MACARONI and cheese, or macaroni cheese, or Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the most popular quick ‘n’ easy dishes in the States and the British people are making it one of their favourites as well. But did you know that its popularity has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson serving it at a White House dinner in 1802 (according to Wikipedia, of course)?
It may not be the finest or most exquisite meal the culinary world has ever created but it contains heaps of that wonderful feeling that makes up the best of “Comfort food”.
With two words, food becomes an instant grandma’s recipe, curing any ailment and putting a silver lining through even the darkest cloud, giving you the strength you need to face the rest of the day.
Two words, but so powerful. And that’s exactly what food is all about: to bring you the pleasure you’re looking for.
The lovely, cheese-loving Fiona Beckett came back from a trip to the States where she hoped to find the ultimate Mac’n’Cheese. Her quest proved harder than she imagined, though, as nothing seemed to live up to her expectations. Naturally, then, it was time to step things up and call upon that most trustworthy found of inspiration and creativity, the UK Food Blogger, and challenge them to the Ultimate Macaroni Cheese.
Coming from France, I couldn’t resist giving this American/British meal a unique French touch inspired by the pinnacle of Alpine Comfort Food. For those who have spent some time in the Alps during winter, they will always remember their first experience of Fondue.
With that idea in hand, two artisanal French cheeses, a baguette, some white wine and some mushrooms later, the Mac ‘n’ Cheese à la française recipe was born!
Mac ‘n’ Cheese à la française – Serves 6/8
120g butter plus more for the gratin dish
A de-crusted baguette, diced into small cubes
200g of oyster mushrooms
100g of chesnut mushrooms
20cl crisp, dry Chasselas (Fendant from Valais – Switzerland) or Sauvignon Blanc
1.3 liter milk
2 tsp salt, plus more for the macaroni water
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
350g of grated Comte
150g of grated Mimolette
225g grated Gruyère
500g elbow macaroni
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Butter a large gratin dish. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the diced bread. Cook until golden. Set aside.
In a saucepan over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the mushrooms. Once the juice has evaporated, pour 10cl of white wine and stir for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
While whisking, add 10cl of white wine and let it cook for 2 minutes. Then, add the hot milk a little at a time to keep the mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, for 8 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, peppers, 300g of the Comté/Mimolette mix and 100g of gruyere. Set the cheese sauce aside.
Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold water and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.
Pour mixture into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the remaining Comté/Mimolette mix and gruyère and bread crumbs over top. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
Let sit 5 minutes on a wire rack.