Annika Eats

Mac & Cheese

This cheesy treat is fit for a main course or as a side dish on the dinner table. It’s a great addition to a celebration spread or to amp up a regular weeknight meal. The combination of short ribbed pasta and that cheese sauce ensures a perfect spoonful with every bite.

Everyone would’ve eaten some version of Mac & Cheese at point in their life, which is basically pasta and a cheese sauce that is mixed together. This recipe is my version that I’ve made through out the years that has always been successful not to mention very comforting. I have to be honest and mention that I ensure to serve it with some veggies in order to balance the carbs.

There are many versions of how to make this dish. Some like to boil their pasta in milk and make the sauce with it all in one pan, others like to make a traditional Mornay sauce, while some like to eat it straight out of the sauce pan there are a those who like to bake it until it crunchy and delicious. It can be saucy and loose or thick and moreish. You can use a variety of pasta shapes that work in this recipe but there are a few I would recommend for this recipe.

Coming to this recipe, it certainly is not a traditional Mac & Cheese, I like the addition of onions, garlic, mustard, tomato paste and paprika. I also like to add a savory breadcrumb topping to give the Mac & Cheese a crunchy top. This recipes suggests the dish to be baked in the oven until golden brown and in this way the cheese continues to heat up ensure the maximum melting texture with oozy sauce.

The recipe starts with a version of Béchamel sauce (also known as white sauce) that is then turned into a Mornay sauce (also known as cheese sauce). This is seasoned with a few condiments before mixing with the boiled pasta and mozzarella cubes. It is a fairly simple recipe that doesn’t require many ingredients most of which you most likely would have in your kitchen.

A few substitutes

Cheese – I have used a combination of Cheddar cheese, Parmesan Cheese, Cream Cheese, Gouda and Mozzarella. I like to cube the Mozzarella so it gets stringy and delicious once baked. You could use mature Cheddar, Gruyere, Edam. In place of the cream cheese you could use spread cheese or mascarpone as well.

Milk – This is essential to make the sauce and you could use skimmed or low fat milk here. This is no way a vegan Mac & Cheese hence I wouldn’t recommend any vegan milk.

Gluten Free – The flour can be replaced with corn flour or gluten free flour mix (the packets that are readily available) and you could swap the pasta for any gluten free pasta/grain pasta.

Macaroni – I used Serpetini, you want to use a short pasta which has curves/grooves as this helps hold the sauce once mixed through.

Tomato paste – In place of this you can use tomato ketchup, chili sauce, hot sauce as well.

Cooking – I like to bake this dish in the oven so I undercook my pasta by 2 minutes and once the sauce is mixed through I sprinkle over some more cheese with the savory breadcrumbs and bake for 12-14 mins at 180°C. If you will not be baking the dish then it is essential you cook the pasta as per the packet instructions.

Once the sauce and pasta have been mixed through it can be portioned into little ramekins, wrapped up in foil and frozen for up to 3 months. When you want t use it, let it come to room temperature and bake for 15 mins at 180°C. Either way this dish is a basic, everyday recipe that can be paired with some grilled salmon or chicken, with steamed broccoli or a green salad to make for a wholesome meal. Happy Cooking!

Mac & Cheese

This cheesy treat is fit for a main course or as a side dish on the dinner table. It’s a great addition to a celebration spread or to amp up a regular weeknight meal. The combination of short ribbed pasta and that cheese sauce ensures a perfect spoonful with every bite.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 22 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 6 people

Equipment

  • Sauce pot
  • Sauté pan
  • Stock pot
  • Strainer
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Tablespoons
  • Oven proof dish

Ingredients
  

Pasta

  • 250 gm Pasta
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 2 cups Pasta water (saved after boiling)

Sauce

  • 1 Onion (grated)
  • 3 nos Garlic grated
  • 250 ml Milk
  • 40 gm Butter
  • 30 gm Flour
  • ¼ tsp Nutmeg powder
  • 1 tsp Crushed black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Mustard
  • 1 tsp Tomato paste
  • ¼ tsp Paprika
  • 30 gm Cream cheese
  • 50 gm Cheddar (grated)
  • 75 gm Mozzarella (cubed)
  • 20 gm Parmesan (grated)

Savory Breadcrumb

  • 80 gm Stale bread
  • 1 tsp Thyme
  • ½ tbsp Crushed black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Nuts/Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • Pinch of Salt

Assembly (optional)

  • 3 tbsp Parmesan (grated)
  • ½ tsp Crushed black pepper

Serve

  • Green salad

Instructions
 

Pasta

  • Start by boiling the pasta in a large stockpot. You need 4 times the amount of water to pasta (4:1 – Water : Pasta ratio). Bring the water to a boil and a generous tablespoon of salt and boil the pasta as per the package (usually 6-8mins).
  • Undercook the pasta by 2 mins as it will finish cooking when baked later. Save 2 coffee mugs worth pasta water and drain out the rest.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil over the drained pasta and set aside.

Savory Breadcrumbs

  • In a blender add all the ingredients except for the olive oil and nuts, blitz to a fine sand like texture.
  • In a sauté pan on low heat add the oil and toss in the breadcrumb mixture. Using a spoon constantly stir it until the color has changed and you can get a toast like aroma.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Sauce

  • In a saucepot add the butter and let it bubble on low to medium heat. Add the grated onions and garlic and sweat until translucent.
  • Add the flour and stir. It will look pasty at this stage. Cook for a couple of minutes until you get the aroma of a baked biscuit (this means the flour has been cooked out)
  • Add the milk a little at a time and constantly whisk over the heat ensuring the flame is not high.
  • Cook over the heat for 3-4 min until the sauce has thickened, constantly stir the sauce to ensure there are no lumps. It will not be smooth as the onions and garlic is in there.
  • At this stage add 1 coffee mug worth of the pasta water into the sauce and whisk until it is smooth. Stir until combined and take it off the heat.
  • Add the mustard, tomato paste, paprika, cream cheese and stir.
  • Add all the cheese except for the mozzarella cubes into the sauce and stir to combine.

Assembly

  • Pour the sauce over the drained pasta, add the mozzarella cubes and stir until everything is mixed well with each other.
  • Taste and season with salt and crushed black pepper based on your palate.
  • At this stage transfer the mac and cheese to an oven proof dish, sprinkle over the savory breadcrumbs, some more cheese and bake at 180°C for 12-14 mins until the top is crunchy and golden brown.
  • Best eaten while it is still hot from the oven.

Notes

PRO TIP:
• A couple of chopped Gerkins, Jalapenos and a splash of white vine vinegar tastes delicious in this recipe
• The breadcrumbs can be made with bacon however, to make you chop the bacon separately, sauté them in their own fat and fry the breadcrumbs in it.
• To make it richer you can increase the cheese content to 250gm for this recipe.
• I like to sprinkle extra cheese on top, using Parmesan for this ensures and crunchy top.
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