Making macaroni and cheese on the stove is a tasty way of using up extra pasta, or for making a quick meal. While you can use boxed macaroni and cheese -- which uses powdered cheese to make the creamy sauce -- making macaroni and cheese from scratch gives you a richer, more satisfying and easily customizable meal.
Pasta Choices and Cooking
While elbow macaroni is the standard for macaroni and cheese, you can use any small to medium-sized past. Tube-shaped, curled pasta shapes, such as rigatoni twists or penne noodles, work well because they provide substance and volume. Very small pasta shapes, like orzo, or flat ones, like bow tie pasta, can make for a leaden, heavy macaroni and cheese dish. Cook your pasta in boiling water until it is just slightly underdone. There should be an uncooked center to the pasta. This prevents the pasta from becoming soggy and overcooked when you mix it in with he cheese sauce, where it will have a chance to finish cooking.
Sauce and Cheese
Classic macaroni and cheese is made with bechamel sauce, a classic french sauce of milk thickened with roux, which is a mix of butter and flour. While you can skip the bechamel, using it guarantees a smooth, creamy sauce. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of butter to flour, melting the butter in a large pot and stirring in the flour until fully incorporated. Add in the milk, stirring constantly, to mix the roux and the milk together. Use 1 cup of milk for every tablespoon of flour. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring the whole time, until the sauce has thickened.
Add in 1 cup of shredded cheese for every cup of sauce, stirring and melting the cheese over low heat. You can use any type of cheese you want, so long as it shreds easily. Semi-hard cheeses or flavored cheeses, like smoked Gouda, add flair to a macaroni and cheese dish. You can also use velvet or sliced American cheese singles for a boxed macaroni and cheese taste.
Boxed macaroni and cheese does not require a bechamel base; the powder is added directly to heated liquid and thickens on its own. However, feel free to add shredded cheese for an extra-cheesy dish.
To dress up your macaroni and cheese a little bit, giving it more substance or character, add pieces of chopped ham or crispy bacon to it. For a one-pot meal, add shredded chicken or cooked Italian sausage slices to the sauce. Some fresh spinach leaves, minced red pepper or frozen peas not only boost the nutritional content of your dish, but also add color. If you don’t have any fresh or frozen vegetables or proteins on hand, even a sprinkle of garlic powder or some dried oregano can give your macaroni and cheese extra depth.
Putting It Together
Once the cheese has fully melted into the sauce and all additional ingredients have been added, add in your cooked pasta. Stir quickly so that the sauce clings to individual pieces of pasta, and cook until the pasta is cooked through and softened. This can take around three minutes on medium-high heat for the pasta to reach al dente. Keep your stove no hotter than medium-high to prevent the cheese and sauce from burning. If the sauce is thickening too quickly, add milk or water -- 1 tablespoon at a time -- to the dish. Season to taste with salt and pepper at the very end. For boxed macaroni and cheese, sprinkle the included cheese sauce powder into the heated milk or cream, along with the cooked pasta. Stir thoroughly. If you want a thicker sauce, let the pasta and sauce cool -- do not continue cooking -- as it will thicken as the temperature drops.
- Serious Eats: 10 Easy Stir-In Macaroni and Cheese Variations
- Slate.com: You're Doing Wrong -- Macaroni and Cheese
- the kitchn: Homemade Mac and Cheese that Tastes Like Boxed?
- the kitchn: How to Make the Best Macaroni and Cheese on the Stovetop
- Today Food: Hack Your Mac -- 11 Simple Ways to Make Your Boxed Mac and Cheese Even Better
- Photo Credit rez-art/iStock/Getty Images
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