Mac n Cheese Gratin

What come to your mind when we say comfort food? A bowl of something warm and easy to put together which you can have sitting in your pyjamas while binge-watching your favourite series on Netflix on your couch! Well… if this setting matches what you’re thinking, then we have the perfect dish for you – MAC N CHEESE AU GRATIN!!
You can make this in a jiffy and the best part is that this comfort dish is also worthy of being served to guests for entertaining. Its easy, can be made in advance, has the easiest ingredients and delicious! It’s an all-weather and any-time-of-the-day dish. The Americans swear by it and on our trip to the USA, we tried it at many restaurants, cafes and diners. Though the best one we tried was from the Beachers Cheese Shop at the very famous Pike Place Market in Seattle.

If you are a food enthusiast and ever happen to be in Seattle, you must visit Pike Place Market. Its literally a wonderland for those who put food above all else. While I was there, I tried this mac n cheese from the Beacher’s cheese shop where they were making fresh cheese and then fresh mac n cheese with that divine cheese. It really was the best!

Process

You literally need just home ingredients for this scrumptious dish. We’re using elbow shaped pasta, butter, milk, onions, cheese, flour and regular bread.
We have used homemade bread. If you want to try the recipe of our homemade wholewheat bread click here.

To begin, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water. Add the pasta to the water when it comes to a boil. Cook it till it is a little underdone. The rest will cook in the oven. Drain the water and keep aside.

In a saucepan take the butter on medium flame. Add the onion and garlic. Cook till it turns a little pink.

Add the flour and keep stirring. Cook the flour for 1-2 minutes. Reduce the flame to low and add the milk and stir constantly. Make sure you remove all the lumps. Increase the flame and cook stirring till a thick sauce is formed. Remove from the flame.

Add ¾ of the cheese to the sauce along with salt and pepper. Keep aside. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Take the bread in a grinder and grind it to fine coarse bread crumbs. To the bread crumbs add the remaining cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix well and keep.

Then add the boiled macaroni and basil to the white sauce and mix well.

Transfer the macaroni mixture to an oven-proof dish.

Sprinkle all the bread crumb mixture over the Mac N Cheese evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes till it is golden and crisp on top.

Look at that beautiful golden brown and crispy layer on top. Thats a perfect gratin, which is usually a dish made in a shallow baking dish with a crusty top with either cheese or breadcrumbs, and sometimes both.

This dish actually originated in England and first appeared in a cookbook by Elizabeth Raffald in 1770, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Then it travelled to Canada with British immigrants and today its very popular in Canada as well. In fact the Canadians are the largest consumers of Macaroni and Cheese. Its arrival in the USA was however a different story. Thomas Jefferson and his chef came across it in Paris and loved it. He then imported a machine for making the macaroni pasta and even served it at a state dinner. Thats why its a dish that fits any occasion, you see! Today every country has its own version. The white sauce itself is a French recipe called the béchamel sauce and the french have their own version. This is a recipe steeped in history, culture and many cuisines.

Serve it warm! Don’t forget to tell us in the comments below if you liked the recipe and the little details of its origin.

Recipe: Mac n Cheese Gratin

Ingredients

30 gm Butter
3 tbsp Flour
3 Onions, chopped finely
8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
500 ml Milk
250 gm Elbow /Macaroni pasta
150 gm Cheese, grated
2 bread slices
3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8-10 leaves basil, chopped
Salt
Freshly Crushed Black Pepper

Method

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water. Add the pasta to the water when it comes to a boil. Cook it till it is a little underdone. The rest will cook in the oven. Drain the water and keep aside.
  2. In a saucepan take the butter on medium flame. Add the onion and garlic. Cook till it turns a little pink. Add the flour and keep stirring. Cook the flour for 1-2 minutes. Reduce the flame to low and add the milk and stir constantly. Make sure you remove all the lumps. Increase the flame and cook stirring till a thick sauce is formed. Remove from the flame and keep aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Add ¾th cheese to the sauce along with salt and pepper.
  4. Take the bread in a grinder and grind it to fine coarse bread crumbs. To the bread crumbs add the remaining cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and keep.
  5. To the sauce add the macaroni pasta and the basil leaves. Mix well and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle all the bread crumb mixture over the Mac N Cheese evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes till it is golden and crisp on top. Serve immediately.

Mumbai Chilli Cheese Pao

This is a very easy snack to curb your cavings any time of the day. Mumbai Chilli Cheese Pao is inspired by the many Parsi or Persian cafes in Mumbai and Pune. A lot of people also know them as Irani cafes. The persian recipe and flavours that exist in India today sort of travelled from the then Persia when a large chunk of the population migrated to India many many years back. We’re so thankful it happened because a new cuisine was born – which is served till this day in the Irani/Parsi cafes. Its really sad that they began shuttering their shops because people’s tastes and trends changed and these were replaced by global fast food chains and well known brand.

We are #vocalforlocal today then I think we really can save these gems of places – which exist nowhere else in the world because of their unique confluence of the Maharashtrian x Iranian x Persian culture & cuisine. So here’s an ode to these wonderful little spaces steeped in time and history – the irani cafes of Mumbai & Pune! Radhicka and I used to frequent these during the many years we spent in these two maharashtrian cities. We will list some of our favourites for you… but since no eateries are functional due to the global lockdown because of Covid-19, try this wonderful traditional parsi fusion recipe and please please go back to try the amazing food at one of these cafes once they open. You’ll know you’ve reached the right place when you see those classic tables toped with a red & white checkered tablecloth with a glass placed on top accompanied by shaky old vintage chairs and that mesmerising whiff of baking. Three cheers for the people who are still keeping them alive!

This is a very easy recipe, rather its a representation of the multiple ideas that can work with a basic fluffy pao bread. We’re using ingredients from the pantry and all of you are sure to have easy access to these. We’re using the pao/pav bread, tomatoes, capsicum, onion, garlic, chilli flakes and cheese.

Begin with fine chopping your veggies. Pound the garlic and chilli flakes together with a pestle and mortar.

Take butter in a pan. Add onions and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the capsicum. You can also use yellow or red bell peppers if you like.

Once you sauté the capsicums too, then add the pounded garlic and chilli flake mixture. Pounding the chilli and garlic together, amplifies the flavour of both the ingredients. You can use chilli powder if you wish but the chilli flakes give it a nutty smoky flavour. Add the tomatoes and mix.

Season with salt. Smash some bits of the tomatoes to get a thick and semi-mashed mixture. Cook on high flame till the extra visible liquid has evaporated.

To make the pao/pav buns you can use our recipe by clicking here or ofcourse you can buy if in a rush. Let them be stuck together and prepare it in clusters. That way you get a bit of the pull-apart bread effect. Slice them horizontally and place them on the baking tray, cut side facing up. make sure to preheat your oven to 180 C at this time.

Make sure you put it on the tray you will be baking it on. Spread the veggie mixture. Then spread cheese evenly. You can use any cheese that you like or you have in your refrigerator.Then top it with chilli flakes.

They are ready to bake.

Put them in the preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. You want the pao to be a bit crispy and the cheese to melt evenly.

Serve it warm, just out of the oven. garnish with some fresh coriander/cilantro. It works as the perfect herb for this, adding fragrance, flavour and colour to you baked chilli cheese paos.

Recipe: Parsi Cafe Chilli Cheese Pão

Ingredients

16 small Pav Buns
3 tbsp Butter
2 onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper/capsicum, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 ½ tsp Chilli Flakes/red chilli powder
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt to taste
1 bowl cheese, grated
Coriander and chill flakes for garnish

Method

  1. Break the pav into 4 and slice each section into two to get 8 pieces. Arrange these on a baking tray cut side up.
  2. In a mortar take the garlic and chilli flakes. Crush into a paste using a pestle.
  3. In a pan on medium heat take butter and add onions. Mix well and add capsicum.
  4. Cook on high flame stirring constantly. Add the garlic paste along with the tomatoes and continue to cook.
  5. Add salt and cook mashing the mixture continuously till extra liquid dries up and you get a thick mash.
  6. Let it cool for a bit. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
  7. Spread the vegetable mixture on the pav bun and sprinkle cheese generously over it. Sprinkle a little chilli flake if you wish and bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or till pav is crisp and cheese has melted.
  8. Garnish with fresh coriander and savour with garam-garam cutting chai.

Fresh Ricotta

Ricotta is a fresh and soft Italian cheese… and truly delicious! It has a soft grain and light texture. Traditionally, ricotta was made with milk and whey left after making other cheeses. Thats how it got its name “ricotta” which literally translates to re-cooked. However, ricotta is now very sought after because of its slightly sweet taste and its ability to hold its consistency. Thus, its widely used in desserts and Italian cuisine. Its best use is to add it to the filling for lasagne, ravioli, cannelloni and conchiglie.

You literally need just two ingredients to make fresh ricotta at home. Milk and lemons, thats all!

You can use any milk for this, but the result could vary a bit. We have used regular whole milk. You can use skimmed milk too but you might end up with a lesser quantity of ricotta (which is fine). So, using whole or full fat milk would be better, but even others work well.

Put the milk to heat in a pan. We want hot milk but DO NOT BOIL THE MILK. Now, this is very important. You want to heat it only till you start seeing the bubbles on the edge of the pan. As soon as that happens, turn off the flame. Keep your lemon juice ready and after you have turned off the flame, add it to the milk. Stir very delicately to make sure its mixed.

Let it stand for 10-20 minutes and the soft cheese will start to curdle and separate from the whey. Whey is that thin watery liquid that separates from milk while making cheese or curd. If the milk has still not curdled, be patient. If it still doesn’t, add 1 tbsp lemon juice and it should curdle.

Be sure, not to stir it too much or too vigorously, otherwise you will turn it into cottage cheese. There is a very fine line between ricotta and cottage cheese!. On stirring too much, it will become firmer, and we’re looking for a soft cheese.

When you stir very gently, the cheese will start to show… almost as if emerging from the milk-whey liquid.

It will finally look something like this. Such a beauty!

Keep a pot ready with a big sieve on top. Place a cheesecloth or a muslin cloth on top of the sieve. Make sure there’s enough distance between the sieve and the base of the pot, so that when we leave it to strain, the cheese is not touching the strained liquid whey.

This is what it will look like. At this stage, leave it to drain the excess liquid. The draining time is directly proportional to the firmness of cheese. If you let it stand longer and let more liquid drain out then you will get a firmer ricotta. Alternately, if you don’t leave it for very long so that it retains some moisture, then you will get a softer cheese.

This really depends on the purpose of use.
Soft Ricotta: for, cakes, tarts, cannoli, puddings, mousse and other desserts
Firm Ricotta: for ravioli, cannelloni, conchiglie, lasagne, tortellini and the likes.
Ricotta doesn’t melt on baking and thats why its the first choice for the filling of stuffed pastas.

Its ready to use when cooled. You can store it in the refrigerator for upto a week.

Recipe: Fresh Ricotta

Ingredients

1 litre milk
2 lemons

Method

  1. Take milk in a sauce pan and heat it to just before it comes to a boil. You will start seeing a few bubbles on the edge of the pan.
  2. Meanwhile juice 2 lemons and keep aside.
  3. Line a soup strainer with muslin cloth or cheesecloth and place the strainer over a big pot.
  4. As soon as you see bubble on the edge of the milk turn off the flame and add the lemon juice. Stir it delicately to ensure the lemon juice is mixed well with the milk.
  5. Let it stand for 10-20 minutes. You will see that the soft cheese would curdle and separate leaving behind the whey.
  6. If the milk doesn’t not curdle completely just add an additional 1 tbsp of lemon Juice. Over stirring will make the cheese harder so stir less to get a soft cheese.
  7. Drain the cheese over the cheesecloth and let it stand from anywhere between 20-50 minutes. For a fresh and  light ricotta, drain it for a short time and for a more dense ricotta drain it for a longer period.
  8. This amount of milk will yield ricotta between 260-220gm depending on the amount of drainage time. Use fresh or store in the refrigerator for 6-8 days.