Now, I’ve found that people have an extremely personal preference when it comes to macaroni and cheese. Some like it out of a box with the orange powdered mystery stuff and a few glugs of milk (or water, if you are really in a pinch). Others prefer it with an endless list of fancy cheeses and decked out with bacon or lobster and then baked until bubbly with breadcrumbs and truffle oil.
This recipe is neither of those. This is a simple, one pot, throw-whatever-you-have-in-your-fridge-and-mix-until-it-looks-delicious meal. It can be shared, but it definitely doesn’t have to be. This is the meal for those moments where you need sustenance and comfort in less than thirty minutes. It’s for huddling over and thinking (as I did in my story, ‘A ‘Good Enough’ Reason’) when nothing is going the way you think it would and you just need to pause for a moment with a bowl of warm cheese-drenched noodles.
We all need a few recipes like this to keep in our back pocket. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
- This recipe is endlessly adaptable – from the cheese(s) you select to the noodles (pick whatever cheeses and noodles sound the most delicious – no rules here!) Well, maybe one (small) rule – just make sure you have some cheeses that melt well (like cheddar and gruyere) or the sauce may clump a bit.
- Fine! Two rules (although this one is Courtney’s so I’m not sure if it counts…) I recommend not buying pre-shredded cheese as the ingredients the keep them from clumping in their bag also prevent them from properly melting. However, it will not prevent you from making a tasty dinner – so go for it if that is what’s in your fridge.
- You can substitute cream for milk if you want a richer sauce.
- If you want to get fancy you can add some herbs or spices to the finished dish (I added smoked paprika and freshly ground black pepper, but there are other good options, like cayenne and fresh chives).
1 lb short pasta of your choice (whatever you think will hold the most cheese; I used gemelli in the photos, but shells are always a good choice)
2 cups mixed cheeses, shredded (for soft/firm cheeses) or grated (for harder cheese) (I used gouda, sharp white cheddar, and gruyere)
4 T. unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces
1 cup milk (I used whole, but any will do – even cream as noted above)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (you can substitute regular paprika)
Salt & Pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add approximately one tablespoon of kosher salt to the water. When the water returns to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
- In the meantime, make sure your cheeses are all shredded and/or grated so that the pasta doesn’t cool while you are preparing the cheese. It should all be ready by the time your pasta is done cooking (it’ll distract you from the wait time as well).
- Add the butter to the pasta and stir until it melts. Next, add about 1/4 cup milk. Now add a third of the cheese and stir until everything begins to come together. If necessary, turn the burner on low to help the process. Add a bit more milk (a few tablespoonfuls at a time) and cheese, alternating as you go, until the sauce is thickened to your liking. You may not use all of the milk, so add it sparingly and only if the sauce is too tight or thick.
- When the sauce is perfect, season it with the smoked paprika and salt and pepper to taste. As many cheeses are salty, you may not need to add much salt.
- Dish the pasta into bowls and eat, preferably with a (big) glass of wine in hand. Enjoy!