Tasty tips for marvelous mac ‘n’ cheese

Adella Miesner

Cheesy does it Creamy and carby, mac ‘n’ cheese is the perfect comfort food for cold weather. It’s inexpensive, simple to make, can be eaten as a main or as a side dish, and mixed in – or topped – with all sorts of lovely extras. Here we cover […]


Creamy and carby, mac ‘n’ cheese is the perfect comfort food for cold weather. It’s inexpensive, simple to make, can be eaten as a main or as a side dish, and mixed in – or topped – with all sorts of lovely extras. Here we cover the history of the dish, how to make it, tips for easy and deluxe versions, and recipes to make your mouth water.



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Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Countless Americans will recall growing up on a diet that included packaged mac ‘n’ cheese, notably brands such as Kraft and Batchelors. While quick and convenient (there are lots of hacks online about how to pimp up a packet), it’s still processed food. Though now largely free from artificial colors and preservatives, it’s healthier to make a batch and freeze so you have homemade ready meals to hand. Read on to find out how.



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Macaroni comes in different shapes and sizes. Long, short, curly and ridged tubes are suitable for the dish but it’s the curved elbow macaroni that’s used most often. Other types of pasta such as campanelle, conchiglie and penne are also good because these shapes collect sauce, though purists argue that without macaroni it’s just a cheesy bake. Avoid miniature shapes as these can become mushy.



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Macaroni should be cooked in a large pan of boiling salted water for around eight minutes (though packet instructions vary). It’s smaller than some pasta shapes, so you won’t need long if you’re aiming for al dente, which is firm cooked pasta.



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There are a couple of reasons you want the pasta cooked al dente. Firstly, when it’s added to hot cheese sauce it will continue to cook so it’s better to slightly undercook it. Secondly, mac ‘n’ cheese is already a soft creamy dish so al dente pasta will add texture.



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One way to incorporate extra flavor into pasta is to cook it in chicken or vegetable stock, or half water and half stock.



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Cheddar is standard but using only one type of cheese can result in a one-dimensional dish. Instead, go for a blend of easy-to-melt cheeses by combining Gouda, Gruyère or Emmental with mature Cheddar. Whisk in finely grated Parmesan for a savory pungency or Comté for a rustic flavor.



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Traditionally, a mac ‘n’ cheese base is made from béchamel sauce. Make a roux by combining melted butter with plain flour then slowly whisk in milk, stirring continually until it thickens. Add grated cheese and stir until melted – when the cheese is added it effectively becomes a Mornay sauce. Make sure it’s thick enough – you need a sauce that will coat pasta, not a soup.



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If your sauce is too thin and runny, the easiest way to fix it is simply to add more cheese. You can also return it to the heat and simmer for longer until it thickens more, however, this can cause the sauce to separate.



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It’s easy to get carried away with how much cheese you’re adding, resulting in a sauce that’s way too thick. A splash of milk will loosen the sauce – continue adding milk and stirring until you’ve reached the desired consistency.



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Sometimes cheese and milk don’t mix too well, and all your efforts result in a lumpy, gloopy mess. Don’t be quick to start from scratch though – you can easily rescue the sauce by giving it a quick blitz with an immersion hand blender or blending it in batches with a regular blender.



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Although the cheese sauce is a classic everyone loves, why not try something a little different? Whisk basil, kale or pesto to brighten up a classic cheese sauce, add roasted and puréed butternut squash or pumpkin for a smooth, rich sauce or blitz sun-dried tomatoes and red chili flakes for a light kick.



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For a quicker, fool-proof sauce that requires a lot less washing up after, skip the roux and use evaporated milk instead. To make the sauce, grate the cheese and mix with evaporated milk, eggs and seasoning. Pour over the pasta and bake until ready.



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The sauce can be very rich so lift it with a sprinkling of nutmeg or paprika, infuse the sauce with a bay leaf or two, or add a dollop of mustard and dried oregano.



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Once the macaroni is cooked and the sauce is ready, drain the pasta and stir in the sauce, then transfer to an ovenproof dish, sprinkling breadcrumbs or more grated cheese on top. You can then place under a hot grill to brown or in the oven to cook further and crisp up. Remember that your pasta will continue to cook in the oven – another reason to ensure it’s not overdone.



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Often overlooked, breadcrumbs are just as important as the pasta, the cheese and the sauce to make the perfect mac ‘n’ cheese. The trick to achieving the perfect crispy topping is to toast the breadcrumbs before they go in the oven. Melt butter in a skillet over a medium heat, add panko breadcrumbs and toast until they turn a light golden brown.



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For a one-pot version that saves on washing up, stir in a mix of soft cheeses, such as mascarpone, along with grated cheese and almost-cooked pasta to create a sauce of sorts. Sprinkle in more hard cheese, if desired, or bits of mozzarella, which will melt and create a perfect stringy-cheese finish.



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Making mac ‘n’ cheese with just three ingredients requires even less work than the stovetop version. Firstly, cook the pasta in milk on a simmer rather than a boil so the milk isn’t scorched. This takes longer, around 15-20 minutes. Towards the end, stir in grated cheese and season for a worthy three-ingredient alternative to the classic.



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Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



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Alternatively, to lighten up a heavy dish, use skimmed milk when making the béchamel and limit the cheese. Cooked broccoli, spinach or red pepper will also pad out the dish, so you eat less pasta and more veg.



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Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


When reheated, mac ‘n’ cheese dries out quickly and has none of the creaminess of a freshly made dish. The biggest secret to reviving a day-old mac ‘n’ cheese is adding a bit of milk to it before reheating. Add one tablespoon of milk per every cup of pasta, cover the bowl and heat for three-four minutes, making sure to stir through every minute.



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It’s rare to have any leftovers with this dish but on the off-chance, you can use cold mac ‘n’ cheese to make a type of arancini, a traditional fried snack from Italy. Shape leftover mac ‘n’ cheese into balls, dip in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then deep-fry. You may need to chop the pasta into slightly smaller bits first.



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Double carb and put the mac ‘n’ cheese between two slices of bread. Either pan-fry or use a sandwich maker for a treat within a treat.



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Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



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33/33 SLIDES

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