(Wheat and lactose free/vegan)
At first I felt hesitant about starting with this recipe or even posting it on here at all because it’s not very exciting. There are a hundred recipes out there for macaroni cheese, why on earth do we need another one? It’s not even a healthy dish for goodness sake. It’s hardly the kind of ground-breaking, inspirational extravaganza of awesomeness I was hoping to impress you with on my first post. But then, one of the major hurdles that I encountered at the start of all this was the lack of familiar recipes. Wonderful though the bulger wheat salads and triple-cooked celeriac quinoa cakes sounded, the thought of suddenly having to change my entire shopping list and culinary skill-set overnight was incredibly daunting.* And sometimes I don’t want to be healthy damn it. New to dairy-free, wheat-free cooking, all I really wanted at that moment was a nice big bowl of macaroni cheese. So here it is, the first recipe on this blog and my version of the meal I grew up with.
*If, in fact, you are the sort of person who did grow up with bulgar wheat salads as part of your regular meal rotation, do feel free to read this introduction in reverse: here is my recipe for the amazing and exotic delight that is macaroni cheese.
- I have had real problems finding gluten-free macaroni, and even bigger problems finding some that does not immediately stick together to form an evil gelatinous lump the minute you introduce it to boiling water. The corn-based ones seem to be the worst for this. I have taken to using penne instead as it’s basically just bigger tubes and the advantage is you can pretend that you are a child eating giant macaroni. If you can eat spelt pasta this really is best as it doesn’t stick and the white kind tastes just like normal pasta.
- If you do have to use gluten free pasta I’ve found that heating the water up with the pasta from cold as opposed to pouring boiling water onto it can stop some of the sticking, or at least slow it down so that you have the chance to get in there with a wooden spoon and stir it. Then don’t stop stirring it. Really. I mean it. Your life is now the saucepan for the next 10 minutes. I actually hold a book with one hand and stir with the other. I also give it a quick rinse under the tap after draining it when cooked to get rid of any remaining starch.
- To speed life up a bit, I time things so that both the carrot and the pasta can be on the hob cooking at the same time. I then use the carrot pan to make the sauce in to minimise washing up.
- The sauce I use is what I have heard referred to as “the cheat version” of Mornay sauce, which I think is silly because I certainly can’t taste the difference and this one is so much easier than the classic roux method (more on that another time). It also uses cornflour which is a bonus for the gluten-free.
- Yeast flakes are a vegan dietary supplement that can be found in most health food shops. They look and smell exactly like fish food but they add great flavour to all kinds of dishes and taste much better than they smell, trust me.
Essential basic ingredients – serves 2 greedy people (my husband and I) or 3 normal people
- Pasta – macaroni if you can find it. Gluten-free or otherwise. Approx. 200g
- ½ pint milk or milk substitute (Soya milk works well, as does Lactofree)
- ½ pint boiling water (plus extra for cooking the pasta)
- 1 carrot
- 2 heaped tablespoons of cornflour
- 4oz cheddar cheese (melty vegan or Lactofree extra mature work fine)
- Salt and pepper
- A pinch of Herbes de Provence
- 1 teaspoon English mustard
- A pinch of vegan yeast flakes
- 1 gluten-free vegetable stock cube (I highly recommend adding this but if you can’t eat the onion just add a dash more seasoning instead
- ½ courgette
- A packet of smoky bacon crisps
- Vegan hot dogs or a couple of strips of bacon
- Breadcrumbs (2-3 slices of stale bread should do it. Brown or white, gluten free or not – it’s all good)
Cook the pasta.
Follow the guidelines on the back of the packet for cooking times as they do vary. Drain when cooked.
Prepare the vegetables
- Chop the carrot and courgette into discs.
- Pop the carrot into a pan with ½ pint boiling water and a vegetable stock cube. Cook for 5-10 mins (depending on how crunchy you like your carrots). Scoop the carrots out of the water with a slotted spoon (or spear them with a fork) and pop them on a plate out of the way (Washing-up tip – I use the one that I am planning on eating off later).
- Put the courgette discs in a bowl with a tiny splash of water. Cover with microwavable clingfilm and microwave on full power for about 1 ½ mins. Normally I would never recommend microwaving courgette as it will make it taste watery and strange but in this case it works perfectly.
Make the sauce
- Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk in a glass until it dissolves.
- Add the milk to the carrot water (if a lot has boiled off you might need to top it up – you should have roughly 1 pint of liquid in total)
- Add the salt, pepper and herbs.
- Heat until it starts to simmer then remove from the heat.
- Tip in the cornflour and stir like crazy. I actually use a silicone balloon whisk for this bit.
- Return the pan to the heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens to the consistency of, well, a sauce rather than watery milk.
- Grate and add the cheese. Stir until it melts.
- Add the mustard and a generous pinch of yeast flakes.
- Add the carrot, courgette and pasta and stir until heated through.
And there you go. At this point my Mum would serve it to us kids like it is, and certainly you can eat it this way, however these days I like to bake it for extra gloopiness and a crunchy top. So, if you have the time to spare, continue on to….
… the extras.
Put the macaroni cheese in an ovenproof dish. I then place it onto a baking tray to catch any drips when I inevitably over-fill it and the sauce bubbles over. Bake on 180C for roughly half an hour (depending how crispy you like it)
A crispy top.
Pulverise some stale bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Or just rub it with your fingers. Or buy them; do what you like. Add a little more grated cheese, salt and pepper and add to the top of your macaroni before you bake it.
When I was growing up I was always jealous of my best friend whose Mum let her crumble ready salted crisps on top of her macaroni cheese. I think this is a genius idea and the contrasting textures are really interesting. Just don’t bake the crisps. Another good friend over at www.iwillliveoffcrisps.tumblr.com recommends smoky bacon flavour for this. (If you need to know anything about crisps, check out her blog. In fact, check it out even if you don’t think you need to know anything about crisps. It’s that good) She also recommends Nigella’s tip of adding 500g of mashed sweet potato to your sauce. I’ve not tried this yet but it sounds very exciting. I will post an update once I’ve tried it.
Another way of adding interest to your macaroni cheese is to add microwavable hot dogs (Quorn do great vegetarian ones), crispy bacon or ham. Come on now, this is a macaroni cheese recipe; it was never going to be healthy.