I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like macaroni and cheese. For me it is the very image of what comfort food ought to be: rich, creamy, savory, and deeply satisfying for even the pickiest of appetites. But there’s macaroni and cheese, and there’s macaroni and cheese with a whole lot of extra oomph; today’s recipe falls into the latter category.
Again, this is one of my “sweep-up-the-kitchen/clean-out-the-fridge” recipes: the kind that are created whenever the kitchen cupboards yield things that need to be done for ASAP or when there are far too many leftovers in the fridge. This is because this particular version of macaroni and cheese consists of things that would have spoilt and been wasted if I hadn’t given the refrigerator a well-needed look-see.
Interestingly enough, the leftovers I found in the fridge all contributed to the addition of Spanish flavors to what is, essentially, a classic comfort food most common to English-speaking countries and parts of the Caribbean colonized by the Brits. I still had a length of chistorra, the paprika and garlic-infused pork sausage of Spain’s Basque territories; there was plenty of smoked ham (not exactly the fabled pata negra or jamon Iberico, but in a pinch…) left from breakfast; and half a small jar of sliced black olives. Throw in part of an open box of mild Cheddar and barely a few tablespoons of sharper Canadian aged Cheddar plus a generous dash of pimenton dulce (sweet smoked paprika), and I was all set for a comforting dish that had a rather bold, saucy twist to it.
Incidentally, while macaroni and cheese is best when baked, this recipe also works for those of you who don’t have an oven: just lump the cooked pasta into the sauce and serve with as much bravado as a fiery Andalusian flamenco dancer. 😉
Macarrones al Horno con Queso (Spanish-style Macaroni and Cheese)
- 300 grams elbow or salad macaroni, prepared according to package instructions and properly drained
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons cold salted butter, diced
- 1/2 cup cooked smoked ham, finely chopped
- 1 link Spanish sausage (opt for any of the following: chorizo de Bilbao, the fiery chorizo de Pamplona, chistorra, or even morcillas), sliced into matchsticks
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced
- 1-1/4 cups milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 1-1/2 cups grated mild Cheddar cheese or processed cheese food
- 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese or aged Edam
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon pimenton dulce
- 1 tomato, seeded and diced finely
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon flour
Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Melt the unsalted butter. Once it sizzles, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook till it has browned a little at the edges. Add the ham, sausage, and carrot; cook for about two minutes. Add the flour, pepper, and pimenton dulce; stir well. Pour in the milk and cook until thickened and bubbly. Add the cheeses and stir until melted. Pour in the water to even out the sauce and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and toss in the prepared macaroni. You may choose at this point, if you don’t have an oven, to serve the macaroni topped with the diced tomato.
If you are baking the dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a well-buttered baking dish. Scatter the breadcrumbs as evenly as you can over the surface and dot with the diced salted butter. Bake for 30 minutes. Scatter the tomato over the top in the last five minutes of baking. Serve immediately.