Macaroni Cheese – or Mac ‘n’ Cheese as it’s now known – seems to be everywhere these days. Mac ‘n’ Cheese restaurants, Mac ‘n’ Cheese vans, Mac ‘n’ Cheese pop-up stalls…you can’t move for slipping on some of the gloopy stuff.
As you may have gathered, I don’t get it. For me, it’s nursery food. Bland, boring and not requiring teeth (yes, yes, I can hear an army of Mac fans rising up against me in ire). I like pasta and I like cheese but Macaroni Cheese, well, it’s lacking something (e.g. onions, tomatoes, herbs, chorizo…you get the picture). So when my usually discerning friend Nat came back from a holiday in Barbados raving about the local macaroni cheese dish, I had to investigate further.
Turns out that Bajan Macaroni Pie is quite the thing in Barbados. It’s sold as a side dish in restaurants and roadside stalls, accompanying everything from Sunday lunch to fried flying fish and, of course, every mother has her own secret recipe. I tried to find a definitive recipe on the internet but as with any much-loved regional delicacy, passions were running high about how to cook it – with butter, no butter; with eggs, no eggs; with veg, no veg. So I took a bit of what I fancied from here and there and came up with the following recipe. Bajan seasoning is an island staple, packed with herbs like thyme and marjoram, as well as spring onions, garlic and chillies to varying degrees of heat. The internet was full of doom over my chances of finding any this side of the Atlantic but I managed to hunt down a jar in my local market. You could just use chopped herbs but there are several recipes to be found such as this one.
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp paprika (I used smoked paprika because I have a thing about it at the moment)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp Bajan seasoning
225g grated cheddar cheese
Chopped parsley to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 160C fan-assisted / Gas Mark 4.
Cook the macaroni until al dente. Fry the pepper and onion until soft and add to the hot macaroni with the cheese, stirring until it melts.
Add the seasonings to the mix and stir through again:
Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle more cheese on the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
As the dish cools, you can serve the Macaroni Pie in slices.
And was I converted? Well, the herbs and spices gave it quite a kick and it wasn’t as sloppy as usual Macaroni Cheese is. It’s definitely a side dish (I served it with Jerk Chicken in a cross-Caribbean collaboration) but one with a twist. My biggest fear is that I’ve no doubt mangled the recipe horribly and will be set upon by a legion of pepper-hating, egg-loving Bajan Macaroni Pie lovers.