Cookalong with Ben Ebbrell brings Christmas flavour to mac ‘n’ cheese
Borough Market is the beating heart of London’s culinary world. It fulfils every expectation a food-loving local could muster with the only drawback being its popularity. I am like one of those tourists who complains about the popularity of the destination I too am visiting. But the crowds have never put me off Borough Market with every visitor I host getting their obligatory day out to the market. I also visit regularly to nose around the stalls, always finding something new and interesting to buy and stocking up on all my favourites. I have possibly eaten my body weight in Brindisa’s chorizo rolls or perhaps that award goes to the stall with the best chocolate brownies in the city. Either way I love Borough Market and have missed it during the lockdown. That is not to say that Borough Market closed down, on the contrary, it has continued to feed Londoners with stalls open and home deliveries active. Some of the stalls, like Shuk, have diversified into home meal kits so those, like me, who live a distance from Borough can continue to enjoy the delights of the market while supporting the traders.
With Christmas in sight, Borough Market is busy and full of activities for shoppers and those who are taking part in the fun from home. Borough Market Elves has launched for those unable to travel to shop at the market. Customers can call the shopping line, talk directly to one of the Elves and enjoy free delivery this Christmas within a 30-mile radius of the market. (T: 020 7940 7900). For those who can get to the Market in person, it is now open 7 days a week until Christmas Eve with late night shopping on Thursdays and Fridays until 9 pm.
Christmas at Borough Market is also running a series of online events through the Festive Kitchen with cookery demonstrations, cook-alongs and conversations about food. Each week, from Wednesday to Friday, this specially constructed set comes to life while food experts curate and compere a line up of guests and Market traders. Check the link to see what’s coming up next.
Home viewers can either watch or, if in London, purchase a cookalong kit to take part in the Thursday evening events with guest chefs at the stove. I was invited to join in while Ben Ebbrell took viewers through his caramelised onion and squash mac ‘n’ cheese. Ebbrell, the co-founder of Sorted Foods, has a loyal following on his YouTube channel and is both down to earth and full of practical tips. Sorted Foods was established with the goal of encouraging people to become confident cooks and repeated lockdowns have brought people together through the digital sharing of food. Interviewed as he cooked by Angela Clutton, he shared his no-waste approach to cooking with great ideas for how to get the most out of the ingredients. The event was very well filmed with excellent overhead shots enabling viewers to see exactly what was going on in hits pots and pans – many cook-alongs are fun but not very well filmed.
I have cooked macaroni cheese more times than I care to remember over a couple of decades of feeding young people who adore this dish. My nod to fancying it up has always been adding breadcrumbs to give the topping some crunch. Sometimes I throw in sauteed mushrooms but that is about as posh as it gets. I don’t even make the ubiquitous truffled mac ‘n’ cheese that you’ll find in every steak house in town these days. It’s always greatto push your boundaries though and Ebbrell’s mac ‘n’ cheese was a delightful and colourful celebration of seasonal produce and incorporated Christmas into this much-loved dish. He served it with a side salad of finely sliced sprouts, dried cranberries and clementine juice. A really good one if you prefer your sprouts really fresh.
When the large box arrived from Christmas at Borough Market, I realised we were in for a really good cook-along. Inside were top-quality ingredients from some of the Market traders and so generous in quantity that there are all sorts of bits and bobs left over which I will certainly be using in my kitchen over Christmas. Finally, I now have a Borough Market tea towel – I have wanted one for years but every time I visit the Market I end up spending my cash on fresh produce, cheese, bread, pastries, charcuterie, preserves and lunch. It is so true that the best gifts are those you do not buy for yourself. Thanks, Borough! Talking of gifts, Borough Market Edible Histories: Epic Tales of Everyday Ingredients by Mark Riddaway (which London Unattached will be reviewing soon) is a great Christmas gift for the foodie in your life – or even yourself – a series of essays about some of the ingredients on sale at the Market.
Ebbrell’s mac ‘n’ cheese is made with caramelised red onions, garlic, rosemary and cubes of butternut squash (all from Stark’s Fruiterers) bringing colour and sweetness to the dish. To this, Ebbrell added mulled wine – made with a bottle of Masan, Pays D’Hérault from Cartwright Brothers Vintners and a sachet of mulled wine spices from Spice Mountain – to the veg, turning the butternut purple and transforming this dish into a festive delight. Added to the top quality macaroni (Gastronomica) it made an impressive filling. Ebbrell was full of tips for how to make a cheese sauce lump free and believe me, this was no ordinary cheese sauce. Everything was top notch. Salted butter (Neal’s Yard) and milk (Hook & Son), 00 flour (Gastronimica), bay leaves and nutmeg (Spice Mountain) and cheese from Neal’s Yard. I am not talking bog standard cheddar here – that is what I usually put into my macaroni cheese. Here we had two gorgeous cheeses – Haford and Sparkenhoe Blue – which combined to provide a marvellous depth of flavour. As if all this was not delicious enough, the final touch came with crumbling panettone (Gastronomica) over the top. Just imagine the mulled wine and crispy panettone aroma in my kitchen as the dish baked – this is definitely one to make again in the leadup to Christmas to get your household smelling of Christmas and watching faces break into happy smiles around the table. Mac’n’cheese just does that and this recipe has bells on. Or could that be the sound of Santa’s sleigh?
If you are interested in learning more about Borough Market and the surrounding area, why not try the Secret London Bridge food walking tour!