Yesterday was to be the day when I sorted out all of my stuff. Where I harshly sorted everything, getting rid of the unnecessary and ordering all remaining into organised space. It really needs to be done.
It started well but then I veered wildly off course, texting a friend to ask if there was any chance that she was free for lunch. She was. So I abandoned my self imposed duties and ran off to Maltby St market to eat at 40 Maltby St (beautiful food and natural wines). We then went to José (croquetas, jamon and manzanilla), then The French House (Breton cider), and then Black’s (I hate to say it but absinthe, just one and it was the proper stuff with water dripped over a sugar cube into the absinthe). We then went dancing, which I think saved our skins as we danced a lot of it off.
It was a great day, a real tonic. I know it sounds excessive but I think we all need a blow out on occasion. It is good for mental health. The day itself was like a greatest hits of some of my favourite London places on a mixed alcoholic soundtrack. A fun and a brilliant day, but it has left me, well, rather fragile.
So as I sit here now dealing with all of the crap that I should have dealt with yesterday, I need something to cheer my spirits. I need something punchy and soothing at once. Something that talks me up, and then calms me down. I started thinking mac and cheese. Not just any mac and cheese though, I want something a bit bolshy. Something almost threatening that stares you in the eye and just dares you to eat it.
I want a bacon and roquefort mac and cheese.
It is really very easy, especially with a few bechamel shortcuts that I had to take. I had to take them because I just didn’t have the wherewithal for detail today. I even had to buy lardons out of sheer laziness and lack of motivation to chop bacon. My normal bechamel involves infusing milk with bay leaves and an onion studded with cloves gently for 20 minutes over a low heat. This just wasn’t going to happen. I figured that was ok as the flavours were going to be strong, so the background aromatics would be swamped anyway.
Making a bechamel is actually very soothing when a little distracted. Gently melting the butter, adding the flour and cooking until nutty brown, then slowly adding the milk, all resulting in a gorgeous creamy bechamel. Which you immediately sully with roquefort and then the fried bacon and – very important – bacon fat. This is where the flavour smack is. Add the partially cooked pasta, cover with a breadcrumb and cheese top and bake until nice and crispy. And relax.
How did it work? Like a charm. Rich, smooth, tender, crispy bacon bits, lovely cheesy crispy crust. Unfortunately, in the process of cooking it I melted the handle of my slow cooker, which was gently making a chicken stock too close to the hob. I despair. But that is a story for another day. Tomorrow will be much better.
Notes on the recipe: it is called macaroni cheese but the beady eyed among you will notice that I used pennette rigate, which is basically small narrow penne. It was the best substitute I could get when I decided to make this on a whim.
RECIPE: BACON MACARONI BLUE CHEESE
Will serve two hungover people or three / four normal people
225g macaroni or similar small pasta
150g streaky bacon or pancetta cut into lardons
500ml full fat milk
sea salt for seasoning
a handful of breadcrumbs
50g good melting cheese, grated finely (like a good cheddar)
Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.
Cook your pasta until almost cooked but not quite, a couple of minutes less than packet instructions. Run under a cold tap in a colander until cold and leave to the side in water.
Make your bechamel by melting the butter over a medium heat and adding the flour. Mix it thoroughly and cook for a couple of minutes stirring all the time. This is important as you need to cook the flour. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking it in to the flour to ensure no lumps. Bring to just below the boil, add the crumbled blue cheese and melt it through.
Sauté the bacon until starting to crisp and pour it and all of the rendered fat into the roquefort bechamel. Season to taste.
Add the strained pasta to the sauce and stir through. Pour into a greased baking dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs and grated cheese evenly on top.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the breadcrumbs and cheese has formed a lovely golden crust.
Eat immediately. It is rich so eats well with a side salad or some watercress.