Mac & Cheese bites with a Tomato and Paprika Dipping Sauce

My mum may not be the best cook in the world (and she will kill me for referring to her cooking skills again…), but she makes the best cheese based dishes ever; mac & cheese (or macaroni cheese as we called it in my day) and quiche being my favourites. The secret to her success? A shit load of cheese. There was none of this runny white sauce lark; my mum’s cheese sauce was so thick that we sliced into a macaroni cheese, rather than spooned it onto a plate. Quiche fillings were also so packed with cheese that I wonder whether she actually ever put any eggs in the mix…

But, although these dishes were far from traditional, they were bloody lovely and macaroni cheese remains a firm favourite of mine, it’s just a shame that nobody else seems to share the whole shit load of cheese sentiment.
Anyway. I fancied recreating this dish recently, but I wanted to pep it up a bit, try something a bit different. I considered sticking chopped up boiled eggs into the mix, but I figured that would make one incredibly rich dish even richer, almost sickly! So, instead, I went the other way; I decided to cut make something that would cut through the richness and tomatoes immediately sprang to mind. But rather than just sticking a few slices in with the pasta, I wanted something different and I came up with the idea of mac ‘n’ cheese bites with a tomato sauce, pepped up with a bit (quite a bit) of paprika.
First up I set about making the sauce. I softened a chopped up red onion in a small pan with some oil, and once soft, I added a couple of garlic cloves, chopped, a tin of tomatoes and a teaspoon of paprika. I then let this bubble away whilst I made the mac ‘n’ cheese.
I melted 50g of butter in a pan and mixed in 50g of plain flour to make a roux and then slowly whisked in 300mls of milk. I then put the pan back on a low heat and cooked the sauce, stirring constantly, until it was thick and smooth. Then I stirred in 270g of grated cheddar until it had fully melted into the sauce. I then cooked 250g of macaroni to al dente, drained and stirred it into the sauce. I added pepper, but not salt as there’s enough in the cheese already. The mix was then spooned into greased muffin tins and baked for about 20 minutes at 200C.
Once cooked, I let the mac ‘n’ cheese cool a little before working the bites out of the tins. I checked the seasoning of the sauce and added a little sugar and then served it in a bowl with the bites.
Sounds easy, aye? Well, it was… bar the scooping of the bites from the tins. To be honest I lost a few as some weren’t quite solid enough, and I wonder whether I needed a higher sauce (glue) to pasta ratio and maybe I should have chilled the baked bites for a little longer before trying to move them. Hey ho. The rejects were just as tasty served in a bowl topped off with a good ol’ dollop of that tomato sauce.
Mmmmm. Now then, what’s your favourite mac ‘n’ cheese twist?
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