I used to dislike mac and cheese with an unholy passion. It was at the top of my “things you couldn’t pay me to eat” list, together with fish pie and recognisable offal *boke!* To be fair, I’m not a cheese fan at the best of times (and yet the stinky cheese board always ends up next to me at dinner parties >.<) but I blame my almost obsessive contempt for the cheesy pasta on school dinners whose mac and cheese was utter utter utter foulness! It must have been made from a powder mix because it was always oddly gritty and a little watery. I don’t think I ever touched it again after leaving school, not even in a poshed up Italian restaurant “four cheese pasta” style. But you can’t be married to an American and avoid the stuff forever… So it was with huge trepidation that I agreed to let Hubby reintroduce me to this dish last year, and thank God I did because it is, quite honestly, one of my favourite things that he cooks for me now, much to his disbelief and amusement.
He also can’t leave well enough alone so it’s gone through several iterations, from a roux based sauce to a now wine based one (Hubby says – Thanks Heston!). Not that it tastes remotely boozy, the alcohol is well cooked off to leave just the delicious flavour of the wine behind which sets the mixture of cheeses up perfectly. Try it this way and I promise you’ll never do this with a roux again 🙂
- Stuff you’ll need…
- 160g block of strong/sharp cheddar (Isle of Mull extra mature is our current fave)
- 60-100g block of Taleggio (or any full fat semi hard non-cheddar cheese, emmental or brie would also work)
- 100g Philadelphia cream cheese, full fat
- 250-350g fusilli or penne
- 500ml white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio work well)
- 500ml hot chicken stock
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp corn flour (1.5 tbsp at a push)
- 1. Pour the white wine into the medium saucepan and place over a medium to high heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the wine has reduced right down to approx 50ml/quarter cup.
- 2. While the wine is reducing, roughly grate your blocks of cheese into a mixing bowl – if the non-cheddar is a softish cheese it might be easier to just tear it into small pieces. (Hubby says – This really can’t be too cheesey so don’t be stingy with the cheese, and if you have leftover bits of different cheddars taking up space in the fridge then mix them all in too). Sprinkle the corn flour over the grated cheeses and mix with your fingers until it’s thoroughly coated the cheese
- 3. Fill the large saucepan with water and place over a high heat until its boiling. Salt liberally before adding the pasta – you want to time this with When the wine looks to have reduced right down. Cook the pasta for 10 mins, or according to the packet instructions.
- 4. While the pasta is cooking, add the chicken stock to the wine reduction. Whisk gently and return to the boil. Once it’s bubbling away, add the grated cheese and cornflour to the wine/stock mix and stir slowly with the whisk until the cheese has melted right in. Add the Cayenne pepper too. Leave on a low heat while the pasta cooks.
- 5. Just before the pasta is ready, add the cream cheese to the wine/stock/cheese mixture and gently mix with the whisk until it’s all incorporated and looking like a happy cheese sauce. If the sauce doesn’t look thick enough at this point, mix a bit of cornflour with water and add to the cheese mix. A minute or two cooking should thicken the sauce nicely. Remove from heat.
- 6. When the pasta is ready (you’re aiming for al dente), drain, and then return the pasta to the saucepan it was cooked in. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well (if a film has appeared on the cheese mix while it was off the heat just whisk it back into the sauce first). Season with black pepper and mix again, and then transfer it all to your baking dish.
- 7. Cover the pasta with a bit more shredded cheese and put in the oven under the grill until the cheese is melted and nicely gratinated.
- Also nice with a bit of shredded ham hock stirred through it if you don’t want something meatless.