Almost everybody loves macaroni and cheese, the classic and quintessential comfort food. There is a reason it is a common favorite among kids, grandparents and everyone in between — it is simple, filling, delicious, and covered in cheese. As it turns out, you do not need to be a gourmet chef or resort to the boxed, ready-to-prepare Macaroni and Cheese, in order to make this tasty dish at home. So without any further ado, read on to find out how to prepare this quick, easy and incredibly delicious dish.
Prepare the béchamel sauce: For a whole box of pasta, melt 1/2 cup of butter and whisk in an equal amount of flour to make a roux. Once done, start whisking in your dairy (you can use whole milk or heavy cream). For however much butter you use, add in eight times as much milk or cream. So if you used 1/2 cup of butter, you will need four cups of milk or cream. Whisk in your liquid gradually, then stand over the pot, stirring, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 8 to 10 minutes).
Once your béchamel is thick, add in some seasonings: Salt and pepper are classics, but you can also add in a dollop of mustard for pucker, about a teaspoon of paprika for smokiness, a shake of cayenne pepper for spice, and a few grates of nutmeg for a little je ne sais quoi. If you like it spicy, you could up the heat with more cayenne or a dash of hot sauce. At this point, go ahead and preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Add your grated cheese: Here, you can go with two parts of Gruyère to one part sharp Cheddar. Want something akin to the boxed dinners of your youth? Go with 100 percent Cheddar. Want something a bit funkier? Add some diced creamy blue cheese or smoked Gouda, or even a little crumbled goat cheese. It is recommended to steer clear of any non-melty cheese such as feta or Parmesan.
Opt for about three cups of cheese for a béchamel made with one stick of butter. The more cheese you add, the denser and gooier your mac and cheese will be. If you add less cheese, the end result will be creamier and looser. Stir the cheese into the hot béchamel until the consistency is relatively smooth and most of the cheese is melted. Do not forget to reserve a half cup or so of your cheese to sprinkle over the top.
Time for the add-ins: Think of this step like taking a trip to your favorite frozen yogurt shop or pick-n-mix candy store, only instead of mochi or gummi bears you can add in chopped, hearty greens, cooked meats, roasted vegetables, or shredded crab or lobster meat. If you do not like meat, try adding some depth with sautéed mushrooms or caramelized onions.
Cook your noodles: While all this is going on, cook your noodles in generously salted water for about two minutes or so less than the box’s recommendation. Your pasta will continue cooking in the cheesy, rich sauce and will absorb all the goodness in the oven. When it comes to selecting pasta, choose something with plenty of ridges and nooks and crannies, so it can hug all your sauce and mix-ins.
Fold your cooked pasta into the béchamel mixture. Start with only 3/4 of the pasta you cooked; less pasta equals more sauce and results in goopier macaroni and cheese. More pasta would mean less sauce and more block-like wedges of mac that you can cut out of the pan and sauté in butter.
Pour the macaroni mixture into a buttered pan. If you live for crispy, caramelized noodles, you could even spread the whole thing out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle your reserved cheese over the top. You can also cover the macaroni and cheese with some chopped, toasted bread for crunch or go with anything from large cubes of bread to blitzed, sandy crumbs. Toasting the bread in a bit of butter or oil before sprinkling it atop your macaroni is recommended.
Baking: Bake your macaroni and cheese for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbling. Once done remove and serve while hot.