This Easy Macaroni Cheese is the perfect make-ahead supper dish. If is rich, creamy and cheesy with a crispy top. If you are looking for vegetarian comfort food, which will be equally popular with non-veggies, look no further.
A traditional family recipe…
In my family, serving this Macaroni Cheese has become a Christmas Eve tradition. On the day before Christmas, when everyone is gathering, I have to feed a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarians of all ages and a spectrum of general food pickiness. This dish seems to hit the spot as it is warming and comforting and also has a simplicity that is welcome when we all know we are going to have a blow-out meal the next day. I serve it with a green salad dressed with a sharp vinaigrette to balance the cheesy richness of the pasta.
We also eat it on lots of other occasions, in both winter and summer, as it so popular and can be made ahead of time. If like me you are more of a “kitchen-supper” rather than dinner party style of host, it is a great dish to serve. Everything is done in advance – you just need to put it in the oven to warm through – so you can focus on talking to your guests rather than doing complicated things in the kitchen.
…but with a twist
There are many, many recipes for Macaroni Cheese. This one, which has developed over the years, has three elements that I think sets it apart from others. First off, it is topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese which means that it has a fantastic crispy top which sets off the soft, creamy pasta. Secondly, it is a bit spicy. We discovered that adding a lot of cayenne was a good thing when my daughter made this recipe when she was quite young and mistook a dessert spoon for a teaspoon. We ate the first mouthful with trepidation but discovered that actually having a bit of heat cuts through the richness of the cheese sauce and improves the flavour of the dish. The third and final element is that there is a delicious secret hidden within this traditional-looking Macaroni Cheese. In the middle of the dish is a layer of sweet, soft caramelised onions which work brilliantly to lift flavour of the cheesy pasta.
What would we do without pasta?
I love pasta so much that I sometimes wonder if I might have some unknown Italian ancestor! It is so easy, versatile and so universally liked – by adults, children, vegetarians and meat-eaters – that it appears on our table several times each week. If you are looking for other simple pasta supper recipes you might also like my quick and easy recipes for Creamy Mushroom Pasta and Smoked Salmon Pasta with Fennel.
This Easy Macaroni Cheese recipe combines rich, creamy pasta with a crunchy topping, a dash of cayenne heat and a secret layer of caramelised onions.
125 g butter (25 g plus 100 g)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
350 g macaroni
55 g plain flour
2 teaspoons cayenne
860 ml milk
350 g strong, hard cheese such as mature cheddar
salt and pepper
50 g fresh breadcrumbs
Put 25 g of the butter and the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and place over a very low heat.
Peel and roughly chop the onions and add them to the pan. Cook the onions very gently for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The aim is to caramelise the onions so that they are a light golden colour and their natural sweetness is enhanced. When the onions are done, season with salt and stir in the soft brown sugar. Set aside until required.
While the onions are gently cooking, cook the macaroni in a pan of salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. This would normally take around 10-15 minutes. When it is cooked, drain the hot water from the pasta and put it back in the saucepan covered with cold water to prevent it clumping together.
Make the cheese sauce by melting the remaining 100 g of butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the flour, mix it into the butter and cook gently for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir the milk into the butter and flour mixture. Put the saucepan back onto the heat and stir until the sauce has thickened. Grate the cheese and add 300 g to the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the cooked macaroni and add it to the cheese sauce.
Pour half of the mixture into a rectangular dish of approximately 40 cm x 25 cm. Spread the caramelised onions on top and then add the other half of the mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining 50 g of grated cheese on top together with the breadcrumbs.
Heat your oven to 200 C, 400 F or Gas Mark 6 and bake the macaroni cheese for 30 minutes. When it is done, it will be hot all through and the top will be crisp and golden.
It is very easy to make your own breadcrumbs by whizzing stale bread in a food processor for a few minutes. They can then be stored in the fridge for several days or frozen for several months.
You can make the macaroni cheese a day in advance up until step 7 and keep it in the fridge. Make sure that you allow it to come back up to room temperature before heating in the oven.
Keywords: macaroni, cheese, pasta bake, vegetarian
Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Chestnuts – the perfect week-night supper
This Creamy Mushroom Pasta, with sweet chestnuts and caramelised onions, is just what I want at the end of a busy working day. It is savoury, full of flavour and, even better, is quick and easy to make and the sauce can also be made in advance.
Mushrooms and sweet chestnuts are great flavour partners and are two of my favourite ingredients. The savouriness of this dish is enhanced by using both fresh and dried mushrooms. You can use any type of dried mushroom in this recipe – most of the supermarkets sell a range including porcini, shitake and mixed. They add a real depth of almost meaty flavour to recipes that do not contain any meat! Ready-to-eat sweet chestnuts are also available widely in supermarkets. They are inevitably associated with Christmas but I use them all the year round. They have a sweetness and also a soft but firm texture that is fantastic in all kinds of savoury dishes.
Due to its deep savouriness, this dish is a great one to serve to meat-eaters. In addition to its flavour, it also has a good range of textures and a good “mouth feel” which means the lack of meat is not likely to be noticed! There are several variations that you can make to this recipe depending on your dietary preferences.
Vegetarian – I include anchovies in my recipe but, if you are vegetarian, you can leave them out. You may just need to add a little additional salt to the sauce.
Vegan – You can replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil, omit the anchovies and the cream. In order to make the sauce creamy, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
Healthier – Replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil and omit the cream. As above, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
You can use any kind of pasta to make Creamy Mushroom Pasta. I generally use a shorter pasta such as gigli (I love gigli!) or penne but I’ve made it with pretty much every type of pasta depending on what I have in my cupboard at the time.
This Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Chestnuts is the perfect week-night supper.
25 g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
a handful of dried mushrooms (any kind)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tin of anchovies (optional)
485 g fresh mushrooms
180 g pack of peeled chestnuts
2 tablespoons of double cream
Salt and pepper
350 g pasta
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan.
Peel and finely chop the onions and add them to the pan. Crumble the dried mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook over a low heat for around 15 minutes until the onions are sweet and caramelised and the dried mushrooms have softened.
Peel and crush the cloves of garlic and roughly chop the anchovies. Add to the pan.
Finely chop half of the fresh mushrooms and slice the other half. This gives some variety in texture to the pasta sauce. Add the fresh mushrooms to the pan.
Cook for ten minutes until the fresh mushrooms are cooked through.
Roughly chop the peeled chestnuts into large chunks and add them to the pan.
Stir in the double cream and heat for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Chop the parsley and stir into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as required. You may not need to add salt as the anchovies will add saltiness to the mixture.
In a separate pan, heat water to boiling point, add the pasta and cook according to instructions on the packet. When done, drain and stir in the mushroom and chestnut sauce.
If you want to make this a vegetarian recipe, you can omit the anchovies. Just make sure that you add a little salt to the sauce to compensate for the loss of their saltiness.
If you want to make this a vegan recipe, you can replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil, omit the anchovies and the cream. In order to make the sauce creamy, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
If you want to make this a healthier recipe, replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil and omit the cream. As above, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
Spaghetti with Smoked Salmon, Herb Fennel and Chives
Spaghetti with Smoked Salmon, Herb Fennel and Chives is probably the quickest and easiest pasta dish. It is done in the time that it takes to cook the pasta – which is usually around 10 to 15 minutes – and only needs a single saucepan. It is also extremely tasty with the cream absorbing the savoury, salty smoked salmon flavour and allowing it to permeate the whole dish. Although smoked salmon is often considered a luxury food, and can be expensive, a little goes a long way and it is fine to use smoked salmon trimmings which are sold in most supermarkets and are a lot more affordable.
The use of fresh herbs to enhance dishes and the ease with which this can be done – you just chop them up and add them at the end of cooking – is highlighted in this dish. I have referred to Herb Fennel, to differentiate it from the bulb fennel, often used in Italian cooking. Both the Herb and bulb fennel share an aniseed taste. Therefore, if you do not have Herb Fennel, dill is a good substitute.
My daughter, who is a pescatarian and therefore eats fish but not meat, describes this pasta sauce as being like spaghetti carbonara for non-meat eaters. I think she is right – there is definitely an echo in this dish of the creamy, salty taste created by pancetta and eggs in a carbonara.
I often make this dish as a quick family supper but, as the smoked salmon makes it seem luxurious, it is also a really good easy option for a dinner party or for a date night! It would certainly be a good choice for a romantic meal as it is so quick and tasty and is easy for those with little cooking experience to prepare (and, unusually for my pasta recipes, it does not include garlic!)
This quick and easy pasta dish combines delicious smoked salmon with fennel and lemon. It takes a matter of minutes to prepare and is perfect for supper after a long day at work.
500 g dried spaghetti
100 g smoked salmon (smoked salmon trimmings are fine)
2 fronds of herb fennel (or dill)
Bunch of chives (about 6 stems)
150 ml double cream
A knob of butter
Zest of half a lemon
Fill the large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. When boiling, add a pinch of salt, put the spaghetti in the saucepan and cook according to instructions (generally this will be for around 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, cut the smoked salmon into small pieces and finely chop the herb fennel and chives.
When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it and return it to the saucepan. Stir in the smoked salmon pieces, chopped herbs, double cream and knob of butter. Grate a little lemon zest over the pasta – the amount will depend on how lemony you like your pasta. Season with black pepper. There is no need to add any extra salt as the smoked salmon will be very salty.
500 g dried long pasta (such as spaghetti, linguine or tagliatelle)
Melt the 25 g butter in your frying pan over a low heat. Finely chop the fennel and onion and add to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook slowly for around 15 minutes until soft and sweet. Either chop the garlic clove finely or squeeze through a garlic press and add to the mixture and cook for a further couple of minutes. Finely chop the parsley and add it to the pan.
Add the raw prawns, and the tiger prawns if you are using them, to the pan and fry for around five minutes until pink and cooked.
Meanwhile, boil water in a big saucepan, add salt to taste, and cook your pasta as specified on the packet. This would usually be for around 10 minutes.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the frying pan with the fennel, onion and prawns. (It is always best to add the pasta to the sauce rather than the other way around as this makes sure that the balance of pasta to sauce is as you like it.).
Add your Sorrel and Chive Herb Butter to the frying pan, let it melt into the pasta and prawn mixture and serve.