there are nearly 22 million hits on google for “macaroni and cheese”. arguably, the interwebs hardly needs another recipe for baked macaroni and cheese. we’re doing it anyway though. ‘cause we’re rebels (or because i just like this one the best).
this one isn’t very fancy (it only has one type of cheese), it’s not particularly complicated (“roux” sounds fancy but actually just means combine flour and fat, which we can totally do), and the leftovers reheat well, which is especially nice this time of year when we’re all running around just a bit more than usual.
speaking of this time of year, this recipe scales up nicely to feed a crowd*, if you’re hosting any holiday gatherings over the next few weeks. to wit, i’d be lying if i said that *this* particular baked macaroni and cheese was a family favorite at the annual cousins christmas eve gathering, but *a* baked macaroni and cheese is frequently on the buffet table each year. it’s just so easy to double the recipe and feed a bunch of people delicious, creamy, cozy comfort food.
and since we’ve already established that you have plenty of choices when it comes to mac and cheese recipes, let me just put in a small plug for this particular one. because it’s made with only monterey jack cheese, which melts smoothly, the sauce turns out creamy and delicious, without those puddles of oil that sometimes pop up in mac and cheese when cheeses that don’t like to melt are used (coughcheddarcough).
somehow, despite the fact that we’re only using one type of (mild) cheese and despite the secret truth that i don’t usually have much love for things that are creamy but not boldly spiced, this baked macaroni and cheese manages to be simple without being boring. because the standard recipe is basic, though, it lends itself well to flavorful additions. chopped up slices of canadian bacon are a longtime family favorite. i frequently sneak some frozen green peas in with the pasta during the last minute that it’s cooking so we can pretend it’s healthy have some nice pops of color. one time i even added sliced precooked chorizo to the cheese sauce; that was pretty delicious.
so, in short, whether you add in other flavors/ingredients or not and whether you feed your entire extended family or just yourself, i hope you’ll give this baked macaroni and cheese a shot to be your favorite too.
*at the brilliant suggestion of one of my friends who hosts way more dinner parties than i ever do (a dozen people on a wednesday night after she gets home from working all day? no problem!), i’ve added a “feeds a crowd” tag to recipes that you can scale up more easily if you have a large group heading your way. check the recipe notes to see how many the original recipe feeds then scale up to fit your crowd!
- 16 oz. (454 g.) short pasta, such as penne, medium shells, or rigatoni
- ¼ cup unsalted butter or olive oil, see notes
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- ¼ cup (30 g. / 1 oz.) all purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cup (420 ml / 14 ¼ fl. oz.) milk (i usually use skim but any kind of dairy milk works)
- 8 oz. (227 g.) monterey jack cheese, cubed
- ¼ cup (28 g. / 1 oz.) breadcrumbs
- set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375° F.
- cook pasta a minute or two shy of its minimum cooking time. if you want to cut down on dishes, use a dutch oven or another oven safe pot that you can bake the whole thing in later. drain and set aside once the pasta is cooked.
- in a medium saucepan, melt the butter (or heat the oil) over medium heat. add the onion and sauté until it’s soft and translucent but not yet browning. sprinkle the flour in and stir constantly for one minute to cook off the raw flour taste. slowly pour in the milk, stirring or whisking constantly. increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring or whisking constantly. the milk will scald and boil over if you leave it for just a second so don’t run off to cube the cheese now! by this time, the milk/flour mixture should be smooth and clump free, with the exception of the little bits of onion. if there are any flour clumps, break those up. boil the milk mixture for one minute then remove from heat. immediately stir in the cubes of cheese and keep stirring until they are totally melted.
- combine the pasta and sauce in a large, oven safe pot or casserole dish and stir to combine. sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top. bake the macaroni and cheese uncovered for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. take it out of the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving. leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the refrigerator and individual portions heat up nicely in the microwave with a splash of milk added before heating. if you’re feeding a crowd and want to heat up the entire dish, lay a piece of aluminum foil loosely across the top before reheating in the oven to prevent the top from burning.
it’s not traditional at all but i’ve successfully made roux with olive oil instead of butter. just sayin’…
this macaroni and cheese is a great canvas for other add-ins. if you want to add a precooked meat (chopped canadian bacon slices or sliced precooked chorizo are two favorites), add them to the cheese sauce just before you mix it with the pasta. if you want to add veggies, toss them in the pasta cooking water, usually just about one minute before you drain the pasta.
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