This is part mac ‘n’ cheese, part cauliflower cheese, and deliciously golden and moreish with some crispy bacon thrown in for good measure. Baking it at the end to melt the cheese isn’t essential, but oh, it’s so good. It’s a quicker method than the traditional ‘melt some butter and flour to make a roux then thin with a little milk’ – but with pretty much the same end results. You know me, I like to keep things simple, but if the thought of not making a ‘real white sauce’ distresses you, then melt a tablespoon of butter over a low heat with a scant level tablespoon of flour, mix well to form a thick paste, thin with a little milk, stir until smooth, add more milk, toss in the cheese, melt, and remove from the heat and set to one side until you need the saucy bit. I find (personally) that the eggs thicken the mixture and a good whack in the oven finishes it off, but hey, there’s many roads up the mountain to a perfect mac n cheese. I just don’t like to make more washing up than I absolutely have to, and let’s face it, pasta in a cheesy sauce is hardly haute cuisine…
300g short pasta, like penne, or macaroni
2 tbsp oil 200g cauliflower, grated or broken into small florets
200g bacon, chopped 2 eggs 200ml milk Black pepper 100g hard, strong cheese, grated
Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add the pasta and reduce to a simmer according to packet instructions, usually around 8 minutes, to cook and soften.
Meanwhile, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the grated cauliflower and bacon. You can finely slice the cauli instead of grating it, but the key is to get it into little pieces so it cooks quickly. If you have a decent blender, you can fling it in raw to pulse it to a fine grain – you’ll lose the ‘cauli cheese’ element of the dish, but save yourself some chopping. (Incidentally, raw cauli flung in a blender and pulsed to a fine grain makes a great alternative to bulghur wheat or similar in a tabbouleh salad, that Ottolenghi chap does a marvellous one…)
Back to the mac! In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to bring it to a warmish temperature (so it doesn’t turn to startled scrambled eggs when you pop it in the oven) and beat in.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add to the pan with the cauliflower and bacon. Pour in the egg mixture and mix through.
Tip the lot into an ovenproof baking dish, top with the grated cheese and bake for 12-15 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the cheese is golden and crispy. And serve! And enjoy! And all that jazz.
Recipe adapted from A Year In 120 Recipes by Jack Monroe, published by Penguin and available to order here. To watch the shy and nervous clip on ITV Player, click here.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack