For me comfort food is not necessarily rich or creamy, but it must be easy to prepare – and this recipe can be either quick, or by long slow cooking without much intervention. Most importantly it must be soothing and savoury and if it can be made from pantry items and staples I always have on hand, so much the better. This recipe satisfies all my criteria.
I’ve added prosciutto because I could, however it will be just as delicious without. But … considering it is 2013 National Bacon Week why not make bacon your pork product of choice? Obviously it should be bacon made from Australia pork – look out for the pink PorkMark. Want to know who won the annual awards? Click here.
Instead of making béchamel sauce (fancy name for white sauce) I’ve used ricotta. Two reasons – it is much quicker and I think tastes better as there is then no flour in the dish. Just make sure you buy the firmer style from the deli, rather than the tubs of spreadable ricotta. The other three cheeses, Swiss-style, parmesan and cheddar, can be substituted with whatever you desire. I really like the idea of adding a little blue cheese or even a washed rind, but would ensure the other cheeses in the mix were on the mild side.
My ultimate version uses aged cheddar for flavour and bite, parmesan for a salty punch and Australian Swiss-style for the delightful melting qualities and rich, nutty flavour.
My Ultimate Four Cheese Macaroni
Serves 4 as a lunch or side dish
Preparation time 20 minutes
Cooking time 20 minutes
300g dried macaroni
1 leek, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 pinch nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
100g (½ cup) ricotta
1 cup (125g) grated gruyere or Swiss-style cheese
½ cup (40g) grated parmesan cheese
½ cup (60g) grated mature cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
4 – 6 slices (60g) prosciutto, roughly chopped
½ cup (35g) fresh breadcrumbs
Pre-heat oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced). Grease a medium sized (2 litre) casserole or baking dish.
Add macaroni to a large saucepan of salted boiling water, stir well and bring back to the boil according to directions or until al dente (approx 12 minutes). Drain well.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan, add leek and garlic and cook for 3 minutes or until soft. Add milk, cream, mustard and nutmeg, mix well and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the egg, ricotta, ½ cup gruyere cheese (reserving ½ cup for topping), ¼ cup parmesan cheese (reserving ¼ cup for topping) and mature cheddar cheese. Stir until combined. Gently fold in reserved macaroni and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the macaroni mixture into prepared dish. Combine prosciutto, breadcrumbs and remaining ½ cup gruyere cheese and ¼ cup parmesan cheese and sprinkle over macaroni.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden. Remove and rest 5 minutes. Serve with green salad, if desired.
Lyndey’s note: I like a tube shape pasta for this style of recipe, so elbow macaroni or penne could be used.
Lyndey Milan, Australian home cook hero, combines a thirst for life and a sense of fun with a love of good food and sparkling shiraz. A familiar face on television and in print, she been instrumental in changing the way Australians think and feel about food and wine for over thirty years.