Mushroom mac n’ cheese, 42p

This is one of my favourite comfort meals, quick to assemble, using ingredients that I generally have kicking about the house, and can just be slung in the oven and forgotten about, left to slowly pull itself together in a haze of blissful creamy soft salty rich glorious goodness. I’ve just polished off my second bowl of it, and frankly, it’s too good not to share with you all, so here it is. It’s easy to make it vegan – replace the hard strong cheese and mozzarella with Violife or something similar, and the milk with coconut or almond or soya milk, depending on what you prefer. It’s easy to throw together, and the reward of a deep bowl of melting goodness far outweighs the minimal effort involved in making it. I consider this an essential part of my repertoire these days, and barely a week goes by without it. It freezes beautifully, too, so do double the recipe and sling some of it to one side for a lazy day.

Serves three people, or two particularly hungry ones, at 42p each

1 onion, 9p (90p/1.5kg, Sainsburys)
1 tbsp sunflower oil, 3p (£3/3l)
A pinch of salt, 1p (25p/1kg, Sainsburys Basics)
1 tbsp flour, 2p (65p/1.5kg)
400ml milk – or vegan equivalent, 18p (44p/1l)
150g mushrooms, 36p (97p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
Half a ball of mozzarella, 22p (44p, Sainsburys Basics)
Scant edge of a teaspoon of mustard, <1p (45p/180g, Sainsburys Basics)
200g pasta (I used ‘gigli’ as it was a birthday present, but am pricing it up as a cheaper option as fancy frilly pasta is not essential!) 14p, (35p/500g Sainsburys Basics)
15g hard strong cheese, 18p (£2.30/200g, Sainsburys Basics)
A slice of bread, 2p (40p/22 slice loaf, Sainsburys Basics)

First peel and finely chop your onion and sling it in a saucepan with a slug of oil. Cook on a gentle heat for a few minutes to soften, season with salt, and sprinkle in the flour. Mix briskly so that the flour coats the onions.
Add a liberal splash of milk and beat well to form an oniony paste. It doesn’t look all that at the moment, but don’t worry, it’s going to get better. Add another splash of milk, and another, keeping it moving so it doesn’t catch and burn, nor go stiff and sticky. Stiff and sticky certainly have their uses, but neither of them are needed in this particular scenario. Repeat until all the milk is used up; it will be quite runny at this point, but it will firm up in the oven later.
Finely slice your mushrooms, or break them up by hand – I’ll be honest, I like to just smash them between my thumbs, especially at the end of a stressful day. Try it, you might like it. However you choose to dismember them, add them to the pot and stir through. Add your cheese (or cheese equivalent), dollop in the mustard, crank the heat up, and stir through until melted.
Remove the pan from the heat, and fold in the pasta. (Folding in is a cookery term that basically means ‘gently stir it without mooshing it about too much’.) Tip it into an ovenproof dish, making sure the pasta is pretty much covered in the sauce, add more cheese on top, and optional breadcrumbs if you like that kind of thing, and pop it in the oven at 180C for 45 minutes.
Serve, or if you’re anything like me, eat it from the pan in front of the telly to both feel ludicrously decadent, and save on washing up.

I have made this in the past with garlic and grated celery added to the base, both of which add a real depth of flavour, but as this is a frugal cookery blog, neither are particularly essential to the main recipe, but they definitely add a little special something, so if you have either kicking around, give them a go. Just add them at the same time as the onion, a couple of garlic cloves and a stick or two of celery ought to do it. A pinch of chilli doesn’t go amiss, neither does a shake of nutmeg, and a handful of spinach (fresh or frozen) is always a good idea. But if you don’t have or like any of the little tweaks, seriously, it’s a pretty stunning dinner all by itself.

Twitter: @MxJackMonroe
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

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40 Comments »

  1. I’ve never added uncooked pasta then cooked for 45 minutes – usually cooked pasta and then cook for 20 mins. Sounds much easier! Probably my original sauce would be too thick, while yours would be thinner, so cook the pasta better and thicken while doing it. Nice to get a new post from you, hope all is going well after all the trials you’ve had with the appalling Hopkins woman!

  2. I’m going to try this was of doing it rather than cooking pasta first- but will need to make it gluten free – I use cornflour for thickener and gf pasta – mushrooms sounds a really good addition.

    • No not at all but I wanted to keep my recipes easy for people to follow on low budgets – so I put in vegan details but am aware that that isn’t how everyone cooks. Most of them are vegan by default 🙂

  3. Really pleased to see a budget recipe from you after a long while, as we are really feeling the pinch and need to eat as cheaply as possible, while staying healthy. Love your recipes – Diet Coke Chicken is my son’s all time favourite meal. I also love how you know what things to swap/substitute for others. I never really have any idea where substitutions are concerned, so thanks for your help. Also, I really like the clean lines of your photo / blog header (is that what you call it?) above. Did you remove the cupboard doors yourself? They look great.

  4. So glad you’re back! Being currently on maternity leave, with all income having now stopped, baby brain has also left me totally uninspired. I’m cooking the same three dishes on repeat, and can’t even remember the types of things I once used to cook and take pride in. I really needed this email update hitting my inbox tonight, as it’s reminded me of my go-to source for ideas when I was tight on cash before. I remembered your whole catalogue of recipes and that’s really cheered me up – both because I know they’re on a bootstring (I really need this right now), and because it’s reminded me of my love of food and cooking – and I’d lost so much of that passion and inspiration when watching a baby all day has absorbed every other second. Thank you!! I’m vegetarian too, so these ideas are great!

  5. Yay! I was just about to pull out your first book for ideas as things are a bit tight at the minute, then you go and pop up with this gem! thank you Jack x

  6. If you stick a handful of soaked cashews (i’d do 10g per person) in a blender with tapioca starch and cider vinegar or lemon juice and heat it in a pan you can easily make vegan mozzarella! there are a few tutorials dotted around called ‘vegan moxarella’ if you’re interested. I think the price works out comparable to the non vegan versions, but cheaper than something like violife.

  7. So glad to have you back with the cookery crowd that needs you Jack! I will definitely try this, adding uncooked pasta means less washing up = happy mummy!

  8. You mentioned above that you made the recipe easy for people on low-budgets (hence the cheese) – but that kind of suggests that it’s hard to follow a vegan diet on a budget, which just isnt the case. As someone mentioned above, you don’t need to buy expensive pre-packaged vegan cheeses, it’s really simple to make them with blended nuts and seasonings. I just think if youre going to put cheese in a recipe you may as well go the whole hog and put ham in it too, since arguably the dairy industry is far worse than the meat industry.

    • I’m going to have a go at making my own cheese and if it’s cheap and easy, I’ll blog about it. Most people do eat cheese and drink milk – and those who don’t, can use alternatives. I’m not going to insist that 122k people drastically change their diets just because I have, but do do a lot to show how simple vegan and vegetarian food can be.

      • That’s what I love about this site – I am honestly a fan, and use and love your recipes often. I totally take your point, and of course you are doing much more than me to make vegan and vegetarian cooking accessible and exciting to a large audience than I am. Dairy just grinds my gears. Anyway, yeah highly recommend embarking into the exciting world of cheese making – quite a lot ask you to soak the nuts for ages – but you can speed that part up by boiling them up til theyre soft (tenish mins) – I think ItDoesntTasteLikeChicken and HotForFood both have good recipes on this, but they are fairly easy to tweak. Admittedly Ive never costed it up before so that’ll be interesting to see. Buying cashew nuts can be pricey – but I found big bags in Asda for 3 quid. I think there are also recipes that dont even use nuts as a base – someone above mentioned tapioca starch, which is truly magic at making all things gooey – also amazing how closely you can approximate the taste with careful application of salt, garlic and onion powder and vinegar/lemon juice.

      • I’m having trouble finding cheap nuts – they always feel really decadent to me – so any hints about how to find them would be great, if you know of any.

      • I agree Jack. I am a carnivore who is trying to cut down a little. I don’t think I will give up proper dairy and like your blog because it has “something for everyone”. I am also a psychologist who works as a clinician in an impoverished suburb with high unemployment and part of my role is facilitating cooking classes for parents who are usually making do on a benefit. Most do not identify as vegan but have to eat a lot of meat free for financial reasons. So I love this blog as well s all that you have achieved.

    • @Em – I found fairly big bags of nuts in Asda for 3 quid, which is about the cheapest around. If you buy online in bulk you could probably get it down even more, but only really worth it if youre going to use them regularly

  9. Thanks for this, just made it and it was so easy and delicious. I didn’t have any mozzarella but added some camembert also some frozen spinach.

  10. i ll be interested in that, jack,as the bought vegan cheeses,though lovely,are out of my price range.thank you so much for this recipe- youre an angel xxx

  11. So glad you are posting again. I do sometimes read your twitter feeds, but I love your style of writing. You have given me back the confidence to cook, and I feel I am looking after myself when I cook a big batch of one of your recipes on the weekend, so I will have something healthy to eat during the week. I work as a mental health support worker, which involves a lot of arguing with benefits officials. Some are almost human. Looking forward to more recipes please!!!

  12. Hi Jack,
    Had this mid-week and turned out delicious. Added random left over veg and topped with tomato/pepper/courgette slices.
    Gret re-heated too.
    Carry on the great work.

  13. I love this but I’m allergic to onion so wouldn’t add those. Can anyone advise on how to start the rue without? I usually use butter and flour then milk but my last attempt was grainy x

    • Is leek ok? I cook for a household member who can’t eat onion and use leek as a substitute in everything. Chopped up small – both the white and green parts (technical terms)

  14. Hi, Jack. So happy to see you posting again You have been on my mind and in my prayers. I plan on trying this recipe new weekend after I get paid and look forward to your blogging about making cheese. Take care dear one.

  15. So I love this blog as well s all that you have achieved. Anyway, yeah highly recommend embarking into the exciting world of cheese making – quite a lot ask you to soak the nuts for ages – but you can speed that part up by boiling them up til theyre soft (tenish mins) – I think ItDoesntTasteLikeChicken and HotForFood both have good recipes on this, but they are fairly easy to tweak.

  16. This dish is bloody delicious! Even though I ballsed it up and completely misread the method whilst my hungry 3 month old baby was having a total meltdown (you’d think at 3 months you would be able to suss the routine thing wouldn’t you? not me!) it still tasted amazing! Maybe it was because we’d planned to eat at 7 and finally sat down at 9 starving, I don’t know but I can’t wait for the successful version! Oh and I threw in some diced pancetta with the onion for a non-veggie version!
    Enjoying this page and others, I actually found it through a link to the Diane Abbot post that you shared (think that went viral you know) so accidental but worth it! Looking forward to trying the other recipes (meltdown free hopefully!)
    Thank you!
    Love Suzanne (Hipeless mother, shit cook)

  17. Gonna be trying this one tomorrow as I have some mushrooms that need eating asap. A good money saving tips for all parents with crust dodging kids…cut off sandwich crusts, pop in a blender and then in a freezer bag…perfect for fishcakes or when recipes calls for them!

  18. I’m no cooking expert believe me but I tried your recipe. Had a problem at the “Mix briskly so that the flour coats the onions.
    Add a liberal splash of milk and beat well” stage. I did mix briskly and I did beat well but I got loads of sticky lumpy bits that made themselves at home in the saucepan and refused to leave. I’m just wondering if I should have firstly made the milky flour liquid and stirred until red in face to eradicate lumps, then added the onions. Anyway the end result was fine – I threw in some old cauliflower florets for a bit of texture. I’ll keep practising!

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