Mac n Cheese with Asparagus and Tomato

It feels great to be back to blogging again after completing my cookbook. It was a lot of intense work, but it is such a wonderful feeling to have it out there and to know that people are enjoying it. I’ve been cooking up recipes like crazy to get it finished on time (which is the environment I’m most comfortable in) and, now that’s done, I can come up with a fresh new batch of recipes for you.
Mac n Cheese is a dish I’ve been wanting to put up for some time. We eat it a lot at home because the basic recipe is simple and, after a day’s work, we’re all about simple cooking. I do tend to mix it with other ingredients, not only to make it a little more interesting, but also to add nutritional value; something I try to do with every meal. This recipe has asparagus and tomato, which is sautéed separately. This is then topped with crispy fried onion rings to add some real crunch. The macaroni in this recipe is not gluten-free, but everything else in the recipe is. You can get gluten-free macaroni at Sainsbury’s for £1.30, so switch it for that if you are intolerant. Have fun with this and change up the veggies as much as you want. Mushrooms are a great substitute, and courgettes and red peppers would also work well. There’s a little bit of Sriracha chilli sauce in this, which you can leave out if chilli isn’t for you. My favourite for this dish is Frank’s Hot Sauce, but my body can’t handle is so well anymore so I’ve had to cut it from my diet (not happy about that!).
You can cook the pasta beforehand if you want to free up some time. I tend to chill it down anyway and let the cheese sauce heat it back up prior to serving. I use that technique for this recipe because keeping pasta warm is difficult without over-cooking it. The fried onions are an optional topping, but they work so well that it would be a shame to leave them out. Remember to slice them thinly and they will become crisp as they cool.

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: about 30 minutes.
Serves 4

1 x 500g pack dried macaroni (use gluten-free if needed)

For the Cheese Sauce:
45g vegan margarine
3 tbsp gram flour
750ml dairy-free milk (I used almond)
1 veg stock cube (make sure it’s gluten-free, if needed)
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp sriracha sauce (optional)
75g vegan cheese (I used smoked)
Salt and pepper to taste.

For the Veggies:
3 tbsp olive oil
300g fresh asparagus (about 30 spears), the woody bottom stem removed, and the rest cut in halve
4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 6 wedges each.

For the Fried Onions: (optional, but worth the effort)
1-2 whole onions, peeled and sliced into very thin rings
Enough vegetable oil to fill about 2cm deep in a small saucepan.

First cook the pasta. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, pour in the packet of macaroni and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until al-dente. Strain into a colander and run under cold water to cool and stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Now make the cheese sauce. Melt the margarine in your empty pasta saucepan and add the gram flour. Take off the heat and stir with a whisk until a thick doughy clump is formed. Add a little of the milk and whisk in to thin it out a little. Add a bit more and whisk into a smooth paste. Put the pan back on the heat and continue to add the milk, a bit at a time, whisking any lumps out as you go. Bring the sauce up to the boil and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Simmer very gently for about 4 minutes, until you have a thick and yellow cheese sauce. Take off the heat, cover with cling film or a plate and set aside.
To cook the vegetables, heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok. Sauté the asparagus for 8-10 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add the tomato wedges and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until they have softened.
While you are doing this, you can heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan to fry the onions. You’ll want the oil hot enough so that it begins to bubble when you drop in an onion slice. Fry the onions, in 2-3 batches, until quite browned but not black. This will only take a minute or so, so don’t stray too far. When they are ready, remove the onions with a pair of cooking tongs and leave to drain and cool on some kitchen paper.
Heat the cheese sauce back up and add the vegetables, then add the pasta and mix it all together. Leave it for a minute or so to heat the pasta back up, and then serve into four bowls. Top with some of the cooled crispy onions and serve immediately.

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