Here in America, we think of macaroni and cheese (notice the "and") is a very American dish. Like most baked pasta dishes it probably began in Italy--an ancestor recipe appeared as early as the 13th century.1 (But pasta originally came from China! See the problem with tracing a recipe's roots?) By the 14th century, the first (that we know of) macaroni cheese recipe showed up in England in The Forme of Cury.2 So, some form or other of macaroni cheese has been around in England for seven centuries. I feel that makes the dish sufficiently British for St. George's Day! (Also, photographing it with the Queen and Prince Philip can't hurt.)
Leeks make a nice addition and help make macaroni cheese a little more of a spring dish. Use any short pasta you like--I actually used penne, because that's what was available in the bulk section.
Leek Macaroni Cheese
6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) dried macaroni (or other short pasta)
1/4 cup butter
2 large leeks (these are ginormous American leeks), white and light-green part, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sifted sprouted whole-wheat flour (or you could just use all-purpose flour)
3 cups whole milk
1/2 lb (about 2 cups) grated sharp cheddar
salt, to taste
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (not from a canister)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the macaroni in salted boiling water for 8 minutes then drain well and return to the pasta pot. Set aside.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. When the butter foams, add the leeks and cook for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Vigorously stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute. Try to get as many lumps out as possible. Remove saucepan from the heat and gradually stir in the milk. Return to the stove, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Don't stop stirring. Boil for three minutes. Keep stirring the whole time. Pour leek sauce over macaroni and stir to combine.
Add all but 1/4 cup of the grated cheese to the pasta, stir well and season to taste with salt. Mix the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs. Pour pasta into a large, shallow casserole (I used my largest Le Creuset oval gratin) and top with cheese/breadcrumb mixture. Place casserole on a baking sheet and bake, in the middle of the oven, for about half an hour, or until breadcrumb mixture is golden brown.
Adapted from "Macaroni Cheese with Leeks" in Hilaire Walden, ed., Traditional British Cooking (London: Hermes House, 2008), 54.
St. George Killing the Dragon by Bernat Martorell (c. 1435)3
In the thirteenth century, St. George replaced Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of England. The Crusades were raging and England needed a more martial patron.4 After all, St. George had saved some little town in Libya from a dragon;5 Edward the Confessor, among other deeds, only assisted Malcolm III in reclaiming the Scottish throne and ordered the assassination of Welsh prince Rhys ap Rhydderch. However, the Norman Invasion ousted Edward's successor, Harold, and Edward was (mis)remembered "on the one hand, as a physical and political weakling, and, on the other, in compensation, as unworldly and pious."6
In totally unrelated news, Paul and I went to the zoo Saturday afternoon. We had really gorgeous weather, drove the MG and saw bears, penguins, otters and tigers. Most of the exhibits are behind plexiglass, so I only managed a bear picture. He's just turning to go back in the cave--I guess we weren't interesting enough. Unfortunately, both Paul and I ended up with sunburns. I still look a bit like Lady Elaine Fairchilde. Next time I'm not going without sunscreen-laced cosmetics.
- "England and St George" in Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 214.
- "St. George's Day" in Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, Cattern Cakes and Lace (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1987), 66.
- Frank Barlow, "Edward [St Edward; known as Edward the Confessor] (1003x5–1066)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8516, accessed 23 April 2012].