Macaroni and cheese is one of those foods that makes my inner self sigh with comfort and happiness, the kind of sigh you make after eating an especially good Thanksgiving dinner, or a particularly delicious cup of coffee. Being a mom of a one-year-old, I should be the queen of quick meals that require little prep work, but that’s just not how I roll. My husband can tell you if I’m cooking, I’m doing it whole-assed (and yes, my husband is pretty much Ron Swanson).
I have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked my macaroni and cheese recipe, even tailoring it to different seasons, and I was stuck on how to make it summer-friendly. I decided to challenge myself and make those delicious, cheesy noodles even better for summer. And y’all, I can say with conviction, I did it. The toddler, the husband, and the mother all approved!
You’ll need ingredients. Like, a lot. But trust me, it’s worth it. I think of prep for this in three parts: the pasta, the sauce base, and the cheese.
- 1 lb. cavatappi pasta
Bring your pasta to boil in a big ol’ pot. If you want to bake it off at the end, boil it about 3-4 minutes less than you’d normally cook it. Drain in a sieve, rinse with cool water, and set aside. Bring your burner to around medium heat and put your pasta pot back on it. No point in dirtying another pan, right?
- 3 tbsp. and 1 tbsp. butter, divided
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 1 Vidalia onion, chopped
- Fresh garlic, to taste
- 1 cup stock
- 1.5 cups milk or cream
Get the 1 tbsp. (or more, I won’t judge) of butter working down with the onion until the onions are translucent, then add in the garlic.
I used a clove so big that even the Hulk would have been impressed, but your mileage may vary. Throw some salt and pepper in there, let it all get fragrant and happy. Then add in your 3 tbsp.of butter and flour. You’ll stir this constantly until it turns a pale golden-yellow. Congrats, you have a roux!
Slowly drizzle in your stock and milk while stirring. This will create your base. Once you have all the liquid incorporated, let it simmer and keep stirring every so often for about 5-10 minutes. That should give you time to prep the next portion.
- 1-8 oz block of white cheddar, diced
- 1-8 oz ball of fresh mozzarella, diced
- Chihuahua cheese, to taste (a.k.a. quesadilla cheese, aka pure deliciousness)
- Half a bunch fresh parsley, chopped
- Fresh basil, chopped, to taste
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Once the sauce base is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, add in your cheeses. I add in the cheddar and mozzarella first, give it a stir to get it melting, then add in the herbs so they can infuse.
Your sauce might look pale green for a little bit and freak you out, and if it does add in the chihuahua cheese.
If, when you pull out the spoon, the cheese pull factor isn’t quite up to par, add in red pepper if that’s your jam (it’s mine), and once the cheese is melted, toss in the pasta.
Now, you have two options: you can serve it immediately. That’s what I did to keep my hangry toddler appeased. Or, you can put it in a buttered baking dish, top with buttered panko, and bake it off at 350F for 15 minutes, which is what I prefer. In a pinch, I just sprinkle some panko on my straight-off-the-stove pasta and call it a day.
You could probably add in spinach if you want to be healthy, but really – this is mac and cheese. Who wants healthy mac and cheese?! No one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of cheesy leftovers in the fridge calling my name.