This recipe is one of our favourites. I won’t pretend it is quick or even remotely ‘one pot cooking‘, but as my son says, “It’s worth it!” It’s easily made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon/pancetta and using a vegetarian cheese, and it absolutely tastes just as good this way. But if you love the salty crunch of the bacon on top, that is delicious too.
This recipe will serve 4 to 6, depending on age and appetite.
1 pound of macaroni or pasta shapes
½ to ¾ cup chopped bacon or pancetta
One medium cauliflower, washed and broken into florets
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced (or substitute one onion, finely chopped)
1 bunch asparagus (or substitute 1 cup frozen peas if asparagus is unavailable)
1 red pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose (plain) flour
approximately 2 cups of milk
1 generous teaspoon of Dijon mustard
2 good handfuls of cheddar cheese plus more for sprinkling
Salt and pepper to taste
Steam the cauliflower, leek (*for onion see note below), asparagus and red pepper in a steamer until cooked. You will probably need to put the cauliflower in first for about ten minutes and then add the rest of the vegetables as they do not take nearly as long to cook. Once they are cooked – firm and not soggy – set them aside.
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Fry the bacon or pancetta in a small pan until crisp. Set aside and keep warm.
(*If you are using onion, do not steam it, rather add it to the melted butter in the step below and gently sauté in the saucepan for two to three minutes before adding the flour.)
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir together thoroughly. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually pour in the milk, continuing to stir, to make a thick sauce. You will need to stir this constantly until it thickens. Stir in the mustard, then add the cheese and let it melt. Now gradually add a bit more milk until you get a nice consistency that is not too thick or too thin, just enough to coat the vegetables and pasta. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
When the pasta is done, drain it and set aside.
When everything is ready, mix the cooked pasta and cooked vegetables together in a large casserole. Pour the cheese sauce over and toss until everything is coated. Sprinkle a bit more cheese over top and place under the grill. Let it brown up a little and serve it sprinkled with the crispy bacon or pancetta if using. Taste and sigh.
As I said, it isn’t all that quick and maybe it’s less than easy, but oh my, is it worth it for this bowl of comforting yumminess! You can also make this ahead of time, store it in the fridge and reheat it when you need it. Just fry up the bacon or pancetta at the last minute if you are going to do that.