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Macaroni cheese with leeks and pancetta

Before I bought Nigellissima a week ago, I only owned one other Nigella Lawson cookbook (the Christmas one). I am not a Nigella freak by any means. But this book is good. Seriously good. I have made five recipes from it already; I even did an online shop from Ocado specifically to stock up on the ingredients necessary to make lots of things from it! The recipes are frighteningly easy, and are so delicious they literally make you happy to be alive. Not exaggerating.
This may be an Italian themed book, but there is no anally retentive obsession with authenticity here – no, here it’s about enjoyment. Pure and simple. And that enjoyment extends to the cooking itself, i.e. it’s all dead easy. Well, who wants to be reduced to a sweating, stressed out mess just in the name of dinner? Not Nigella. And not me. What I love about Nigella is that she captures a joyful greed that I really identify with. This is a very intelligent and beautiful woman with an enormous appetite, and that’s to be celebrated, especially in an age when the lightweight of mind and body appears to be what is preferred by many.

This recipe is a revelation. The cheese sauce is created not by the usual roux method (melt butter into flour and whisk in milk) but by whisking grated gruyere (which is tossed in a little cornflour) into chicken stock with vermouth (you could use wine). It tastes like proper Mac and Cheese, and dare I say it, a bit like the Heinz variety – but in a great way! As ever, I only post recipes from cookbooks that I have adapted to make them my own. So here I added leeks and streaky bacon to make it healthier for my family. It must be streaky – or pancetta – as it releases the right amount of fat, which equals flavour.

Serves: 6 people
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

200g gruyere
2 tablespoon of cornflour
100g mascarpone
1 ball of mozzarella
600ml chicken stock
1 large glass vermouth or white wine
400g macaroni or other small pasta
Good grating of parmesan
2 leeks, sliced thinly
3 rashers (or equivalent in cubes) of pancetta or streaky bacon, snipped into lardons or diced
100ml of double cream (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 180C. 
  2. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente. Under 10 minutes should do it. 
  3. Slice and fry off pancetta or bacon until crispy – about 10 minutes. Add your leeks to the same pan and cook down till soft – another 10 minutes.
  4. Grate your gruyere and toss the grated cheese in cornflour. 
  5. Heat your vermouth or white wine until bubbling, then add chicken stock and bring to boil. Whisk in the cheese until melted and thickened. Add your mascarpone and whisk again. 
  6. Drain your pasta and add your cheese sauce to the pasta. Throw your leeks and pancetta into the mix. Roughly chop your mozzarella into chunks and toss through the sauce. If you want a very rich macaroni cheese, now would be the time to slosh in some cream, but this is optional – I’ve had with and without, both are nice. 
  7. Grate a generous amount of parmesan over the top and cook in a hot oven (about 180C) for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

>> Check out more macaroni cheese recipes!


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