Macaroni cheese with bacon leek & chestnut breadcrumbs

macaroni cheese

It’s New Year and healthy eating should be on the agenda but I’m not ready for the transition from enjoying food with uncaring abandon to careful consumption just yet. Although I didn’t have my usual excess of Xmas goodies, as I was on holiday in Belize over the Xmas period, any normal restraint obviously flew out of the window. Which is as it should be whilst on a holiday. I made up for lack of mince pies and Xmas pudding with lots of chocolate as Belize has some excellent cocoa producers and I indulged in the most decadent dark chocolate torte (it was so good I ordered it the next day too) as well as the best chocolate gelato ever.

I’m easing in gently and being relatively virtuous for breakfast with homemade granola and yogurt (the bacon was sooo tasty though!) and vegetable soup (cream of swede was surprisingly delicious) for lunch, but wanting something more satisfying and hearty for dinner. What with golden-crusted pies currently adorning a lot of the food magazines I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. The shock of binge then crash diet is too drastic for the body anyway and is not much fun so in my mind it’s best to not to change your diet too drastically. January is a bleak enough month already without having to abstain from all the fun things to eat and drink.

This comforting macaroni cheese dish is like being wrapped in a duck down duvet and will leave you sitting back and patting your stomach with a satisfied smile on your face. Try and buy good quality bacon that has lots of flavour and it won’t be pumped full of water and additives too. To get ahead make up to step 6 and set aside the dish until you’re ready to cook but add an extra 10 minutes to the cooking time to ensure piping hot all the way through. You could serve with a contrasting crisp green salad on the side to offset the creaminess, if you like. Happy New Year!

Serves 2, generously

160g macaroni
2 rashers of smoked or dry cure bacon, chopped into strips
100g chestnut mushrooms
70g butter
2 small leeks
2 tbsp plain flour
450ml full fat milk
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
20g dried white breadcrumbs
4 cooked chestnuts
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
¼ tsp fresh nutmeg, grated
Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/fan 170/Gas 5. Cook the macaroni in boiling water until al a dente – about 9 minutes. Add a splash of oil to it prevent from sticking together. Drain and set aside.
  2. Fry the bacon in a small amount of oil over a medium heat until golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Repeat with the mushrooms.
  3. Turn down the heat then add 30g of the butter and cook the leeks gently until soft. Remove and set aside.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter over a gently. As soon as the butter melts add the flour and, over a medium heat, stir vigorously until you have a smooth paste. Begin adding the milk, a little at a time, incorporating well before adding the next amount of liquid. When you’ve added about half the milk you can start to add more milk whilst stirring briskly. Once all the milk is in turn down the heat, add the cheese and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste and season with grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, blitz the breadcrumbs and chestnuts in a mini processor until combined.
  6. Mix the leeks, mushrooms, bacon and thyme in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the sauce and mix gently. Top with the chestnut breadcrumbs and bake in preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and bubbling around edges. Once done, let it sit for a few minutes before tucking in.

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