For years, I thought pasta was pasta, period.
The choice on the supermarket shelf was a mixture of the aesthetic - are bows cuter than spirals - and the practical - would you rather slurp spaghetti or shovel in neat spoonfuls of macaroni?
Of course, things are rarely as simple as they first appear. Italian tradition dictates that long, thin pasta goes with thin, oily sauces, while chunkier and ridgier varieties go with a thicker accompaniment that clings better to their shape. That would explain why carbonara is usually served with spaghetti or tagliatelle, but the rule then clearly fails for bolognaise.
One day, I should do a pasta tasting to see how much difference the shape actually makes. But that doesn't sound nearly as much fun as, say, a wine tasting, and for now I still mostly just have one type of pasta in the cupboard at a time. So, tonight, when the cold weather and the dark evening had me yearning for comfort food, we had fusilli cheese. And very good it was too.
Serves 2-3 hungry people
4 slices bacon
1 pint milk
4 garlic cloves
mustard, pepper, nutmeg, salt to taste
Cook pasta per instructions. Fry the chopped bacon.
Slice the garlic and put in a small pan with the milk. Warm until just short of boiling. (Or use a microwave.) Warm milk is my newly discovered secret to a perfect white sauce.
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Slowly - very slowly - add in the milk, constantly stirring to make the smooth white sauce.
Flavour with mustard, black pepper, nutmeg (and anything else you fancy) to taste. Grate in about half the cheese.
Put the pasta, bacon and sauce in an oven-proof dish. Top with the rest of the grated cheese and put under a hot grill until bubbling.
Serve with a green salad to keep up the pretence of trying to eat healthily.
For the ultimate guide to macaroni cheese variations, check out Felicity Cloake's Guardian column. But for me it's very much an easy, lazy, comforting kind of dish that does not involve the faff of turning on the food processor for breadcrumbs or splashing out on parmesan. Besides, anything that has been under the grill with cheese on top always looks awesome.