I am eating some chaource cheese on corn thins for lunch when I notice that the rind is a bit blue-tasting for my liking. I hit upon a plan: what if I could throw it all into a saucepan with some other stuff this evening to deaden the flavour and still fulfil my weekend goal of stuffing a lot of cheese into my idiot face? It’s not a very intricate plan admittedly but it’s worth a bash.
This is an opportunity to try out a Joliver recipe I’ve been meaning to do for a while. It comes from his Joliver’s America book, which is frustratingly categorised by the places he travelled to, as opposed to by the type of meal, making it impossible to browse for ideas.
Macaroni cheese isn’t something I’ve ever bothered with much before, but it’s taken on a new lease of life in recent years through mid-range smokehouses and burger joints desperate to offer up a vegetarian option that’s as satisfyingly carb-loaded as the main menu. As a result it’s forced its way out of its rubbery American origins to be considered, well, not a delicacy, obviously, but “actually quite nice when done well”.
It gives me a chance to use up some thyme and tomatoes I’ve got left over and I might as well include the broccoli stalks that have been hanging round the fridge for a while looking lost and adrift, like a man at a party whose friends haven’t turned up yet so he stands in the corner pretending to be interested in the DVDs and hoping to Christ they arrive soon. This way I won’t need to pretend to myself I’m going to make a salad to go with it. Broccoli stalks, your time has come.
This requires me to make a roux, one of those processes that makes a recipe sound off-puttingly complex by virtue of being in French, but is in fact just dumping some flour and butter into a pan and stirring it about a bit. This makes a paste to which I add sliced garlic and let it colour a bit. I dither before adding the sliced broccoli stalks: do they need to go in now and take on the garlic flavour or is this going to roux-in the roux? Will I roux the day I did this?
No, it’s all fine and they chat pleasantly to the garlic with a bit of extra butter helping them along. I stir in the milk before they have a chance to fall out, and add a couple of bay leaves. I am never convinced that bay leaves do much beyond ensuring that you later end up with leaves on the plate that you have to pick out, but it’s in the recipe and I’ve got some. The bay leaves have won this time, but I’m onto them and it’s only a matter of time before their lies are exposed for the world to see. Next in is the chaource, which I figure will need a bit of extra time to melt and thicken than Joliver has allowed for in his hard-cheese-based effort.
You can’t just eat a pile of cheese and pasta for dinner, because you’re not eight years old, so the next thing to add weight to my argument that this is a proper meal is the tomatoes. Chopped up and stirred in alongside the macaroni that’s been boiling away and gluing itself to my larger saucepan, they raise the question for the first time of whether everything’s going to fit in the pot. It’s a 2.4 litre Le Creuset, which is by some distance my most expensive piece of cookware, but its volume can cause problems if I’m trying to cook a big heap of something.
It just about holds steady. I add the thyme, salt, pepper and some Worcestershire sauce and grate in some Red Leicester. A bit of a taste to get the seasoning right and it goes in the oven for half an hour. Joliver wants me to do this at 220°c but I’ve got a hunch it’s going to come out black and charred if I do, and besides, he’s not the boss of me even if I did once apply for a job in his office doing digital content. (In the application I criticised the insane amount of olive oil he uses in his toad in the hole, which was absolutely a hill I was prepared to die on in the interview. I didn’t get an interview.) 200°c will do just as well.
His recipe now calls for me to fry some breadcrumbs with thyme and olive oil to sprinkle on top. While I do keep a jar of stale breadcrumbs for exactly this sort of thing and am aware I don’t use them very much, I really can’t be bothered, so I instead put two bits of garlic bread from the freezer in the oven for the last ten minutes and use the time more profitably by drinking an IPA out of the fridge.
I WAS RIGHT about 220°c being too hot, and the sides are only slightly welded to the inside of the pot. It’s a big old carb overload and should really be a side dish, but once I’ve pulled out the bay leaves and dropped them in the bin they always knew was their destiny, it does the job.