Not just limited to the USA, mac ’n’ cheese is a truly global comfort food, more recently adopted on the street as a beloved staple of food trucks and festivals alike. This is one of those recipes that can be twisted and turned almost infinitely to suit your own taste; this just happens to be my version as it’s a variant of what I grew up on.
Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil and tip in the macaroni, stirring well to ensure it doesn’t clump up. Boil until just tender but with plenty of bite, then drain and set aside. Meanwhile, grill the bacon until crisp, if using. Chop it into snippets and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over a medium heat, then pour in the flour and stir thoroughly over the heat for a minute until you form a smooth roux. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the milk, whisking constantly until you have dispersed the roux through the milk. Turn the heat back up to medium and bring to a steady simmer, stirring all the time, until thickened, about 3–4 minutes. Taste a little on the end of a teaspoon – it shouldn’t taste floury at all; if it does, cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and stir through the Worcestershire sauce and mustard, and a generous grind of black pepper
Sprinkle in about three-quarters of the cheese, stirring until it has melted, then add the cooked macaroni and bacon snippets and stir to combine. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6. Spoon the macaroni into a baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake in the hot oven for 15–20 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.
Feel free to put your own twist on your mac ’n’ cheese using the following ideas for inspiration. Purists may complain, but this is your dinner so add whatever takes your fancy.
Cubed mozzarella sprinkled on top adds a lovely stringy stretch once baked; grated Parmesan adds extra punch, or try smoked Cheddar or Stilton – whatever’s your favourite.
A handful of fresh breadcrumbs sprinkled over the cheese topping adds extra crunch.
A few tomato slices under the cheese topping add extra colour (and a few vitamins!)
Replace the bacon with crisp-fried chorizo or chopped cooked sausage, or a little leftover pulled pork or baked ham.
Add a handful of cooked veggies, such as peas, broccoli or cauliflower
Give it an Italian twist with a dollop of pesto, or a handful of torn basil and a few chopped sundried tomatoes.