Happy bank holiday! It's a beautiful sunny day in Cardiff, and after an indulgent few days of eating and drinking, we're rounding off a foodie weekend with a classic feel good dish - my mac and cheese with panko.
For me, the best part of any mac and cheese is the delicious crispy topping that everyone fights over, so this recipe makes the topping the star of the show, and the key ingredient for that is panko breadcrumbs. Panko is a Japanese ingredient that is used to make the really crispy, light katsu crumb and tempura batters, and combined with parmesan, crispy onions and herbs, it makes the most delicious crispy topping that balances out the rich mac and cheese sauce.
You can buy panko breadcrumbs and crispy shallots/onions in most supermarkets in the world food aisles. And I promise you once you start using crispy onions as a topping, they'll make an appearance on every salad and asian inspired dish in the future! Happy cooking :)
INGREDIENTS - SERVES 6
1 red onion, very finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
40g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon of paprika
1 pint of whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Lots of salt and black pepper to taste
Approx 200g mature cheddar cheese, grated (you can add a little more or less depending on your own tastes)
70g panko breadcrumbs
Approx 50g parmesan
2 spring onions (finely chopped)
Preheat the oven grill on med/high. Prep all your ingredients in advance so that it's all at your fingertips when the cooking starts (mise en place). This dish comes together quickly and requires constant stirring so you won't have time to stop to grate cheese in between.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package instructions and drain.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan/dutch oven over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and chopped onion, and cook for a few minutes until the onion has almost cooked through.
Whisk in the flour and paprika until lightly browned (a couple of minutes). Then gradually whisk in milk (in four stages) and the dijon mustard until the sauce has thickened, about 5-6 minutes. Season with lots of salt and pepper.
Drop the pan to a low heat. Stir in 90% of the cheddar cheese, a small handful of the parmesan, and all the pasta until well combined; season with salt and pepper to taste then remove from the heat.
In a separate bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs, remaining parmesan and cheddar cheese and half of the finely chopped spring onions. Sprinkle the mix on top of the macaroni cheese until it's evenly covered.
Place under the grill for approx 5 minutes, roating half way through until golden brown and crispy. Top with crispy onions, the remaining spring onion, and a pinch of fresh/dried chives.
This dish is so easy, but it tastes amazing for something so simple, and it's all thanks to the topping! Make sure you're tasting as you go along, and put the cheese in gradually so that you get the right balance of flavours, and if it's not cheesy enough for you, add some more! If you wanted to stretch it further, you could also serve it with a salad, or add some gammon into the mix, or some cauliflower or broccoli as a vegetarian alternative. As ever if you give this a try then let me know how it turns out. Happy cooking :)