Supermarket Vegetarian: Part X
I had a realization and you could’ve knocked me down with a feather.
I have made SEVERAL version of Mac & Cheese. In fact, I think in my entire Kitchen repertoire, Mac & Cheese probably has the most variations.
From the crab and Sriracha laced versions in my meat-eating days to the pungently truffle mustard spiked versions I currently love, Mac & Cheese has held a special space in my heart for years.
We even chatted in work the other week about what food would we anoint as the chosen food of life if we could remove all of it’s calories. We all unanimously chose cheese.
So for it’s Universal appeal, it’s nostalgic roots and the fact it’s everybody’s favorite guiltless guilty pleasure, I’ve decided to make it the closing recipe in my SUPERMARKET VEGETARIAN series.
I started this series with one aim. That aim was to make meatless recipes more accessible by using ingredients bought from a local supermarket. The recipes in the series have spanned from a traditional chili using Home Bargains ingredient only right through to a slap-up Sunday bake
All of the recipes have been inspired by the familiarity of the old but driven by the resourcefulness of the new. But for this Mac & Cheese recipe, I wanted to bring back my youth.
The reason I’ve labelled this recipe Florida Mac & Cheese is purely because of the memory I have attached to it. When I was younger, we used to go to our villa in the heart of Florida (a place called Kissimmee) and when we were feeling particularly peckish, we would frequent a buffet restaurant called Ponderosa.
As a child, the American buffet was a sight to behold. It was like the ‘Be Our Guest’ scene from Beauty and the Beast, where an abundance of food is all offered at once with what felt like no cap on the plate’s quantity.
It was almost a competition with your young family members of how much you could balance on your plate without being told off by your mother for having eyes bigger than your belly (my mum hates food waste!). I distinctly recall this also being my first glimpse into food combinations rarely seen in the UK (particularly in the nineties) such as maple syrup on bacon and waffles being a breakfast desert.
But alongside the memory a beautiful waiter who’s name was Gabriel who was obsessed with the Welsh accent and Lonestar song ‘Already There’ on the radio, something I will never forget was the Mac & Cheese.
Fluorescent yellow to the point of absurdity, the Mac & Cheese in Florida was unlike anything I had experienced. With it’s nursery style texture and it’s garish color, I’ll never forget the contrast of the deep, sharp flavors against the thick, creamy yellow sauce.
And what I will also never forget, which may be a put off for some but it was enchanting to me, was watching one of the young, handsome chefs unwrap a piece of gangly plastic cheese out of it’s envelope and dropping it into the sauce whole and stirring it.
The bubbling yellow melting pot of cheeses poured over the nubbly sweetcorn style pasta shapes has stayed with me. In addition to every other member I hold in my heart for Florida, that forever young feeling will always come alive every time I eat Mac & Cheese.
And Mac & Cheese is no groundbreaking recipe, it’s possibly one of the simplest – but I wanted my last Supermarket Vegetarian recipe (and my first Mac & Cheese recipe on the website!) to tribute some of the best memories I have of my youth visiting Florida.
(In other exciting news, when discussing food connecting us to living, my first eBook LIFE THROUGH FOOD will be available to download for free on this website! It’s available on June 2nd and you can read more about it here)
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Boil a kettle of water and once boiled, pour the water into a big pan. Measure out your macaroni by pouring the dry pasta into a small roasting dish. This will make sure you only cook as much as you need. Pasta does swell once cooked, but don’t worry too much about that because macaroni still remains fairly small.
Empty this dry pasta into the water with some salt and boil it for about 8/9 minutes.
While this boils, melt a tablespoon of butter in another pan. Once this bubbles down, add a tablespoon of flour. Stir this to a foamy cream and cook it for about 2/3 minutes until it turns a golden color.
Now add a splash of vegetable stock, only a small splash and stir so that the butter, flour and stock create a paste.
Grab yourself a whisk and pour in about a cup of milk. Keep this on a medium heat and whisk away gently as it begins to thicken to a creamy, velvet sauce. If it gets a little too thick, add a little more milk.
Add some salt, a pinch of pepper and a little bit of nutmeg.
Now here’s what we came for. THE CHEESE. I add three cheeses to this, and three cheeses for good reason. I first add a little grating of mature cheddar, just to get a solid, reliable cheese base.
Then I do as my Floridian Gabriel did and add two or three juvenile squares of the neon yellow plastic cheese. They will melt, don’t panic.
Then to contrast the deliciously plastic nonsense of this, I crumble in a good fistful or two of blue cheese to add a slight sharpness.
Now for me, no Mac & Cheese is complete without a splash of mustard. I tend to add Coleman’s to my usual Mac & Cheeses, but for this, it felt right to keep in touch with the Florida inspiration and add a generous squeeze of the kids-camp colored American Yellow Mustard. The kind that makes you want a gherkin with it!
Once you stir this in it will go the most audacious color. Vulgar, almost.
But that’s exactly what you want.
By this point the pasta will be cooked. Add a few splashes of the pasta cooking water to the cheese sauce and then drain the pasta. Quickly throw the pasta into the baking dish from earlier and then gently pour over the cheese sauce.
Mix it all up so that every piece of macaroni is smothered in the sauce. Finally grate over a little more of the mature cheddar and sprinkle over some blue cheese, why the hell not.
Here I would usually throw over some breadcrumbs or a handful of crushed up crackers – but life caught me sideways and I didn’t have any in the house!
Slip into the oven for 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbling (and the breadcrumbs are golden, if you’re lucky enough to have some in the house).