens with recipes; I go through phases of cooking certain dishes and then forget they exist.

The macaroni cheese in Cook with Jamie attracted me because the photo bore no discernable resemblance to the stodgy macaroni that my primary school served up (or to the university's adult equivalent). This is mainly because Jamie doesn't make bechamel; instead, the pasta is cooked until almost al dente and tossed with a mixture of mascarpone, parmesan, and fontina/taleggio (taleggio seems to be easier to find round here), herb butter (made by frying marjoram or oregano in foaming butter) and some of the pasta cooking water to loosen. The pasta mixture is then baked in the oven in an earthenware dish, topped with extra grated Parmesan, nutmeg and mozzarella, before being whacked under a hot grill to brown up the top.

This macaroni is very nice. Not at all stodgy, just silkily cheesey; an easy, comforting sort of a dish. There are no strong flavours here, nothing to object to, just a gentle pasta supper with no pretensions (and no bechamel).

This is the kind of food you eat curled up on a sofa, rather than sitting up at a table, when you don't want uplifting and inspiring conversation; you just want to relax. It is I think, a gently warming, relaxing, definitely easy dinner.


Anonymous said...

oh, it looks positively delicious! I saw in Jamie's Dinners -the book- that he makes his sauce rather with cream, which put me slightly off because of the fat contents but then it's perfect for a paltry winter Sunday!

Anonymous said...

I made his mac n cheese from Delicious too a couple of years ago. I found it a bit on the unsalty side. I guess it was because the sweetness of the squash was there.


Kirsten said...

I wondered how it would turn out. Looks good! I've made the Jamie's Dinner recipe a few times - very popular with young son, but indeed very creamy!