Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

I’ve been having a massive craving for macaroni cheese for the last month. I blame the #meateasy.

On a hot Saturday, I woke up and knew what I wanted to eat. I’m not really big on light food when it’s hot. My cravings have nothing to do with the weather. So I made some macaroni cheese.

I had been thinking about a few versions, mainly Helen’s ultimate macaroni cheese and Ree’s fancy one. But then I had some bolognese leftover in the fridge and that combined with bechamel, cheese and pasta is basically pastitsio, one of my favourite Greek dishes. So I went for it.

The measurings in the recipe are vague. It could really be summarised in a few words: mix pasta, cheesy bechamel and bolognese sauce. Top with cheese. Bake. But here’s the (slightly) more detailed version anyway.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (enough for 6)

500 gr pasta

portion of bechamel sauce:
5 tbsp flour
5 tbsp oil/butter
1 – 1 1/2 pint milk
pinch of salt (go easy as the cheeses will be salty)
lots of ground pepper
pinch of nutmeg
bay leaf

a mixture of cheeses (I used gouda, pecorino and a couple of spoons of mascarpone)
leftover bolognese sauce (I used about 1 1/2 cups, you can certainly go for more as it was on the light side)
extra pecorino for the top

For the sauce: quickly fry the flour with the fat, making sure you don’t burn it. Turn the heat right down. Warm the milk in the microwave and add it slowly to the flour-oil mixture, making sure it’s fully incorporated at every step. Season with salt and pepper, add nutmeg and the bay leaf and let it come to boil while stirring very frequently, to stop lumps from forming. If it becomes too thick, add some more milk, whisk, and let it reach boiling temperature again. You want it relatively runny so that the end result isn’t too thick and stodgy. Remove the bay leaf.

Boil the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than what the instructions say. Toss with a bit of olive oil and set aside.

Add the grated cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted. Add the pasta and mix well. Finally, stir the bolognese sauce in.

Spoon the mixture into oven dishes (I used a couple as I didn’t have  a big one available). Top with more grated pecorino and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden.

As it’s quite an intense meal, I served it with some spring greens. I boiled them for 2-3 minutes – don’t overcook them as they will lose their vibrant green colour and most of their goodness. Steaming would work too. I then quickly fried them with a drop of olive oil, a finely chopped garlic clove, salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg. It made for a great side dish.

No-knead bread

Yes, I know. No-knead bread has been around for ages. I’m late to the party. But it’s easy and delicious. It’s also incredibly exciting, unless your definition of excitement doesn’t include covering the kitchen floor and your clothes in flour and then staring at the oven for half an hour before pulling out a loaf of bread. And then doing a little dance while listening to the crackling of the crust as it cools down. I find that exciting.
This comes from the book “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” and, while I love it for introducing me to the concept, I also have Clotilde to thank for finally managing to make a nice loaf of bread. After many failed attempts, I read this and realised the obvious thing: I had been severely underflouring my dough.

The consistency of my doughs still varies, but most of my loaves now are successful. The wetter doughs produce larger holes but flatter loaves, and they are excellent for eating with soups and stews. A drier dough sacrifices the impressively hole-y interior but gives you nicely shaped loaves that you can use to make sandwiches. It is also much easier to handle, meaning that you can make large loaves easily.

The loaf pictured below came from dough slightly on the drier side – I probably used 600 gr of flour here. Stick to 550 if you would like bigger holes, but your loaves will be flatter. In all cases, you get really crusty exterior without drying up the inside.

No-knead bread

Ingredients (makes 2 medium sized loaves)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp active dried yeast (or instant yeast)
1 tbsp salt
550 – 600 gr flour (see notes for type of flour used)
extra flour for dusting

In a large bowl, mix the water, yeast and salt and leave for a few minutes until the yeast granules dissolve (you don’t need to worry too much about the mixture frothing up – if you’re using instant yeast you don’t really have to wait at all).

Mix in most of the flour (about 500 gr) and stir using a spoon until you can’t see any dry patches. Add an extra 50-100gr and incorporate using wet hands. Your final dough should be wet enough so that it slowly deforms and takes the shape of the bowl.

Cover with a plate or a lid (not airtight), and let it rise for at least 2 hours (up to 5 won’t harm it). You are done with the rising when the top has flattened.

You can use the dough now but it’s better to refrigerate it for a couple of hours as it will be easier to handle. The dough will last in the fridge for at least a week and probably 10 days, so you can make this in advance and even double it if you have a large enough container.

Take your dough out of the fridge, flour the surface and your hands and pull out a chunk about half the size of the whole dough*. Form a smooth ball by pulling the sides of the dough underneath it. Don’t overdo it or the top layer of the dough will start splitting! Tuck the ends underneath – the bottom might look a bit messy but it will even out during rising/baking.  Place it on a smooth chopping board dusted with flour.

Let it rise for 40 minutes. Turn the oven on to 230 degrees Celsius and place a pizza stone on the middle shelf 10 minutes before the end of the rising time. Place a tray on the shelf underneath.

Dust the surface of the dough with flour and make some quite deep cuts using a bread knife. Make sure the bottom isn’t sticking to the chopping board – if it is, push some flour underneath using the bread knife. Slide the dough onto the pizza stone and quickly pour a cup of hot water (from the tap) into the tray underneath. Shut the oven door as quickly as possible to trap the steam in.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is looking nice and golden. Let it cool before you cut a slice.

Not that I’ve ever done that!

To keep the outside crispy, I store the bread with the cut side flat on a plate.

*If it’s too wet to handle, you haven’t got enough flour in it. You can incorporate some more flour at this step, or choose to bake it in a loaf tin. If using a loaf tin, make sure you grease it well with some oil and let the dough rise for an extra 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Walkers Crisps

A very special guest post.

This recipe is bloody brilliant. The speed and ease of preparation and the flavour possibilities are only just the beginning. The recipe is surprisingly easy – a machine at Walkers actually makes the crisps from potatoes that come from farmers who are not paid much but do it for the love of crisps. Another machine puts the crisps in a foil bag. Walkers then deliver the crisps very close to your house. If this still isn’t close enough, you can buy them online and a man will bring them to your house in a refrigerated van. Opulent.

Unfortunately, the cost of the crisps can vary hugely from around 35p (in a filthy corner shop where the writing on the bag is in Turkish) to around £2.50 (in a service station or airport departure lounge). If you’re cooking for more than one person, you can buy the crisps packets in multipack bags of 6, 12 or, if you’re really going for mass catering, 18 or 24. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to hand out the bags of crisps if you’re going to be cooking for 12 or more.

Walkers crisps

Ingredients

Walkers crisps (any flavour, any size bag, maybe even a multipack)

Directions

1. Buy the bag(s) of crisps
2. Open the bag(s) of crisps
3. Put the crisps into your face (1–5 at a time)