Thursday, 18 February 2010

Comfort Food

What's your ideal comfort food? Mine invariably involves cheese and carbohydrates in one form or another. Tonight it's macaroni cheese with leeks and ham, made with the odds and bits from the cheese box in the fridge. Topped with sliced tomatoes and baked til golden, I can kid myself that with the leeks and the tomatoes it's almost good for me!

For the sauce:
750ml/ 1pint 7 floz milk
50g/ 2oz unsalted butter plus extra for greasing oven dish
50g/ 2oz plain flour
175g / 6oz of strong cheese (cheddar or whatever's in your fridge!), grated
1/2 tsp English mustard
salt and white pepper
a grating of fresh nutmeg

300g/10oz macaroni
4 sliced ham, diced (or you can use bacon)
4 leeks, halved and sliced thinly
50g / 2oz butter
2 tomatoes
50g/2oz Parmesan, grated

Heat oven to 200C/400F/ Gas 6. Fill a large saucepan with water and put on a high heat to boil. Make the cheese sauce - I favour the all-in-one method - combine milk, butter & flour together in a pan and slowly bring to the simmer while whisking. Allow to simmer gently for 5 minute to cook out the flour, stirring to prevent it catching. Season well with salt, pepper & nutmeg. Remove off the heat and stir in the grated cheese and mustard. Set aside. The water should be boiling for the past now, add a good pinch of salt and the macaroni and cook for about 8 minutes, so it is still al dente. Rinse under cold water to prevent sticking and drain well. Heat remaining butter in a shallow pan and add leeks. Saute for 5-6 minutes until the leeks soften and start to turn gently golden. Add ham and cook for another minute. Stir into cheese sauce and add macaroni. Combine well and then turn into a shallow, greased ovenproof dish. Scatter with Parmesan and layer over sliced tomatoes. Put in the oven for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Serves 4.

I served this with a watercress salad, which my Dad managed to avoid eating....still it was very comforting on a cold and dreary February evening.

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