Cook the macaroni according to packet instructions, in plenty of salted water. When al dente and still firm, drain, rinse with cold water, drain thoroughly once again, place in a large mixing bowl, and toss in a little olive oil to prevent them sticking together.
To make the crust dressing, mince two cloves of garlic and cook on a low heat in a saucepan with the olive oil and butter. After one minute, add the thyme leaves, and continue cooking on a low heat until the leaves become soft.
Place the panko breadcrumbs, toasted almond flakes, and 30g of Castello Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar you set aside into a bowl. Pour in the garlic and thyme oil, and mix together until all fully combined (pic 5). Set aside until ready to dress the muffins.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly oil two muffin trays with a paper towel (you’ll use around 18 muffin holes).
To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat until it begins to foam. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, a little at a time, fully combining each time until you have a paste. Continue to cook this paste on a low heat, stirring continuously, for around four minutes.
Add the milk to the paste a little at a time, stirring vigorously. Each time, stir out any lumps before adding a little more milk. The paste will become more liquid as you continue to add the milk, until you have a fully combined sauce. At this point, turn the heat up to medium and cook for a further eight minutes or so, stirring continuously so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Stop when the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon. Season with some black pepper, and grate in some fresh nutmeg.
Keep the heat low and add the cheddar. Stir until fully melted.
Add this cheese sauce to the macaroni add the chopped spinach, and mix until all fully combined.
Fill around 18 standard muffin holes with the macaroni cheese mix, over-filling each one Evenly distribute the crust dressing over each, and place in the oven. Cook until the panko topping is golden brown, then remove from the oven.
Allow the muffins to cool and when they are at room temperature, transfer to the fridge overnight to harden. To remove each muffin from the tray, run a sharp knife around the edge of each, and they’ll easily come out. Serve at room temperature.