Matt Preston talks about the crucial role that food plays in familial identity and shares his delicious recipe for Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.
When cooking at home, which is the one recipe that signifies home for you?
Roast chicken or a spag bol. Both central to my mum’s cooking when I was a kid
What is it about this recipe that makes you feel this way?
It’s simple, and also a combination of my mother’s macaroni cheese and her baked cauliflower cheese – two very budget friendly meals. The addition of jalapeno and the heavy use of cauliflower is my twist on a classic that boost the veg intake of the family and those chilies just love the cheese.
Do you have specific memories connected with this particular dish? Can you describe them?
Growing up, macaroni cheese was just a runny splotch of pasta in cheese sauce and never baked. It was a classic mid-week dinner served with tomato ketchup if we were lucky!
What is it about food that brings people together and comforts them?
Food underpins so many of the milestones of our life and it is a way of showing love to family and friends. It is also so central to defining who we are. Forget the hearth, I feel the table we eat at should be the heart of the home.
What is it about recipes such as yours that help shape one’s identity?
As I travel around the world and eat and meet people in so many different countries I have come to realise that the idea of eating together bonds families and communities and is central to every culture. We have more in common than might at first be apparent.
How important is it to ensure family recipes are passed down between generations?
It’s crucial; the recipes, rituals and stories, and memories that surround them are part of our culinary DNA. They help define who we are and where we are from.
Why is food important to you?
I see food as a basic human right. It’s a place to crusade (particularly to ensure that as much fresh and nutritious food can be rescued by organisations like Second Bite to feed those that need it rather than ending up in landfill), a place to relax and enjoy; and a place to inform and enthuse. There is no greater pleasure in my life than knowing that a recipe of mine has become part of another family’s culinary present.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Prep: 15 mins
Cooking: 45 mins
200g dried macaroni
½ cauliflower (about 680g), cut into small florets
20g butter, chopped
2 French shallots, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons plain flour
1½ cups milk
1 cup coarsely grated jalapeño Monterey Jack or Colby cheese
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup sliced, pickled jalapeños
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup shredded parmesan
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Cook the macaroni in plenty of boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet, until al dente. Add the cauliﬂower for the last 4 minutes of cooking. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until soft. Stir in the ﬂour for 1 minute or until the mixture bubbles. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Return to medium heat and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes or until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the cheese until it melts. Season.
Stir this béchamel sauce through the pasta and cauliﬂower, then spoon the mixture into one large baking dish or six individual dishes. Sprinkle over the jalapeños. Combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan in a bowl, then scatter over the top as well. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp.
This recipe works just as well with broccoli, but add diced fresh or dried red chili instead of the jalapeños. If you want to spike up the dish further, play around with the white sauce. Substitute ¼ cup of the milk for ¼ cup of jalapeño pickling liquid. Or infuse the milk with bay leaves, parsley stalks or a clove-studded peeled onion – or maybe a combination. A little nutmeg is another option, as it loves milk and does good things to it.
This article originally appeared in The Big Food Edition #562 of The Big Issue
Photos by Armelle Habib and Food Styling by Karina Duncan
Matt Preston’s cookbook Yummy Easy Quick is out now