This Easy Macaroni Cheese is the perfect make-ahead supper dish. It is topped with crispy breadcrumbs and has a bit of extra cayenne spice to cut through the richness of the sauce and a secret layer of sweet caramelised onions. If you have never made this dish from scratch, then I would encourage you to give it a go. It is really easy. It is rich, creamy and cheesy and will be equally popular with vegetarians and non-veggies alike.
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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.
What makes this recipe different?
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. This adds texture and flavour to 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.
Other simple pasta suppers
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.
- Basic Tomato Sauce – this is an easy recipe for a rich sauce using store-cupboard ingredients. Delicious stirred into pasta as it is and open to lots of variations and additions!
- Creamy Mushroom Pasta – this is simple vegetarian sauce combines mushrooms and chestnuts and lots of garlic. It can be used with any kind of pasta but I prefer it with short pasta such as gigli or penne.
- Spaghetti with Smoked Salmon – this simple recipe can be made in 15 minutes. Smoked salmon trimmings are combined with fennel and chives and a squeeze of lemon.
- Prawn Pasta with Herb Butter – this is made-in-minutes pasta supper
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Step-by-step guide to making this recipe
Easy Macaroni Cheese with Caramelised OnionsPrint
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 (5 oz) butter – 25 g (1 oz) plus 100 g (4 oz)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large onions
- 1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
- 350 g (12 oz) dried macaroni
- 50 g (2 oz) plain flour
- 2 teaspoons cayenne
- 860 ml (2 pints) milk
- 350 g (12 oz) strong, hard cheese such as mature cheddar
- salt and pepper
- 50 g (2 oz) 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