Well now, that was a great brainwave, if ever I tasted one.
We were due to have "macaroni cheese" at some point during the week, but although the intent was good, the body was weak and we wound up having pizza instead. I know, what can you do, eh? So, inevitably, this gave me time in which to think "Goodness, but this is dull. What can I do to liven up our standard macaroni cheese recipe?" - which as we all know is sometimes the beginning of the end.
However, in this instance, it worked out brilliantly.
Do you remember my making some beef, ale & cheese soup, way back last year some time? Well I suddenly remembered this recipe and how well the beer combined with the melted cheese - and it was a short hop from there to combining beer into the cheese sauce for the pasta.
Now I always add bacon to my cheese sauce for a macaroni or pasta cheese, as we're confirmed carnivores who feel a bit short changed if a meal doesn't include meat somewhere along the line. Plus, bacon goes so well with cheese. Now, I can confirm that bacon goes very well with an India Pale Ale and cheese, in a sauce. Oh yes.
Ordinarily, I'd have sweated off an onion and included that, but we had run out of onions owing to the last two having turned to slush when I wasn't looking, so that was a non-starter. So to include the onion flavour, I rummaged around in the herb cupboard and added a half a teaspoonful of the onion granules that I normally use in barbecue sauces.
As for the healthiness of this dinner, I can quite categorically deny any element of healthiness. However, as to flavour, well yes it has that in spades. It also has that soft, warming, filling, comforting thing that anything involving cheese and pasta will deliver - especially on a cold, damp day like today. Add to all that the bacon - and we all know that a bit of bacon makes everything better - and the crisp, crunchy herby breadcrumbs sprinkled on top and you've got a sure fire winner.
Just don't make this for dinner if you're counting your calories. Like I am. ~koff~ Oops.
BEER & BACON PASTA CHEESE (serves 3)
1 tsp & 1 tbsp olive oil
12 rashers thick cut smoked back bacon, diced
10g & 20g salted butter
50g dry breadcrumbs
half a tsp dried parsley
half a tsp dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp plain flour
350ml India Pale Ale
450ml semi skimmed milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp onion granules
quarter of a tsp freshly grated nutmeg
300g mature cheddar cheese, grated
50g parmesan cheese, grated
40g Leerdammer (or similar) cheese, grated
15g Philadelphia cream cheese
200g pasta - small tubes work well.
1. Heat a large frying pan and add the diced bacon. Fry until the fat has rendered, any water has burned off and the bacon is beginning to turn golden. Remove the pieces from the pan with a slotted spoon, so as to drain the fat back into the pan and reserve.
2. Add the breadcrumbs to a bowl and mix in the parsley, thyme and a small pinch of sea salt, along with a good quantity of black pepper.
3. Melt the 10g of salted butter into the bacon fat and, once melted, add the breadcrumb mixture. Fry on a moderate heat until the breadcrumbs have taken on the fat and are turning golden. Do not allow them to burn, so keep them moving. As soon as they begin to sound sandy and crisp, remove them from the pan.
4. Take a large saucepan and fill two thirds full with water, which should be brought to a boil and the pasta cooked according to packet instructions.
5. In a medium non-stick pan, melt the 20g of butter and add the tbsp of olive oil.
6. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and stir well for 2-3 minutes.
7. Take the pan off the heat and gradually add the beer, stirring constantly, until you have achieved a smooth textured thick sauce. Reserve any beer that may be left over.
8. Swap to adding the milk gradually, returning the pan to a gentle heat to retain the temperature of the contents and stirring very well to prevent the sauce becoming lumpy, until you have a thick coating consistency. You may not need all the milk, or you may need a little more.
9. Add a tiny pinch of sea salt, a good quantity of black pepper, the Dijon mustard, onion granules and nutmeg and stir through.
10. Add all the cheeses and warm through on a gentle heat until they are all melted and combined thoroughly.
11. Add the cooked bacon and stir through.
11. Taste and if necessary add a little more pepper - you can add cayenne if you like the heat that it brings. Add a little of the remaining beer, just to freshen up that beery flavour.
12. When the pasta is done, drain well and return to the pan. Pour two thirds of the sauce onto the pasta and quickly stir through. Serve swiftly into warmed bowls and add a drizzle more sauce over the top.
13. Sprinkle with the seasoned crispy breadcrumbs.
Serve with garlic bread or a side salad, or just as it is!