Alpine Macaroni Cheese
I’m a late convert to macaroni cheese, having been put off by the gloopy school version, but, after making six or seven different versions for the Guardian, I finally worked out what everyone was on about. As insurance against blandness, however, I usually add a few extra ingredients to the dish, just in case I fall out of love again: this particular spin on the traditional recipe is inspired by a wonderful warm leek and lardon tart that I enjoyed after a gruelling day falling over in the French Alps last year. It can be prepared right up until step 3 a day ahead: in that case, you’ll need to chill it, without the breadcrumbs, in the buttered dish, then cover it with foil and reheat in a 180°C/gas mark 4 oven for 30 minutes before uncovering, adding the breadcrumbs, and baking for about another 10 minutes until golden and bubbling.
|50g||butter, plus a little extra to grease|
|2||leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced|
|150g||speck or smoked bacon lardons|
|salt and pepper|
|3 tbsp||plain flour|
|250g||Gruyere, finely grated|
|1 tbsp||wholegrain mustard|
|finely grated nutmeg, to taste|
Heat half the butter in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and gently cook the leeks for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the speck or bacon, turn up the heat and fry until crisp.
Cook the macaroni in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente, according to the instructions on the packet, and drain.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened. Stir in 200g of the cheese, the mustard and a grating of nutmeg. Taste and season if necessary. Add the pasta, leeks and bacon and toss together well. Heat the grill to medium.
Butter a baking dish and tip the pasta in. Mix the breadcrumbs with the rest of the cheese, sprinkle on top of the pasta, and grill until golden and bubbling.