A recipe: Dukkah-topped macaroni cheese

I love macaroni cheese just as it is. Why mess with it? I guess it’s like those “limited edition” crisp flavours. Nobody expects you to keep buying them, but it’s a darn good reminder how much you like salt & vinegar, right? So here’s my Limited Edition Macaroni Cheese recipe. I think it makes a really nice change.

What the dukkah?

If you’ve never heard of dukkah – or dakka, dukka or duqqa – then don’t worry, it sounds way more fancy pants than it is. It’s incredibly common in Egypt and increasingly in trendy-type restaurants. You know when they give you some bread with a small dish of oil alongside a nutty, seedy, salty, chilly looking thing? That’s dukkah. Dip the bread in the oil, then in the dry mix and scoff the lot. Gert lush!

Here, the dukkah gives a nice, spicy crunch to the bake and beats the heck out of breadcrumbs. There’s really no hard rule about how to make it but it’s super easy and I suggest making lots at once. It’ll store for weeks somewhere airtight and cool. Below is what just happened to be in the cupboard at the time. You definitely want some combination of nut, salt and aromatic seed though.

I probably don’t need to tell you how to make the macaroni cheese bit but the way I made it is included here for completeness.

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To make the dukkah

125g unsalted nuts (I used almonds this time. Cashews are nice)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (Reduce if you don’t like the kick)
1.5 teaspoons of coarse salt (it works better to have the big rocks or flakes than the ground version. I’d probably reduce the quantity by a third or so if you really only have the fine stuff)

  1. Roast the nuts on a baking tray in the oven at about 200°C (185ish fan, Gas Mark 6) for five minutes or so until they begin to go golden – not black! Turn them out to cool briefly.
  2. Heat the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan, medium-high heat, and stir occasionally so they don’t burn. When you start to get that lovely fragrant smell, tip them out and toast the sesame seeds in the same pan until they go golden too.
  3. From here, I put all of the ingredients, including the salt and chilli flakes, into a small processor and blitzed briefly to chop. This is the lazy way and does mean you end up with uneven size pieces. But, particularly used in this recipe, I wasn’t too worried.

If you’re a real hero and want it to look perfect, bash the cumin and coriander with a pestle in a mortar to start cracking the seeds up, then roughly chop the nuts, add them into the mortar and crush them into small pieces too. Stir in the other ingredients.

Ultimately, you’re looking for a breadcrumb-style size, not a fine powder.

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To make the macaroni cheese

175g tubed pasta (macaroni, penne, rigatoni, fusilli…)
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed in some sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ a January King cabbage, shredded (or any other greens you like… or some butternut squash, cubed and boiled until tender…)
300ml milk
70g cheese (something flavourful that melts nicely. Mature cheddar, for example)
25g plain flour
25g butter (or some type of vegetable oil)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1.5tsp wholegrain mustard
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C (185°C fan, Gas Mark 6)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onions until soft. 7-8 minutes. Add a little water or leave the lid on (to create moisture from steam) if they might start to brown. Add the garlic about a minute before the onions are done and stir until fragrant.
  3. Add the greens into the pan. Stir to coat them in the onion mix for a minute, then add a tablespoon or so of water to the pan and cook gently, lid on and stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened. Again, about 7-8 minutes. Remove the lid towards the end to evaporate any remaining water. Season to taste.
  4. While the greens are sweating, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until just tender. Mix the veg and the pasta and set aside until the sauce is ready.
  5. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter or oil in a pan over a low to medium heat then tip in the flour and combine rapidly, cooking the flour for a minute.
  6. Add the bay leaf. The add a third of the milk and stir quickly, incorporating any lumps before adding the next third. Obviously the bay leaf remains whole! Repeat until all the milk has gone and you have a smooth sauce. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer so it can thicken a little, stirring regularly so it doesn’t burn on the saucepan. Add the paprika, mustard and cheese and stir until the cheese has completely melted. Season to taste.
  7. Remove the bay leaf and tip the sauce over the pasta and veg and mix together. Tip into an appropriately sized baking dish.
  8. Sprinkle the dukkah over the pasta until you’ve thinly coated the whole dish. You won’t use it all. Place in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the dukkah has darkened but not burned. Eat!

Serves two hungry folk. Three if you pair it with a virtuous salad or some less virtuous garlic bread.

What do you reckon then?
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