I spent last week at Casa Mamma Tidy Munch, and most of that week I spent in the kitchen trying out new recipes for future blogs. Via the medium of my personal Facebook account, several of my friends had requested more vegetarian recipes. I wanted to do something for them, so explored some new ideas. (I should point out that this recipe is not vegetarian).
One of the ideas I tried was a disappointingly bland four cheese macaroni. I’d loved the thought of the recipe, as macaroni is one of those feel-good childhood favourites of mine, but the reality was just dull and far too mild for me. I did note that the sauce was particularly thick, though, and when the Macaroni was mixed through I commented to Nell that perhaps the mixture could be shaped into bites to be deep fried…
… well… guess what happened this week! I’ve changed two of the cheeses in the recipe, and tweaked the seasoning to create the best cheese sauce I’ve ever tasted (and I’m not one to blow my own trumpet!)
Despite being deep fried, these are surprisingly light, and the home made chilli mayo adds a pleasant warmth (with a kick that’s all in the after-taste) that we’re not particularly used to finding in conjunction with macaroni cheese. I like to think it’s a welcome quirk.
This one’s (ch)eeeeeeeasy – so go on, get stuck in!
2 egg yolks
100ml olive oil
1tsp garlic puree
4tsp chilli puree
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
400g dried macaroni
40g plain flour
1tsp white pepper
2tsp mustard powder
450ml luke-warm milk
100g freshly grated parmesan
85g extra mature cheddar
85g Creamy Blue Cheese
freshly grated nutmeg
a barrow-load of fine breadcrumbs (OK, I used about 100g)
This should make about 100ml of mayo, and forty (yes forty) mac bites. That’s a lot. It will comfortably serve 4-6 people. If I’m honest, I used only half the recipe, and held half back for normal macaroni. I served it for two, with some sweet potato fries, and there was no room for dessert.
1. Mayonnaise always seems to take me longer than I think it will, so I like to prep it in advance. I did mine the day before. First of all, add the egg yolks, garlic, chilli, lemon juice, vinegar, and 1tsp of the salt to a mixing bowl.
2. Break the yolks, and mix it all together until it’s smoothly blended, then start adding the oil, literally drop by drop to start with. Add a drop, and whisk it in (preferably using an actual whisk, but a fork will do at this point if you’re desperately stuck). Once the oil has been incorporated smoothly, add another drop.
3. As the volume increases, and the oil is more easily absorbed, you can start to add a little more each time. Patience is the key, though. Don’t rush it, or it may split.
4. Once all the oil has been incorporated, keep whisking. You can do this bit in a blender or stand mixer if you prefer. Some recipes do this from the get-go, but that never works for me. I’d thoroughly recommend adding all the oil slowly by hand first.
5. A good mayo should stand up to the upside-down-test (if you can put the bowl over your head, upside down, without getting a barnet full of mayo, it’s passed!) I’ll admit that mine wasn’t as thick as it should’ve been this time (though I’ve managed in the past). I made a judgement call that mine “would do” but if you find that yours is too thin, empty it into a jug, clean out your mixing bowl, and add another egg yolk or two. Scramble them up, and then slowly, slowly, slowly start to incorporate your runny mixture again, whisking all the while as you go. You’ll be amazed at the thickening-power of egg yolk!
6. Once it’s done, store it in the fridge. I wouldn’t recommend keeping it for more than two or three days.
7. Now for the macaroni – bring a large pan of slightly oiled water to the boil, chuck in the macaroni, and cook as per the packet instructions. I like mine a bit al-dente, and it will soften up a bit more at the frying stage, so I knocked a good couple of minutes off the packet guidelines.
8. Once it’s cooked, drain it, rinse with cold water, drain again, and put aside.
9. You can start this while the macaroni’s cooking if you like, but I did it separately as I’m a man and multi-tasking is not my strong point. Melt the butter in a large pan.
10. Once the butter’s melted, stir in the flour, pepper, mustard powder, and the remaining tspn of salt, and keep stirring to form a smooth, glossy roux. I’m not sure if these spices should technically go in at this point, but my concern was that adding them later may lead to clumping.
11. Cook the mixture, stirring all the while, for another few minutes, then remove from the heat. Slowly stir in the milk. I did this in small batches rather than a slow steady stream, making sure to stir all the while to avoid lumps. When your mixture is smooth again, it’s safe to add more milk. You should also add the nutmeg at this point.
12. Once you’ve added all the milk, return to the heat, and bring to the boil. It should thicken up a bit, and your boil will be a slow leisurely bubble, rather than an apoplectic frenzy.
13. Stir in the Creamy Blue, Cheddar, and 50g of the parmesan. Again, I did this in stages, making sure it was all blended before adding the next handful. Once it is all blended, add the mozzarella. This will take longer to melt down (so I did it in two batches) and will provide some amazing sticky, cheesy, stringiness. You may find you’re left with some small lumps of mozzarella. I consider these a bonus, but if you prefer a smoother sauce, just keep stirring until it all melts down. For the purposes of this recipe, I went for the smoother option.
14. Once all the cheese is incorporated to your liking, stir in the macaroni, making sure it all gets a good coating.
15. You can stop at this point if you like (see tweaks for some suggestions on what to do next) but the real fun is in the mac bites, so if you’re with me… stay with me!
16. Pour the cheesy macaroni out onto a baking tray (or a plate will do) to cool to room temperature(ish). This won’t take long at all.
16. Pour the breadcrumbs out on a plate, and spread them evenly. Mix in the remaining 50g of parmesan as evenly as you can.
17. Once the mac has cooled, it’s time to make the bites. Now, if I’m honest, mine were much bigger than most people can manage in a bite – this is because I found it difficult to shape them any smaller!
18. Take a heaped tablespoon of the mixture (it should really be about the size of two tablespoons). I used two tablespoons to shape this into a very rough oval shape (as the mixture is a bit too sticky at this stage for hands!) Gently drop it on the bread crumbs, and sprinkle more from the side of the plate on top. Pat some around the sides of the mixture, too. This should allow you to pick up the macaroni to shape it. Now, you probably won’t be able to roll it between your hands, so I found the best technique was to try to compress it down into a ball. I generally needed to add a little more breadcrumbs, but don’t over-do it. The trick here is to dry the outside enough to be workable, but not so much that the mixture comes apart. You want the centre to retain some of the sauciness. When you’re done, your mac bite should look a little bit like a tiny cauliflower!
19. Repeat forever and ever amen.
20. When you’ve shaped all the mac bites you want or need, pop them in the fridge for an hour or so.
21. When you’re ready to eat, bung the oven on low, and set your deep fat fryer to high (I used 190ºC but perhaps a lower temp would be fine if you wanted a lighter colour).
22. When the oil’s up to heat, fry the bites in batches of 5 or 6. Keep each batch warm in the oven while you fry the next. When you’re all done, serve with the chilli mayo.
Close at the top this week, with Tesco’s £19.02 just snatching it from ASDA’s £19.08. Morrisons moved out to third place with their offering of £22.11. Sainsbury’s are back in their familiar last place of £23.84.
The cheese sauce loses some of it’s awesome flavour when you convert these to bites, so the most obvious tweak is just to stop at stage 15, and serve it up as it is! It truly is delicious and won’t disappoint even in this simpler state. Of course, the mayo is optional regardless how your serve this.
The original (disappointingly bland) recipe that this is tweaked from was for a baked macaroni. The trick is to undercook your macaroni by a further couple of minutes. At stage 15, pour the mixture into a lightly buttered casserole dish, or similar. Use about 50g of the breadcrumbs (still mixed with parmesan, though slightly less may do) to top the mixture, and bung it in the oven at about 200ºC for 25 minutes or so. I served this with a tomato & paprika bread from ASDA.
You don’t have to use fine breadcrumbs, you could use any that take your fancy. Panko could be nice. You don’t have to use breadcrumbs at all, a light batter may work.
Although I’d set out to make a vegetarian recipe, I’ve since found out that this one isn’t doesn’t hit that particular mark 🙁 It turns out that Parmesan isn’t suitable for vegetarians as it is made with calf rennet. Sorry guys! You could make this with different cheeses though, just swap it out for a suitable italian-style hard cheese and double check the packaging.
For the carnivores, this could be amazing with some crispy bacon bits or something similar mixed through!
My favourite tweak comes from a discussion with Jamie. We were talking about our favourite cheeses, and Jamie had the idea of making different batches of cheese sauce, so you’d never quite know what you were getting. For cheese fans, this could be great fun. I took it a step further by suggesting that you could also play a version of Cheesy Mac Russian Roulette with this concept, perhaps making a ridiculously spicy one amongst all the other subtle variances. Or who would get the stinky-feet-blue-cheese one? You could also mix herbs and spices in with the breadcrumbs to make for further variance, although this might be obvious to the eye. Potentially a lot of hassle, but could be great fun for a party, maybe as part of a drinking game!