Domini Kemp: A mac for all seasons

Macaroni and cheese is a soothing and toothsome all-American classic

Parsley salad with shallots and capers adds zing to the bake. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Parsley salad with shallots and capers adds zing to the bake. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

If you’re a child of the 1970s or 1980s, the chances are you have tasted the joys of the great all-American tradition that is mac ’n’cheese.

Soothing, toothsome pasta, covered in creamy, cheesy sauce and baked to bubbling perfection. Yum. My mum even threw in bacon the odd time – and we just loved rooting out those salty, crunchy little nuggets.

I was recently reminded of this wonderfully evil dish when I came across a batch of it in the freezer, hidden behind an enormous loaf of sourdough that for the life of me I can’t remember putting in there.

And even though it looked pale and rather uninteresting in its little ceramic dish, I sensed that all it would take to rescue it would be a spell in the oven and an additional sprinkling of cheddar on top.

And I was right. I let the kids demolish it, but not without taking a spoonful or three myself. But it also got me thinking about how I could re-create a low-carb dish very much in the spirit of macaroni cheese – ie rich and lip-smackingly tasty – but altogether healthier.

As I have done many times before, I turned to Diana Henry for inspiration. Henry is the food columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, and a lover of words and of food in all its forms. She is also big into comfort food.

So my main recipe this week is for a rib- sticking, dauphinoise-ish bake that combines the sweet – onions, chicken and butternut squash – with the salty – in this case, a fair whack of Gruyère cheese.

And of course, cream too; double cream at that.

Fennel seeds and fresh thyme just add to the appropriately rustic aroma.

This is a dish, then, that, like mac ’n’ cheese, has its fair share of fat but also a hefty dose of goodness. And it abounds with flavour too – just my kind of winter midweek special.

To go with it is a refreshing, barely-there salad of parsley, wafer-thin shallots, lemon juice and a few capers.

This combination gives genuine zing to the main course and also cuts through all that richness to give the entire meal balance.

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