Being able to make sauces improved my life immeasurably.
I don’t want to be flippant but this is food we’re talking about here and when something shaves minutes off your cooking time when you’re tired and a bit ratty – and it tastes good – then there is enough space for hyperbole.
So sauces. I’m probably not the only person who makes a food related New Year’s Resolution every January (this year it was rubs). In 2012 it was sauces. I perfected a cheese sauce and a Hollandaise. I never said it had to be a lot of sauces.
My dad was big on sauces. He would sigh and huff when he had to buy a packet for a sauce. Post salmonella in the late 80s he became freaked out by preparing sauces with raw eggs so he never prepared a homemade Hollandaise or mayonnaise again, which is a bit of a shame.
A homemade sauce is tastier and it’s less salty and frothy than the packet variety. I’m not sure if its cheaper, so I’m unsure of where it sits in my austerity protocol but if you’re taking little bits out of things you already have in the kitchen then it is cheaper, surely. It might not feel like that if you’re embarking on a cooking regime afresh, though and you need to stock up.
The basic thing to remember is to do equal parts butter and flour. You can scale it up. I’ve doubled the amount I usually make for a cheese sauce here as the pasta does tend to absorb it like a sponge.
Macaroni and Cheese is an unbeatable weekend dinner. Make it in a big enough oven dish and it goes for a couple of dinners and then a lunch as well.
For the sauce
2tbsp butter or oil
2tbsp plain flour
1.5 cups milk
A cup of grated cheese (I tend to go for cheddar. Something high in cream and dairy melts faster into the sauce and is less rubbery processed)
For the rest
Macaroni or any pasta (I used 500g of fusilli this week)
Boil the pasta as is your wont and per the pack instructions. A little oil in the water stops the pasta sticking together. I don’t think added salt makes a difference (you rinse it off, surely?).
In a little pan melt the butter. I’ve also used oil instead of butter which is a little lower on the calories although, obviously it makes a much thinner sauce so you have to cook it for longer. Once the butter is melted stir in the flour and mis until it becomes a paste. Cook for about twenty seconds while stirring. Gradually stir in the milk. I mean gradually. Dribs and drabs and make sure each bit is absorbed before adding the next. The heat should be fairly middling so that while you stir once all the milk is absorbed it bubbles a little and is cooking and heating as you go. Once the sauce starts to become thicker you need to add the cheese. It will feel like an interminable age but it does turn very quickly so keep an eye on it.
The cheese will melt and you’ll have a gloopy sauce. Season.
Pour the pasta into an oven proof dish and pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on the top and bake in a 180 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
From this simply base you can add whatever you like. So add some veg to the pasta. Or add a tin of tuna and a cup of passata sauce, mix together, add the cheese sauce and you have a lovely pasta bake. If you’re feeling flush add some olives to the top and say you’re making a Napolitina Bake. Or rock a Fiorentina and mix a little spinach in with the pasta and a few hard boiled eggs. Add a little mozzarella once you’ve poured over the cheese sauce and you’re done.