Homemade Mac & Cheese
Comfort food. Warm and filling. A main course or a side dish. Mac & cheese is about as American as apple pie and hot dogs, and should be part of everyone’s repertoire. It’s pretty quick to make, can be eaten fresh from the stove top, creamy and gooey, or put in the oven to bake with bread crumbs on top. Choose the cheese (or cheeses!) you like best, add kale or spinach or peas (or broccoli or anything else you want), and use skim milk or cream – or anything in between. This recipe is so easy to customize for any audience.
1 # Pasta (use something with holes or twists to cling to the cheese sauce – macaroni, cavatappi,penne…)
? C Butter
1 Medium Onion, diced pretty small (optional)
1-3 cloves Garlic, minced
? C Flour
4 C Dairy (skim, low-fat, half & half, cream or a combo – or non-dairy milk)
6 C Grated Cheese (use something with lots of flavor, or a combo)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Boil pasta and set aside. (If you are doing this more than a half hour ahead of time, toss with a small amount of oil so the pasta doesn’t clump together.)
Melt butter in a large (6-8 qt) saucepan over medium heat, adding onions and then garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, being careful not to over cook the garlic.
Add the flour and stir well, cooking about 3-5 minutes over low heat. Do not brown the flour.
Slowly add the dairy, about cup at a time while whisking constantly so the roux (flour and butter) mixes in without clumping. (If you get lumps at this stage it’s difficult to get rid of them.)
Once the roux is well mixed, you can add the rest of the dairy and turn the heat to medium. Continue stirring until the sauce begins to thicken, about 5-8 minutes, but making sure not to boil the sauce.
Add cheese and stir until melted.
Add the pasta into the sauce and mix well, then serve OR pour into a casserole dish for baking.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. Serve immediately!
Cheeses: Sharp cheddar, Swiss, raclette, gruyere, pepper jack, manchego, etc. Make sure it is a melty cheese. Goat cheese is a nice addition plopped on top, but don’t melt it in the sauce (the flavor will get lost.)
Kale: chop small and sautee with the onions and garlic
Spinach: frozen or fresh (chop if fresh); add to sauce with the cheese
Peas or corn: add to sauce after the dairy
Broccoli or Cauliflower: steam, roast or sautee ahead; add with cheese
Ham or Bacon: add to sauce with the cheese or sprinkle on top
Use your imagination!
VEGAN: Use olive oil instead of butter; nut milk (or soy, oat or coconut); use vegan cheese.