Best Macaroni Cheese

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Macaroni cheese has been my favourite food since I was a child, and nothing has changed over the years – I would still gladly eat it every day, if my conscience didn’t prevent me from doing so! (This version is definitely ‘worth the calories’, as Prue would say.) Until recently I used to think it was a waste of posh Cheddar to use it in a sauce, and I would save it for cheese boards. Now I’ve realized the error of my ways and found what a huge difference it makes to the macaroni cheese.

Perhaps controversially, I prefer to use rigatoni or penne in place of actual macaroni when I make it, but you could use any short pasta shape and it will be delicious.

Ingredients

  • 400 g dried macaroni (or rigatoni, which is my preference)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • 900 ml cold whole milk
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 40 g plain flour
  • a pinch of English mustard powder
  • 200 g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 80 g vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 40 g fresh breadcrumbs
  • salt and black pepper to season
  • tomato and red onion salad to serve (optional)

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas mark 7.
  2. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the macaroni and cook for about 10 minutes until al dente (13 minutes for rigatoni). Drain the pasta and tip it into a large ovenproof dish (about 30 × 20 cm/12 × 8 in and 10 cm/4 in deep). Drizzle with a little olive oil and stir it through to prevent the pasta sticking together.
  3. Combine the cold milk, butter, flour and mustard powder in a second saucepan, set it over a medium heat and whisk frequently until the butter has melted and the flour is all incorporated. Bring it to the boil and cook, continuing to whisk regularly, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Remove it from the heat, then whisk in the grated Cheddar and 60g of the grated vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese. Taste it, then season with salt and black pepper – it’s best to do it this way around, as the cheese is salty, so you may not need as much salt as you would think. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat the pasta evenly.
  5. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the onion and sauté until it is soft and translucent. Stir the cooked onion into the pasta.
  6. Scatter the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan-style cheese over the top of the pasta, trying to cover the surface evenly. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, by which time it should be golden brown, crisp on top and piping hot. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.