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WanderSups: Is this the ultimate mac & cheese?

“We were waxing lyrical about the many cheeses we have in Suffolk and it suddenly dawned on me: why hadn’t I made a Suffolk mac & cheese?” Hannah Gregory, Velvet’s resident recipe writer, gives a local flavour to her favourite comfort food

WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese
WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese

This isn’t my first mac and cheese column and I doubt very much it will be my last. I have always had a love affair with this dish and its many guises. From as young as I can remember, it was my favourite thing to eat - the comforting warmth that comes from a plate of cheese-loaded carbs is something that cannot be beaten. I even loved the school-dinner rendition that was slopped onto eggshell blue melamine plates; I would douse it with tomato ketchup and hoover it up greedily.

My Dad’s iteration was a particular fave, a solid affair that could be cut and served with a pie slice. The only time I drew the line was at the tinned Heinz version my Nanny used to give me, trying to tell me it was just the same as homemade. I knew better and, with an upturned nose, would refuse the vomit-like puddle and ask for something ‘real’. I was 5.

Even now when I see it as a side dish on a menu I come over all giddy. It feels like the ultimate treat, seeing something so indulgent suggested as an accompaniment to a main dish. I love how Americans will serve it unapologetically with a steak, where we more reserved Brits may place a green salad - it is bold and brash and I am here for it.

As my cooking has developed and plates have become more refined, this is the one dish I have never let go of. Sure, I may add a layer of smokey beef here or a bisque-based roux there, but the fundamentals will never change and on the longest, most stressful days, I can be sure my Kilner jar of macaroni and tupperware of old manky cheese will rally to provide me with something wonderful.

WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese
WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese

Recently I was visiting my local cheesemongers and we were waxing lyrical about the many cheeses we have in Suffolk and it suddenly dawned on me: why hadn’t I made a Suffolk mac & cheese? I love creating cheese boards with local dairy produce, but had never really thought about cooking the blighters. And so the Suffolk mac & cheese was created.

However, I didn’t want to stop there. We all know the jewel in the Suffolk cheese crown is the almighty Baron and I wanted to showcase him as best I could - in a custard to pour over the baked pasta (just in case it wasn’t gluttonous enough, this will do it). And to cut through the richness, a tangy tomato fondue (which by my rules counts as one of your five a day and balances out the decadence of everything else going on).

I absolutely loved creating this dish; nearly as much as I loved eating it. It is a true celebration of Suffolk produce and it doesn’t get much better than that.

PS: I got all my cheeses from The Cambridge Cheese Company.

WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese
WanderSups - Suffolk Mac & Cheese

Suffolk Mac & Cheese with Baron Bigod Custard & Tomato Fondue
Serves: 4

What you need:
For the mac & cheese:

● 500g dried macaroni

● Glug olive oil

● 60g unsalted butter

● 60g plain flour

● 600ml milk

● 150ml double cream

● 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

● 75g St Helena cheese, crumbled

● 75g Suffolk Gold cheese, grated

● 75g St Jude cheese, crumbled

● 20g parmesan

For the Baron Bigod custard:

● 100ml whipping cream

● 2 egg yolks

● 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

● 100g Baron Bigod, chopped/torn into small pieces

● Salt and pepper to taste

For the tomato fondue:

● 1 tablespoon olive oil

● 1 shallot, finely chopped

● 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

● 1 stick celery, finely chopped

● 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped

● 3 plum tomatoes on the vine

● 1 tablespoon chopped chives

● 1 teaspoon sugar

● 2 tablespoons tomato puree

● Salt and pepper

How you do it:
Tomato fondue

Note: You can make this in advance and reheat when needed.

1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan.

2. Add the shallot and gently fry until softened, not browning. Add the garlic, celery and rosemary and continue to cook for five minutes.

3. Chop the plum tomatoes and add to the pan along with the vine. Leave this to cook down for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes are breaking down.

4. Add the chives, sugar and tomato puree, continue to cook over a low heat until the colour deepens to a dark red and a thick paste is achieved (about 10 minutes).

5. Season as needed and remove the vine.

Baron Bigod custard

1. Beat the egg yolks with the mustard until well combined.

2. Heat the cream until just before boiling and then gently pour a small amount over the egg yolks, continuously whisking as you pour so as not to scramble.

3. Continue to add the hot cream until all combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan and place over a gentle heat, add the Baron and whisk continuously until all combined and the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon.

5. Strain through a sieve to remove any lumps and season to taste.

Mac & cheese

1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions, less two minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

3. When the pasta is cooked, stir through a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.

4. Make your roux by melting the butter in a saucepan then adding the flour, continuously stirring until the flour is cooked out (a couple of minutes).

5. Gradually whisk in the milk followed by the cream. Make sure to continuously whisk to avoid any lumps. When all the liquid is combined, check the seasoning and stir through the mustard.

6. Stir through the St Jude, St Helena and Suffolk Gold until all melted and combined. Check the seasoning once more.

7. Stir through the cooked pasta and transfer the mix to an ovenware dish.

8. Grate over the parmesan and bake for 20 minutes until golden on top.

Bringing it together
Serve with a spoon of the tomato fondue on top and a jug of the rich custard ready to pour over.

A former BBC MasterChef quarter finalist, Hannah runs supper club, pop-up and private chef service WanderSups - “serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf” - and is the brains behind TACOR, the taqueria coming to Bury St Edmunds soon. . . Follow @wandersups for more.

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