(Photograph by Amanada McLauchlan)
Why is it that two people can follow exactly the same recipe and get entirely different results?
For a long time now, I have been on the hunt for an outstanding macaroni and cheese recipe.
My mother-in-law has one, as my husband, without fail, reminds me.
"Just ask Mum."
I have. And I made it. And it flopped. More than once.
It's not a complicated preparation (boil macaroni; strain; stir in sauce; bake).
It doesn't require any obscure ingredients (think 'can of tomato soup' rather than 'white truffle oil').
But there is something about the way that she makes it, that makes it.
And no matter how I try, it can't be replicated, because our mother's food is more than the sum of its ingredients.
It's the essence of our childhood.
It's all the love, hope, wishes, dreams and best intentions a mother can muster, made edible and presented on a plate, with a full heart.
This mother's day, I finally hit the jackpot with a Mac N' Cheese recipe that is the new gold standard - for my boys.
For my husband, there will always be one incomparable preparation: Mum's.
And that's just as it should be.
Happy Mother's Day, Simone!
Mother's Day Macaroni & Cheese
(adapted from this recipe, pictured above)
Diners should present a note from their cardiologist before tucking in. The original recipe is named aptly "Fondue-Style Macaroni Cheese". It's divine. I tried to balance all the fondue-y goodness by adding a bag of baby spinach and serving a bright green salad on the side, but I wasn't fooling anyone. It makes enough to serve a small crowd (8, generously) and would be perfect after a day on the slopes. Otherwise, it should be left on quarterly - rather than weekly - rotation, unless you want a family full of weeble-wobbles.
1 Tbs olive oil
250g sliced pancetta, chopped
50g unsalted butter
2½ cups fresh bread crumbs panko*
2 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley
600 ml milk
600 ml cream
¼ cup plain flour
225g Fontina Gruyere**, grated
300g Cheddar, grated
One bag pre-washed baby spinach
Sea salt & freshly-ground white pepper
Preheat oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Grease a 2-litre baking dish. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and stir, cooking until slightly crispy. Add the butter and bread crumbs, and cook until golden, stirring regularly.
Place milk, ream and flour in a large heatproof bowl. Lightly whisk to combine. Add half the cheese and microwave on medium, stirring at regular intervals, until the cheese begins to melt. Stir gently to combine - do not over-mix. Add the pasta, then stir in remaining cheese. Season with sea salt and white pepper. Stir in spinach and transfer to baking dish. Sprinkle with crumbs and bake 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden.
*Panko is a type of flaky Japanese bread crumb that gives an extra-cruchy result. Appropriately enough, my mother-in-law, Simone, introduced me to Panko and it works a treat every time. It's found in the Asian section of most grocery stores and bares no resemblance to other commercially prepared breadcrumbs, which look and taste like sawdust.
**I used Gruyere in place of Fontina because I had a block in the fridge. Fontina melts beautifully and would be amazing in this recipe, but, unlike Gruyere, it can be difficult to find unless you are visiting a specialty shop.