Ready in under 20 minutes, this is an all American classic. The techniques described below quickly create a creamy, cheesy, sauce with just a handful of ingredients (no milk, or cream needed here). The technique used to create our Get Cheffy Macaroni & Cheese can be applied to any pasta dish (alfredo, carbonaro, etc.) that calls for a silky, cheesy sauce.
This recipe feeds 8-10, but can easily be reduced by halving all quantities.
FOR THE MACARONI:
- 4 cups dried Macaroni. We use Barilla brand.
- Barilla Macaroni has small grooves and channels in each individual noodle; these grooves are perfect for capturing, and holding, sauce. Fusilli noodles also work well here, and for the exact same reason.
- 12 cups water
- We used plain water to boil our noodles as we wanted the flavors of the cheese to shine through. However, you’ll see quite a few Get Cheffy pasta dishes with the noodles boiled in chicken, beef, or seafood stock. Dried noodles will absorb any flavors you expose them to, so use this to your advantage, and get creative with what you boil dried pasta noodles in!
FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE:
- 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons unsalted butter)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese
- We used a combination of equal parts gruyere and provolone but cheddar, parmesan, gouda, and American cheeses can all be used here. Pick your favorite cheese(s) and get creative!
- 1 sleeve (or about 30), Butter Crackers- we use Ritz Brand. (Optional)
- Breadcrumbs, or other cracker varieties will all work here as well.
- Begin with two large stockpots. If you have a cast iron dutch oven, use it as one of your two stock pots.
- A cast iron pot retains heat far better than most aluminum stock pots. Once dried pasta is added to a boiling liquid, the temperature of the water naturally drops with the addition of the dried pasta. You want your liquid back at a boil as soon as possible to prevent pasta sticking together; the heat built up in your cast iron dutch oven will do just that.
- Add your 12 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon salt, to your dutch oven. Turn the burner to high, and cover with a lid to bring to a boil.
- While your cooking liquid heats, place your second stock pot over medium heat, and add your 1/2 stick of butter to begin to melt. Once your butter melts, add your red pepper flakes, and reduce the heat to low. Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper into your butter as it cooks. Most spices (like red and black pepper) are fat soluble, and need to be “bloomed” in hot butter/oil to extract their flavors. Keep the heat low while your pasta water comes to a boil.
GET CHEFFY TIP!– Pasta, especially dried pasta, is a “blank canvas” that wants to drink up, and absorb, any flavorings you add. We’ve kept our aromatics list simple, but add mustard powder/dijon, dried/fresh herbs (parsley, basil, etc.), tomato paste, minced shallots, anchovy paste, or even a teaspoon of soy sauce to your aromatics and take your pasta to the next level.
- Continue to heat your butter mixture on low while your pasta cooking water comes to a boil (add a tablespoon of water or white/rose wine if your butter is cooking too quickly). Once your cooking liquid is at a boil, add your 4 cups of dried macaroni, and immediately cover your dutch oven with its lid. After about 1 minute, your water should be back to a boil. Remove the lid, and begin to stir and maneuver your dried noodles around in the water; lower the heat if your pot begins to boil over.
- Continuously stir, and “smash” your pasta together, and against the sides of the pot, while it’s cooking. Your noodles will begin to soften as they cook, but continue to stir and “rough up” your pasta noodles as much as possible. A sturdy wooden spoon, or a spider, works well here. You’re trying to get your pasta water as cloudy as possible with starch.
- Why so rough? We are intentionally “roughing up” our cooking pasta noodles so that the pasta sloughs off as much starch as possible into the cooking liquid. This starchy water will ultimately be used to make a silky cheese sauce.
- After just 5 minutes, remove a noodle from your pot, and give it a taste. You’re checking for seasoning here as well as the “done-ness” of the noodle. You want your noodles to be undercooked (not even al dente yet), with a noticeable firm, raw interior.
- At this point, add your tablespoon of minced garlic to your second stock pot, and stir to combine. Allow to cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- After your garlic has cooked for 30 seconds to 1 minute, turn the heat in this stockpot back up to its highest setting. Your butter will begin to sizzle again very quickly. Immediately begin to add in your noodles from your cooking liquid into your second stock pot with the butter. No need to strain your pasta; use a spider, or slotted spoon to lift the pasta directly out of its cooking liquid, and drop it into your second stock pot with the butter. If you don’t have a spider, you can strain your pasta at this point, but you’ll want to reserve 2+ cups of your starchy pasta cooking water. Your pasta water should be opaque, and cloudy, from the roughness you applied while it was cooking. Turn the burner you were using to boil your noodles off.
- Once you’ve added all of your noddles to your second stock pot with your garlic and butter, switch tools and use a sturdy wooden spoon to firmly stir, and rough up your pasta. Lower the heat to medium, and add 1 cup of your cooking water. Continue to vigorously stir around your noddles for another 2 minutes. Lower your heat if your liquid is evaporating too quickly. Continue to add up to an additional 1+ of cooking liquid as needed, and continue to stir.
- “THIS LOOKS SOUPY!!!”….Have we ever steered you wrong before? Yes, you will notice that your noodles are still in a substantial amount of liquid when added to your second stock pot. Keep your heat over medium/low, and keep stirring. Remember, we added our pasta to this mixture before it was fully cooked; your pasta will continue to absorb this liquid like a sponge.
- After 2-4 minutes of constant stirring over medium/low heat, add all of your 2 1/2 cups of cheese. Lower your heat to low and continually stir for another 2-3 minutes. Your cheese will melt from the heat of the pan, but will begin to blend beautifully into your pasta.
- Holy Moley…..how did this work?!?!…..Have you ever heated cheese and it “seizes” up on you (creating a sort of “cheese lollipop”…). The answer to this problem is in the starchy water. Once a cheese heats, it will “separate” and its oils will pull away from the milk solids creating the “cheese lollipop” (parmesan is a frequent offender). The starch in our cooking water prevents that from happening, and allows the heated cheese to cohesively liquify into a sauce.
- After continually stirring in your cheese for 2-3 minutes, turn all burners off, and continue to stir your pasta (you may need to scrape down your wooden spoon…stir any cheese lumps that have accumulated on your spoon back into the sauce so they can melt). Taste your macaroni and cheese for seasoning at this point. Add any additional salt or cheese that’s needed, and continue to stir (any additional cheese will still melt, and incorporate into the dish).
- Once your pasta and sauce have achieved a consistency you’re happy with, serve immediately, or cover with crushed butter crackers (we use Ritz brand), and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. This is an excellent “meal prep” dish as well, and can be frozen for up to 3 months.
GET CHEFFY TIP!– Our Macaroni & Cheese is vegetarian, but you can add cooked bacon, shredded chicken, pulled pork, fried salami, shrimp…..we’ve even seen lobster mac and cheese (if you’re making that…good for you Mr. Money Bags). The addition of protein from meats, poultry or seafood adds additional flavors, richness, and complexity. Consider cooking your pasta in chicken stock or seafood stock if you’re adding an accompanying protein!