What a week! Toronto, I salute you. You caused me near pneumonia but I still love ya.
What was I up to? Are you interested? I’ll tell you anyway.
My week involved wandering around the city, skipping between districts and neighbourhoods with story-like names: Cabbagetown, Distillery, the Annex. I flitted in and out of art galleries, coffee shops and vintage stores. I saw family, I saw friends, I drank a lot of tequila with both. I ordered almond milk cappuccinos, ate Pho, sushi, vegan, raw and well. That last part sounds a bit too healthy right? Wrong.
I left out the part where I feasted almost daily on the one dish that will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
There’s something about the combination of cheese and carb that’s totally irresistible. Creamy, melty cheese and mountains of pasta. Some kind of exclamation is needed here yet words are lost on this beauty.The holy grail of pasta dishes and what I consider to be the only contender for official dish of North America (Paula Deen, you’re up!), I present to you the almighty: mac and cheese. Total dreamtown.
Maaaaaybe not the most diet friendly dish, but let’s be real – January’s over. Scrambling with loved ones over the final scraps will count towards your weekly cardio. Feeling ultra guilty like me? Swap with Spelt macaroni, whack in some greens and crumble a few nuts on top. Half healthy, at least. Make room for seconds!
Walnut Crusted Mac and Cheese with Swiss Chard
300g Spelt or whole wheat macaroni elbows
500g Swiss chard, leaves only (stems removed)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
60g unsalted butter
30g all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
1 small white onion, cut in half
150g Manchego cheese
150g Gouda cheese
75g walnuts, roughly chopped
One slice (around 75g) stale or dried out brown granary bread, broken into large chunky crumbs
Preheat oven to 200℃
Start by boiling the Swiss chard in a large pot of salted water for around 2 minutes. Scoop out using a slotted spoon, squeeze out any excess liquid and set aside. Using the same water, cook the macaroni according to packet instructions. Usually I’d cook the pasta al dente, but when it comes to mac and cheese a little softer works well. Drain, toss in a little olive oil and set aside.
Next you’ll need to make a béchamel sauce. Start by heating the milk with the onion and bay leaf until scalding. Meanwhile melt the butter in another saucepan on a low-medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown, around 2 minutes. Start to add the flour a little at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon until it’s entirely incorporated and you have a smooth paste, also known as a roux.
At this point your milk should be good to go, so start to add it to the roux around 30ml at a time, mixing constantly. Once you’ve added about half of the milk, switch to a balloon whisk and add larger amounts whilst whisking vigorously. Once all of the milk has been added you should be left with quite a thin béchamel. Continue to cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally until it starts to boil and eventually thickens. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, around half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg and stir in about 3/4 of the cheese.
Tip the cooked macaroni into the béchamel and stir until evenly coated. Pour half of the macaroni into an oven-proof dish, then top with a layer of the Swiss chard. Cover with the rest of the macaroni and then the remaining cheese.
Toss the walnuts and breadcrumbs in a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle it on top of the pasta creating a crust. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and bubbling at the edges. Rest for 10 minutes before serving.