People refer to certain meals as ‘comfort food’, which is strange because I find eating most foods comforting. Nonetheless, some foods are more comforting than others, with a macaroni and cheese potjie right up there. You can either serve this as a main course, or as a very impressive side dish to braaied meat like steak, lamb or chicken. If you’re serving it as a side to meat, add a crisp green salad to complete the meal.
(serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as a main course)
- 500 g macaroni pasta
- water and salt (to boil the pasta)
- a bit of olive oil
- 2 tots butter
- 2 tots cake flour
- 1 litre milk (4 cups)
- 400 g mature Cheddar cheese (grated)
- 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- a little bit of ground nutmeg (optional)
1. In a big enough potjie over a hot fire, bring 5 litres of water with about half a tot of salt to boiling point. Add all of the macaroni to the bubbling water and cook for exactly 7 minutes. The noodles will still be slightly undercooked, but they will continue cooking later when baking in the sauce. Drain off all water immediately and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to prevent the macaroni from sticking together.
2. Return the empty potjie to the fire (not too hot), then add butter and wait until it melts. Add the flour and stir for about 1 minute.
3. Now add the milk bit by bit, stirring continuously. You will notice how the butter and flour mixture first grows and absorbs all the milk you add, and how this thick paste then starts turning into a sauce as you add more and more milk. If you add the milk too quickly, lumps will form. If at any time you notice lumps forming, first stir them vigorously into the rest of the mixture before adding more milk.
4. When all the milk is in, bring the sauce to a slow simmer and add the cheese, mustard, salt and pepper (and nutmeg), and stir well.
5. Now add the cooked macaroni to the sauce, stir to coat the pasta well, then remove the potjie from the fire and cover with a lid until serving time. As the pot will keep its heat for a few minutes, you will be able to quickly braai some steak over very hot coals in this time. Just before serving the pasta, give it another quick toss.
6. If you have cheese left over, sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the meal in the potjie, close the lid and let the cheese melt by placing some coals on top of the lid.
For bonus points, you can braai strips of bacon on a grid over the coals (yes, this is possible) or in a pan. Chop them up when they are nice and crispy and mix into the potjie with the pasta during step 5.
The quality and taste of the cheese used will influence the end product. For a recipe like this, I would suggest using Cheddar that was aged for at least 3 months. Using more mature Cheddar or even a variety of mature cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Pecorino, Gruyere and blue cheese will increase the depth of flavour.
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