I was given a kilo bag of calasparra rice last Thursday (birthday gift, valentine's day - don't, I know, very fucking hilarious).
The previous evening I'd written out the next week's menu (my 'week' tends to start on Thursday, because that's when the money comes in) which, dinner-wise, read:
Thu: onglet + gratin dauphinois
Fri: macaroni cheese
Sat: sausages + peppers
Sun: spaghetti + broccoli
Mon: rice + chicken
Tue: cod + lentils
Wed: omelette + salad
I had intended to use this recipe for the rice and chicken, but the gift of calasparra prompted a change of tack away from a risotto and more towards a kind of paella (and I've always got a chorizo sausage or two in the freezer and a tin of spanish paprika in the cupboard).
a fear of béchamel
A minute or two ago I googled 'macaroni cheese' and got 22,300,000 results. Room for one more do you think?
I love the combination of pasta and cheese. One of my favourite quick suppers is spaghetti tossed in butter, a spoonful of cream and plent of grated parmesan and black pepper. But I have issues with most macaroni cheese recipes; well two issues to be precise.
Firstly, I have an irrational dislike of béchamel sauce. Not a phobia exactly (is there a word for a fear of this culinary wallpaper paste? Probably) but such that I find it difficult to make the stuff. No doubt this stems from some maternally inflicted childhood dinner trauma. Although I have no specific memory for this, I do remember her once force-feeding me butter beans until I spewed them all out again.
Hancock: I thought my mother was a bad cook, but at least her gravy used to move about. Yours just sort of lies there and sets.
Secondly, a lot of versions of this dish are singularly lacking much in the way of one of the two main ingredients, viz cheese. And whatever you might think of the recipe below it certainly doesn't fail on that score. It is rammed with cheese. It is cheese-ageddon as far as the macaroni is concerned. But no more of a quantity than you might easily polish off from a cheeseboard at the end of a meal, or in a supper of welsh rarebit.
Speaking of the macaroni, I used cavatappi (a type of elbow macaroni) from Morrison's at 95p/500g (or two for £1.50):
Anyway, here's my version: rich, filling, comforting, simple: cheese, pasta and cream.
Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks. Do not fuck with a line cook’s ‘meez’ — meaning his set-up, his carefully arranged supplies of sea salt, rough-cracked pepper, softened butter, cooking oil, wine, backups, and so on.
That's from Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Unless the timings in a recipe allow for otherwise, I always like to have all the ingredients of a dish prepared and set-up before starting to cook. At no time is this more crucial than when making an omelette. At the risk of appearing condescendingly pedagogic can I ask: do you know how to make an omelette? Here's no less an authority than Michel Roux Sr cooking a perfect example in a matter of seconds:
I have something of an obsession with neatness. It's not merely tidiness and order, although those are included (I have to, for instance, open programs on my laptop in a specific order so they appear on the task bar from left to right thus: Thunderbird, Firefox, Spotify, then anything else - but Word has to be to the left of Excel). It's more about rightness, about the elegance of design exhibited when things are 'just so'.
And, of course, this fixation extends to food. I'm not talking about artful presentation on the plate, I'm talking about, for example, why I find the flawed design of celery so intensely irritating. And why a recipe that calls for either just egg whites or yolks sends me bat-shit crazy. What the fuck are you supposed to do with the leftover yolks/whites (delete as appropriate)?
Imagine then how happy the combination of these two recipes makes me - the whites used in the first, the yolks in the second. The stars are in alignment, God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world.
It also takes care of my fondness for something sweet to end the evening meal with for the next two weeks.
Can I get an 'AMEN'?
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014