Mac and cheese really has to be our ultimate guilty pleasure. It’s everything indulgent you could ever hope for – gooey cheese, comforting pasta and a crispy topping, all sizzling away. We both agreed years ago that if we did a cookbook we would definitely feature our ultimate mac and cheese recipe. This is just what we feel like when we’re in need of comfort or when we just have the blues. It’s one of those dishes people almost pretend not to love. But it’s had a bit of a makeover recently, and it’s hard for anyone to resist when seeing it on a menu now.
20g plain flour
400ml whole milk
2 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
pinch of grated nutmeg
250g cheddar (or use smoked cheddar or gruyère)
splash of olive oil
8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
5 spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
bunch of chives, snipped
100g mozzarella, ideally buffalo
150g dried breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
fresh coriander leaves, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.
2 Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook for a couple of minutes less than recommended on the packet, to keep it al dente. Once cooked, drain and refresh in cold water.
3 While the pasta is cooking, prepare the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, add the flour and stir over the heat for 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and very slowly add the milk (doing this slowly is important for the sauce to stay smooth). Return to the heat and add the bay leaves. Continue to stir the sauce until it thickens. To check whether it is done, turn the spoon over and drag your finger down the back; if it stays with a finger mark in the middle, it’s ready. Stir in the mustard, nutmeg and cheese and season; set aside.
4 Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and fry the bacon. Once nice and crispy, add the spring onions, garlic, chilli flakes and thyme and sauté over a medium heat. After a few minutes, remove from the heat.
5 Add the pancetta mixture and the drained pasta to the béchamel, then the chives and season. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, tear the mozzarella over the top and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over that.
6 Bake in the hot oven for 10–15 minutes or until bubbly, crisp and golden on the top. Serve straight away with torn coriander leaves over the top. We have it with a crunchy salad, plus our Jalapeño, Cashew and Avocado Dip and Smoky Harissa (both recipes in the book) but it’s equally good eaten all on its own.