Friday, 22 January 2010

Macaroni cheese: the ultimate comfort food

Here in the UK we've been treated to practically Arctic winter conditions, so rich, warming, comfort food has been featuring everywhere. Inspired by this, leading food and drink writer, blogger and passionate cheeselover, Fiona Beckett, is currently trying to find the best version of uber comfort food, macaroni cheese ( Personally, I like mine really cheesy with lots of sauce and here I've balanced the richness with some red onion. I've stuck to mature cheddar as it's beautiful to cook with, and the stronger the better. The cheese and breadcrumb topping includes mustard powder for some extra bite. We enjoyed this with some mixed salad leaves.

400g macaroni (I used schioppi: fairly large ridged tubes)
3 medium red onions, sliced
40g butter
30g plain flour
500ml milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g strong cheddar cheese, grated
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon mustard powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy based pan and cook the sliced onions until soft and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring for a minute or so before gradually adding the milk. Bring to the boil, allow to simmer for a couple of minutes and keep stirring (especially to prevent the onion from catching on the bottom of the pan). Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add 200g of grated cheese. Stir the sauce well and gently combine with the cooked macaroni.

Turn the macaroni cheese mixture into an ovenproof dish (mine holds about 2 litres). Mix the rest of the cheese with the breadcrumbs and the mustard powder and sprinkle generously over the macaroni. You might need to increase the amount of topping according to the size of the dish.

Bake in the oven for 20–30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve piping hot. We had salad, but it's also great with baked tomatoes (which can cook at the same time). Serves 4.

A note about wine:
I had a hunch that some maturing white Burgundy might work nicely with this and help add to the sense of occasion. Our Rully 1er Cru 2000 Les Cloux (Vincent Girardin) was complex, buttery, nutty with a mineral backbone and refreshing acidity. Absolutely delicious with the rich macaroni cheese: luxurious, yet poised and elegant.

As a contrast we also tasted the much simpler Réserve de la Saurine 2008 Vin de Pays du Gard as we had a bottle already open. It was fresh and had a quite an interesting, slightly savoury style and was pleasantly cleansing, but overwhelmed by the food.

Out of interest, a couple of evenings later, we opened a bottle of Anjou Le Haut de Garde 2006 (Château Pierre-Bise) to enjoy with the leftovers. There was a drop of the Rully left to taste against it. My husband loved the Anjou Blanc with the food, although I found it a bit too opulent and honied, despite its distinct minerality and fresh acidity. The Rully won hands down for me!