Market to Table

IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

It’s hard to believe that one can improve on perfection, but sometimes inspiration strikes. When my beloved tells me she is craving thick and creamy macaroni and cheese for supper, I rush to the kitchen to deliver.

Mac and cheese is one of the best comfort foods around. It has all the ingredients: pasta, cheese, and a rich béchamel sauce to envelope it all in creamy goodness while it bakes. It’s is among my favourite comfort foods, although when I was recovering from surgery a couple of years ago and made up a bunch of dishes to get me through convalescence I favoured three others: cottage pie, Cumberland fish pie and chicken and leek pie. More protein to speed the healing process, I suppose. All three recipes can be found in my recent ebook Market to Table: The Cookbook.

Former Great British Bake Off star, Mary Berry, is a proponent of good old-fashioned comfort food. In a story in UK’s Radio Times magazine last week, she tells of reviving such favourites as kedgeree, dumplings in beef casserole and shrimps in Marie Rose sauce. The former featured on the first episode of Downton Abbey and makes a great weekend breakfast dish.

Dumplings seem to have fallen out of favour, but I always loved them and will try to work them into a recipe soon. My sister makes a fabulous shrimp cocktail with pink sauce, which has long been a family treat. Mary Berry says the best way to serve avocado, rather than the current trend for smashed avocado on toast, is to fill the void left by the stone with shrimps in 70s retro pink sauce. Two great comfort food tastes in one.

Comfort food kedgeree (Courtesy BBC’s “Classic Mary Berry” television series)

Mac and cheese featured in my original cookbook How to Eat Well and Stay Single and with improvements, several variations made it into the new ebook. Over the years friends, and loyal readers, have told me how much they’ve enjoyed these particular recipes, but I must put my thinking cap on and improve this delicious pasta dish.

Checking the previous recipe in my ebook is simplicity itself, since a fully interactive index pops up as soon as one opens the ebook reader, whichever format you use. That’s the joy of the complicated coding I had to learn as I was readying the book for publication. It also ensures the book fits whatever device you are reading it on and that pages unfold without a hitch. An additional benefit is that electronic publishing allows me to insert a picture with every recipe, an impossible extra cost for a printed book. You can see for yourself for less than $10 now available on Amazoni-Tunes and Lulu.com.

There’s not much to play around with in this very simple recipe. The first place for improvement is to replace the 1 1/2 cups of milk with 18 per cent table cream. Next change up the pasta for something more substantial, such as penne. Add a pinch of grated nutmeg to the roux sauce to create a true béchamel. Finally, add a few breadcrumbs to the cheese topping to create a crispy brown effect. That should do it.

I’ve added a topping of ripe garden tomatoes, and served the whole with home made salsa sauce, rather than tomato ketchup, just because I happened to have some on hand. Tomatoes seem to bring out something extra.

After the pasta baked in the oven for the requisite time, and broiled to get the topping toasty brown, we further indulged by eating heaping portions of the tasty dish on trays in our evening room, where a favourite series was wrapping up on Netflix.

What would we do without comfort food such as this, or comfort television such as Netflix?

BAKED PENNE & CHEESE PERFECTION

Serves 4 – 6

Shopping list

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked organic penne
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 2 cups white grated cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups 18 per cent table cream
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs

Preparation and cooking

  1. Fill a large saucepan with water, bring to the boil, add a drop or two of oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta slowly so the water continues to boil. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Cook for about 6 min for al dente.
  2. Set the oven to preheat at 390°F/200°C.
  3. Grate the cheese and set aside 1/2 cup for the topping.
  4. Make a white sauce with the butter, flour and cream, using the ROUX method. Add the cheese and stir until well melted. TIP: The sauce works better with hot, not boiling, cream. Add a pinch of grated nutmeg at the end and stir in well.
  5. When the pasta is cooked, drain using a colander or sieve, rinse thoroughly with cold water and toss to remove excess water. Return to saucepan, pour on the béchamel sauce, add a good grind of black pepper and mix well. TIP: Rinsing the pasta after cooking it al dente is important. It removes the excess starch which will adversely affect your dish when it is cooking. Under- rather than over-cook the pasta. It will finish in the oven as it bakes in the rich sauce.
  6. Spoon the mix into a casserole, or individual serving dishes. Layer on thick slices of ripe tomatoes until the dish is covered, add a sprinkle of olive oil and the rest of the grated cheese.
  7. Cook in the oven, on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to prevent spilling, for 15 min, then turn heat to broil for a further 5 min or until the cheese turns golden brown. Serve immediately.

SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY COOKBOOK: How about a copy of my e-book Market to Table: The Cookbook as a gift idea for yourself, friends, family or anyone who loves to cook, now available on Lulu.comi-Tunes and Amazon. If you click on the link to any of these online publishers you can preview the first chapter for free.

Featured image: Observant readers will note that the tablecloth used in the headline image is the very same one as that used on the cover of the cookbook.

Also, seen on the right for the first time, is the back cover image for a proposed, but never published, hard-cover edition of the book. Same table cloth!

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