Josh Barrie’s dishes that can do one: Posh mac and cheese

Overcomplicated: additions tend to make mac and cheese worse, not better  (Pixabay)
Overcomplicated: additions tend to make mac and cheese worse, not better (Pixabay)

Given the nature of things in modern Britain, dishes like mac and cheese will soon be all we have left. The tomatoes are gone, so too are the cucumbers. Apparently broccoli and cauliflowers are also in short supply, joining lettuces and salad bags, raspberries too, as our country sinks passively — though perhaps not regrettably — into the warming sea.

Some might welcome our new land of macaroni, never mind the bureaucratic calamity. Forking those dainty tubes of pasta, two thirds overcooked, one third dry and brittle, peeking their little heads over the parapet of near-curdled sauce, has become a mainstay of British eating and the dish is willingly harvested year-round. In “gastropubs” and brasseries, from upscale cafés to expensively elegant hotel dining rooms, mac and cheese is found, breadcrumbed to the hilt and as one dimensional as an online dispute about Shamima Begum.

Unfortunately, mac and cheese is another boring dish in an increasingly boring nation. If you look into the kaleidoscope of Britain, you will find a jarring view containing, among other unsavoury particulars, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s wiry spectacles, tobacco-imbued mustard trousers, and one of Jeremy Vine’s interminable cycling videos. And then there, suddenly, as the cogs turn and Farage’s frog-like mouth recedes, is a miniature cast iron skillet, wet and oozing, bubbling over with drowning macroni, a waft of truffle oil hammering your nostrils like a gap year in Colombia.

A miniature cast iron skillet arrives, a waft of truffle oil hammering your nostrils like a gap year in Colombia

Macaroni cheese is a lacklustre, sluggish dish. It is neither an interesting starter (£10.50?) nor an appropriate side (£7?). Too often, it lacks nuance, a careless medley of oil and singular flavour, too sickly to have in its entirety and too overpowering to sit comfortably alongside a fine piece of sole or a decent steak.

The dish always arrives piping hot before inexplicably becoming cold and stodgy. Then the whole thing congeals into a greasy, cloying, anaemic block. There it will rest, like a pugnacious and unwelcome guest at a wedding.

While out, mac and cheese — as a standalone dish — is only really suitable for children. A pre-dinner filler. Something to fill up on after 90 minutes of football or attaining an 800m swimming badge thanks to Kellogg’s. Covering the macaroni in a herby crust, adding ‘nduja or some other salty meat does not bring any semblance of sophistication or refinement. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the dish is misplaced, lacking, a blight on candlelit tables. Attempts to convolute do not add value. It remains cheesy pasta, nothing more, and has no place in high-end restaurants, or even the smart casual ones where the waiting staff wear Stone Island ironically.

At home, cooked simply, mac and cheese might offer something substantial. Otherwise, leaning into expansiveness would not go amiss.

Sigh. I suppose Britain is nothing more than a tedious place where undeserving entities become unjustly popular. Good things like tomatoes, meanwhile, are dismissed. So on we plod, mac and cheese inescapable, in a whirlwind of self-destruction. Eventually, there will be nothing left but a sloppy bowl of macaroni. And a turnip.