January 12, 2008

Nigella Express - Macaroni & Cheese

One of my Christmas gifts was the brand-new Nigella Express, which I had been eyeballing in the bookstores. While there are a number of items that jump out as must-make, no-time-to-waste, I happened to notice that the amount of cheese called for in her streamlined macaroni and cheese was exactly the amount that I wanted to clear out of the fridge, having rather a lot of post-holiday cheese accumulation taking up space. Since I couldn't legitimately claim not to have the time to make it, I actually managed to get on this recipe fairly promptly.

While I have long been making my favourite version (adapted-from Cooks Illustrated) of Macaroni and Cheese, which is done entirely on the stove top and really does not take long at all, I know that Palle's very favourite kind is the baked variety. Upon further review, I noticed that this recipe not only calls for slightly less cheese overall than my usual recipe, it does not contain any butter at all! This makes it a somewhat healthier dinner (or side dish, if you must), and increased my enthusiasm for trying it out.

Her method is almost ridiculously simple: boil up some macaroni, and while it comes to a boil, throw some cheese, evaporated milk, egg and seasonings into the food processor. Blitz it up, as she says, and combine it with the now-cooked and drained macaroni. Pour the mass into a shallow pan, and bake for about 15 minutes. Dead simple.

Mine did not turn out as lovely-looking in the pan, because I had the oven rack set rather too low to get the seared and blistered appearance of hers before the custardy mass had set. Next time, I will try it on a higher rack, and then it may be as pretty to look at in the pan, as it was on the plate. Instead of the perfectly smooth, impenetrably orange character of the stove-top method, this had little cheesy pockets amidst the generally cheesy matrix, and a perhaps more rustic texture. I don't mean that as a discreet criticism, it should be noted, but rather a careful observation of discrepancy. Both versions are delicious, and the one to make is the one that best fits the rest of the meal (if there is, in fact, another component to the meal).

I couldn't leave the recipe entirely alone, I admit. Those of you who know me, or have been reading my blog for a while, know that I am almost constitutionally incapable of letting a recipe alone, and when I do I view it as some marvelous achievement of self-restraint. That said, my modification to this recipe was fairly minor - I added a dash of Tabasco sauce and a pinch of mustard powder to the milk mixture. I'd do it again, too.


Randi said...

Her method kinda sounds like the Alton Brown stove-top method( he doesnt chuck it in the oven though).

Dawna said...

Hi Randi! Alton's recipe is very much like the CI recipe, but, like CI (and my usual recipe), his contains butter. Chucking it in the oven does mean that one doesn't have to stand and stir it until it's ready, and I think that's part of the "express" part of Nigella's recipe. I don't really find it much hardship to use the stirring method, but if I wanted to use that non-stirring oven time to, oh, say, make a salad, or something, that would be useful.

arjan said...

What does she menas with Evaporated Milk? Is this like the Sweet Cindensed milk?

Dawna said...

Hi Arjan - thanks for stopping by.

Evaporated milk is NOT the same as sweetened condensed milk! It is not at all sweet, and the texture is not as thick. It is available in most supermarkets in North America, but I don't know where you are. Check out the explanation at Practically Edible: http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/evaporatedmilk

I use a brand called Pacific, but other brands in Canada include Alpha, Carnation, and many others. It is often available in whole milk, 2% and skim versions, depending on your area. Can sizes vary quite a bit, too - 400 ml (large in Canada) and 160 ml.

If you are in doubt, check the ingredient list. If there is added sugar, it is not Evaporated Milk.