One Pot Mac And Cheese With Extra Comfort
Updated: May 21
Macaroni Cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods but it gets messed around with a lot these days. For example, our local grocery chain now does a straight to oven Pulled Chicken in Barbecue Sauce Mac & Cheese with Bacon. Too much dude. Mac & Cheese? Yes. Pulled Chicken in Barbecue Sauce? I can dig. Bacon? Why not. All mixed together in a cold gelatinous pre-cooked lump to go into an oven to dry out? Hell no!
On their own, each one of those elements is a beautiful thing but just because they're all good and could reasonably be seen on the same plate in a little dive bar or diner, it doesn't mean they'll work mixed up in a microwave meal.
OK, rant over, I've realigned my chakra and my aura is back to yellowy green (or should it be greeny orange?). You get what I mean, classics are classics and while I fully condone and encourage experimentation, there is also a line where it's just food-porn for the sake of marketing.
Drew Barrymore famously once said: "I'll always order Macaroni Cheese but I don't want it to be fancy". To that we say "Preach sister!"
So this recipe has three clear objectives:
Quick, simple & Low maintenance. Mac & Cheese should not be masquerading as some kind of haute cuisine
Stay true to the classic recipe: Don't make it fancy
Upscale it just a little bit in the name of flavour without breaking rule 2
OK, so lets get down to the business of being in business. We're going to use 3 cheeses, we're not going to use Macaroni Pasta [shocked face], and we're going to add a little crunch. Trust me, this is a wee cracker of a recipe, it's not cheffy but it screams quality. You could easily pull this off as a garden party side or just simply as an awesome and indulgent mid-week treat. It's also kid friendly as we won't be using any vegetables or herbs that would have a young undeveloped palate pushing it around the plate.
Ingredients (this will easily serve 4 hungry adults, nothing like some left-over mac, am I right?)
1lb / 500g Dried Pasta - Try and get a good Rigatoni (straight tubes with a rough outer and ridges) or Spirale (a spiral tube) but if all else fails, macaroni ( a tube with an elbow) will do, but try and get the bigger ones, not the tiny little ones. The reason for being so specific is all about surface area, the sauce sticks to the pasta so the more surface area there is, the more saucy the pasta will be, and who doesn't want a saucy pasta? The only hard rule here is it has to be a tube pasta.
4 pints / 2 liters of full cream milk (This is Mac & Cheese, using low fat milk won't save your waistline)
1/2 Pint / 250ml Fresh Cream
2 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsps English mustard
2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 Cup of Panko breadcrumbs (If you can't get Panko, you could blitz up some day old bread, just don't use the fine powdery stuff in a tin, it will turn to a yucky paste)
1/2lb / 250g Sharp Mature Cheddar, grated
1/2lb / 250g Mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4lb / 125g Parmesan Cheese (sometimes only comes in 90g blocks, if so, that'll work)
A good pinch of Garlic Salt
Kosher / Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper
Grab a large saucepan with a lid, the bigger the better.
Put the dry pasta in the pan and add 3/4 of the milk to the pan and turn onto a medium heat
Add a knob of butter, the garlic clove, a punch (3 pinches) of salt and a good pinch of black pepper
Give everything a good stir and put on a lid
Now this is quite important, once the milk starts to get up to temperature it's going to bubble, rise and steam so you need to keep an eye on it, don't turn down the heat but if it bubbles up to near the top of the lid, remove the lid and give it a stir to calm it down. Watch and repeat this process for about 10 minutes until the milk starts to thicken and the pasts starts to soften.
Turn off the heat and let the milk calm down. Now you should have milk just to the top of the pasta, if it looks dry, add a little more milk and bring back up to temperature on a low heat, if too wet, put on the lid and leave for 5 minutes for the pasta to soak up the excess.
Now stir in the cream, all of the mozzarella, half the cheddar and half the Parmesan cheese. You should quickly have a cheesy stringy goodness.
Stir in the nutmeg and mustard and the Worcestershire sauce along with a good knob of butter.
In a small frying pan, melt a knob of butter and add the breadcrumbs, half of the remaining Parmesan cheese, a good sprinkle of Garlic Salt, Black Pepper and stir under a medium heat until you have toasted breadcrumbs. Don't worry if they clump up a little bit, just bash them apart with a spoon into relatively small chunks.
Spoon your hot cheesy pasta into a serving dish. If it's cooled down too much and is a bit too thick, add a little milk and give it a quick blast in the microwave on reheat for 2-3 minutes
Now sprinkle the remaining cheddar and Parmesan cheese over the top of your saucepan of Mac along with the breadcrumbs and a good grind of Black Pepper
Put the while thing under the grill/broiler for 5-10 minutes until you have bubbly cheesy goodness on the top and the breadcrumbs are golden brown but not burned.
Tips & Tricks
Cooking the pasta in the milk uses the natural starch in the pasta to thicken the milk into a ready made Bechamel sauce and cuts out a bunch of time making a roux etc but if you prefer the old school route, then boil the pasta in water and take a look at our Turbo Cheese sauce recipe as an alternative.
If you want to make this a little more "Adult", then adding a little finely chopped sauted onion to the mix at step 7 and layering a little thinly sliced tomato before the cheese and breadcrumbs at step 11 works and perhaps a little truffle oil at the end but you are really breaking the "Not Fancy" rule then!
The biggest mistake people make with Mac & Cheese is not making it saucy enough. That's why we have an extra pint of milk on hand, at any time through the process a little more milk can be added and in this recipe, the microwave can be your friend to quickly bring the heat level back up. Remember that pasta will keep on drawing in the sauce for some time after it's cooked so always work on the basis that your pasta should be a bit on the wet side when you're making it to allow for the natural drying before it gets served.
The mustard is optional if you're using a really strong cheese as it's only there to enhance the cheese flavour. The Nutmeg gives a little comforting spice but again, if ti's not your thing, it's optional.
You can experiment with different cheeses but remember that each cheese in this recipe is playing it's own part: The Mozzerella is the melty cheese so equivalents could be something like an Emmental or a Gruyere. The Cheddar is the sharp note and flavour cheese so alternatives like Mature Gouda or Mimolette and the Parmesan is the sophisticated and savoury note and alternatives are Pecorino or Grana Podano but to be honest, in this dish, you won't notice much of a difference to Parmesan.
Don't forget, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese is quite salty so be careful not to over salt your dish before you add in the final layer of cheese.
Most importantly, don't forget Mac & Cheese is ultimately just pasta, milk and cheese so if it comes down to it, there's nothing wrong with just stirring cream and lots of whatever cheese you have into some piping hot pasta of any size and shape and calling it Mac & Cheese, that's the beauty of cooking, you can make it as simple or as complicated as you choose.
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