Pasta came from China. It did a tour of Italy and now it’s a staple in many European kitchens. The multi-shaped, often multicoloured, noodles can be confusing but, while there are rules as to which shapes work best in which dishes, you can pretty much use whichever you like.
There are two classics, which use the name of the recommended pasta in their name. You’ve probably eaten them in fast food places. But home-made will always be better; learn these two recipes, and you will never go hungry!
Mac ’n’ Cheese
Some people use cheese sauce throughout. But if that’s too hard to do, you can get away with making a milk and egg mix, baked until solid. But, for a really good mac ’n’ cheese, you need three things: 1) macaroni, 2) a white sauce, or roux (pronounced “roo”), 3) lots of grated cheddar. And that white sauce can be used for many other recipes, too, so it’s worth learning to make.
2 tbs butter
2 tbs all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
salt, pepper and mustard powder to taste
(To make it cheese sauce, add 1 ½ cups grated Cheddar cheese)
1 Melt the butter over a medium heat and then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute or two before adding the milk, a little at a time (if you add it all at once your sauce will become lumpy). Cook for around three minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes thick.
2 Add the cheese and stir until melted. Season to taste. Take it off the heat once you are done cooking as it can burn very easily.
3 Cook your macaroni following the directions on the package. As soon as it’s cooked, transfer it to a colander and rinse it in cold water. Shake the colander until no more water comes out. Because macaroni is hollow, it can store water inside and ruin your dish.
4 Lightly grease a baking dish. Mix the macaroni and cheese sauce together, then pour into a wide, shallow oven-proof dish and level roughly. You can add slices of tomato, or mushroom if you like, then sprinkle with more cheese and bake until crusty. For a tastier dish, cook some bacon and cut it into pieces to add to the sauce.
Spaghetti Bolognese (Bol-uh-naze)
This dish is a student staple, with a rich, meaty sauce over shoelace-like pasta. The secret is to cook it slowly. Make double the amount of sauce, and freeze some for another time.
1 tbsp olive oil
400g minced beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped or bashed
100g grated carrot
2 x 400g tinned tomatoes (try to get ones with no sugar)
1 pack of streaky bacon cut into pieces (optional)
400ml beef stock (you can get cubes or ready-made at the supermarket)
salt and pepper
a few handfuls of grated Cheddar or Parmesan cheese to serve
1 Heat half the oil on a medium heat and use it to brown the mince. (Note “brown” not “grey” or burned.) This might take a while and it is better to do it in batches than all at once. Set it aside in a bowl to catch the juices.
2 If you’re using bacon, snip it into little pieces with kitchen scissors rather than a knife. Cook until the fat is translucent, then set aside with the beef.
3 Strain the bacon fat to remove any crispy bits, or just pour it out, wipe the pan, and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Heat the pan over a medium heat, then add the onions and a little salt, and fry until soft and translucent, around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry until soft.
4 Add the carrot and the mince (and bacon if used), along with any juices. Add the tomatoes and stir gently.
5 Cook until the tomato begins to break down, stirring occasionally, then add the stock. When the sauce starts to simmer, reduce the heat and let it bubble away for about 40 minutes to an hour. Check on it occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once it is done, taste and check the seasoning.
6 Just before you're ready to eat, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Drain well. Divide equally between plates and top with the sauce. Let people help themselves to grated cheese.
To make the sauce fancier:
- add fresh or dried basil, fresh or dried oregano, or fresh or dried mixed herbs.
- add fried mushrooms for texture and flavour
- swap a cup of stock for a cup of red wine (don’t worry, the alcohol will burn off while cooking)
- add a couple of star anise; just remember to remove them afterwards
- if you like it spicy, add fresh chopped chili or chili flakes.