Baked macaroni and cheese – all made in one pot! If you hate washing up and like your Mac and Cheese with plenty of cheesy, creamy sauce then this is the recipe for you. Oh, did I mention there’s not a drop of cream in this??!!
“A great Mac and Cheese comes down to personal taste. I like mine extra saucy, creamy and cheesy. And it just so happens that it’s made one pot – WITHOUT cream!”
There are so many Mac and Cheese recipes “out there” that it’s mind boggling. I have made it various ways. I particularly like to try “chef” versions.
When I came to choose one that I wanted to share with you, I didn’t know which to go with. I don’t think there is such thing as the “perfect” or “best” Mac and Cheese. Restaurants around the world have put their own spin on it, with everything from making it with truffles, six types of cheese and goats milk, to name a few.
A great Mac and Cheese comes down to personal taste. For me, extra saucy and creamy is what does it for me. Cheesy goes without saying.
Don’t you just want to do a face plant in this? Look how creamy and sauce it looks!
To make a Mac and Cheese as saucy as this with cream would require several cartons of cream. My arteries clog up just at the thought. Happy thoughts, but realistically, it would be so insanely rich that you wouldn’t be able to eat very much of it!
So instead, I make my creamy sauce using a simple roux of butter and flour. Don’t let that fancy word “roux” deter you, it is really simple and takes minutes to make.
The trick to making this in one pot is making the cooking liquid thin enough for the pasta to absorb and rehydrate WITHOUT going mushy but reduces down enough in the time it takes for the pasta to cook so you end up with the perfect amount of rich, creamy sauce. And that sauce needs to have the right seasoning and flavour which is always tricky when making sauces that reduce alot as it is hard to guess how intense the flavour will be once reduced.
One thing about any creamy pastas is that you really need to eat it straight away. Even after 30 minutes, the sauce continues to get absorbed into the pasta and thickens quite a bit so you lose the sauciness. Plus the pasta gets soft. So when it’s ready, holler for your family to get to the dinner table so they can have their grub while it’s fresh out of the oven when it’s at its absolute peak.
Anyway, I’d be disappointed if you have any leftover. Whether you’re making this for 2 or 6!
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 6 tbsp flour
- 3 cups of milk (full or low fat - I used low fat)
- 2 cups of water
- 1 tsp salt (Note 1)
- Black pepper
- ½lb / 250g dried macaroni (elbow pasta) (Note 2)
- 2 cups (150g / 5oz) grated tasty or cheddar cheese (or any sharp, flavoured cheese that melts well)
- 1 cup (75g / 2.5 oz) grated provolone dolce cheese (or mozzarella or other mild flavoured good melting cheese) (Note 3)
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (or ordinary breadcrumbs)
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
- Melt the butter in a deep fry pan or skillet (Note 4) over medium heat. (Note 5)
- Add the flour and stir until combined so a thick paste forms ("roux"). Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
- Add half the milk and use a whisk to dissolve the roux into the milk. It will thicken quickly, then add the remaining milk. Whisk in small circles, rotating around the pan, to dissolve all the roux into the milk.
- Add the water, salt and 5 grinds of pepper, then turn the heat up to medium high. Whisk leisurely so the bottom doesn't stick to the pan. When the white sauce starts to steam and thickens such that you can see it coating the edges of the pan (around 2 to 3 minutes), add the macaroni.
- Turn the heat down to medium and stir gently with a wooden spoon to mix the macaroni through and ensure the bottom doesn't stick. Cook it for 1 minute. Be sure not to cook it for longer than this after adding the macaroni - this really impacts the "sauciness" of the dish and ensuring the macaroni isn't overcooked.
- Cover the fry pan (Note 5), then transfer it immediately to the oven on the middle shelf.
- Bake for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven. It will seem like there is too much sauce but it reduces and thickens in the next steps. The pasta should be just cooked (al dente). It will continue cooking from the residual heat.
- Turn the oven off and turn the grill/broiler on high.
- Stir through the cheese, just enough to disperse it through the macaroni. As you stir, this will melt the cheese and thicken the sauce. Don't stir too much because otherwise the sauce will thicken too much due to the evaporation.
- Sprinkle over the panko and parmesan cheese, then place under the grill/broiler for a few minutes to brown.
- Remove from the grill/broiler and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.
2. This recipe is very sensitive to different types of pastas. It will work well with any pasta like macaroni, spirals, small shells etc that cook in around 9 to 10 minutes in boiling water (per packet instructions). However, it won't work with pastas like penne which take around 13 minutes in boiling water because it absorbs more water and takes much longer to cook than this recipe directs so you will end up with a far less saucy Mac and Cheese.
Risoni and spaghetti cook too quickly so you'll end up with far too much sauce. You can experiment and adjust the water and roux quantities if you wish, to make this with other pastas.
3. Make sure you get Provolone Dolce, not Provolone Piccante. Dolce is the one that is kind of soft - when you squeeze it, it's like a rubber ball and it has melting qualities of mozzarella cheese. In Australia, you can get it from Harris Farms and it is not that expensive - around $20/kg ($10/lb), and you only need 75k / 2.5 oz. Piccante is harder, much sharper and more like parmesan cheese.
4. The fry pan I used was 26cm / 10" in diameter and 6cm/2.4" deep. It was JUST big enough for this recipe. Spillage during cooking was not the risk because this sauce doesn't splatter or bubble, but I had to be quite careful when stirring.
It works better with a slightly deeper skillet / fry pan or a large casserole pot.
5. If you are using a very heavy based one or a strong gas stove, you may need to turn the heat down to medium low so the butter and roux doesn't brown. Mac and Cheese is not meant to have brown sauce!
5. I don't have a lid for my fry pan. I just use the lid for a large pot. If I make this in a skillet, I use foil.
Notes for Food Nerds (like myself!) – Why this recipe works without ending up with mushy pasta and curdled sauce:
* Pasta takes a LONG time to cook in a thick sauce and turns very mushy. Thinning the sauce alot at the beginning allows the pasta to cook in almost the same time as it would in boiling water.
* The key to this recipe is getting the amount of liquid right so that the sauce is initially thin enough for the pasta to cook but then by the end of the cooking time for the pasta, the sauce reduces down to be a thick, creamy sauce. That’s why you can’t simply sub the macaroni with any other pasta you want without adjusting the quantity of liquid required – because different pastas cook in different times.
* The cheese is stirred through at the end because if it is added before the pasta it cooked, it thickens the sauce and it takes much longer for the pasta to cook. Plus the sauce has a tendency to curdle so you need to stir it a few times.
* When you stir the cheese through at the end, the residual heat melts it very quickly. Also, as you stir it, the sauce thickens even more.
* The panko topping is added at the very end because otherwise it will sink in the liquid.
This nutrition is for 6 servings. No, it’s not the healthiest dish in the world. Yes, you should wear your stretchy jeans.