How to spice up the ultimate mac and cheese: Recipe

There are few foods easier and quicker to throw together than the humble mac and cheese. How can you make the ultimate mac and cheese – what's the secret trick?

Mac and cheese is an easy and delicious meal – and you don't need to use a package!
Mac and cheese is an easy and delicious meal – and you don't need to use a package!  © IMAGO/The Picture Pantry

At its core, mac and cheese is one of the most simple and easy foods to make in the world – a béchamel sauce with cheese stirred and melted into it (mixed with macaroni pasta, of course). That's why it can be so baffling when people just use some pre-mixed powder to make the stuff. It's easy, it's delicious, and there's no need to take shortcuts.

With this fantastic mac and cheese recipe, we'll show you have to put your own spin on it too.

How to make the ultimate mac and cheese: Recipe

Mac and cheese is one of the easiest foods to make, and requires neither expensive ingredients nor expensive equipment. It is all about combining some tasty cheese with a béchamel, cooking some pasta, and combining the two – it's really that simple. That doesn't mean we can't spice things up a bit, but let's get the basics right first.

Here's the equipment you'll need to make a simple mac and cheese:

  • Two medium-large pots
  • Whisk
  • Wooden mixing spoon
  • Cheese grater

If you're looking for a dish that requires minimal cleanup afterward, mac and cheese is certainly for you!

Getting the prefect mac and cheese-pull is actually way easier than you might think.
Getting the prefect mac and cheese-pull is actually way easier than you might think.  © IMAGO/USA TODAY Network

Mac and cheese recipe | Ingredients

You need basically nothing to make mac and cheese, just some basic things that you likely already have in the cupboard. Remember, macaroni is just a shape of pasta, so if you don't have the mac, you can still have "mac" and cheese – just use a different pasta shape!

Here are the ingredients you need for mac and cheese:

  • Macaroni pasta (or another type of pasta), 1 pound
  • Butter, 3 tablespoons
  • Flour, 2–4 tbsp
  • Milk, 1–2 cups
  • Cheeses of your personal choice, we suggest:
    • Cheddar cheese
    • Brie or Camembert
    • Stilton
    • Gouda
    • Goat cheese
    • Parmesan
  • Salt
  • Pepper

On the proportions: We have designed this recipe to feed four people, assuming you pair your pasta with a side or salad. If you want to make more or less, adjust the quantities proportionally. In regard to the cheese, we have not included an amount as it depends on how cheesy you want it as well as the type of cheese.

Mac and cheese recipe | Instructions

A good and simple mac and cheese can be paired with all sorts of things.
A good and simple mac and cheese can be paired with all sorts of things.  © IMAGO/USA TODAY Network

There are very few dishes as widely loved and as widely ruined as mac and cheese. Many people use pre-packaged sauces usually sold in powdered form, along with cheap and nasty macaroni. With this recipe, you will see that there is no need for this shortcut – mac and cheese is easy, quick, and way better made from scratch.

Here's how to make mac and cheese

Step 1: Start simple by prepping everything. In other words, bring a large pot of water up to boil. Get your butter and milk out of the fridge, your flour ready, and your cheese grated.

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Step 2: Once your water is at a rolling boil and well-salted, add your macaroni and cook it rigorously until about 2 minutes before the package instructions suggest, for a perfect al dente.

Step 3: Now it is time to start your béchamel, and that means making a quick and easy roux. In the other pot, slowly melt down your butter until it is completely liquid.

Step 4: Add your flour, about 2 tablespoons, and whisk it into the butter. Slowly start adding your milk, whisking thoroughly and consistently as it thickens up and adding little bits of flour if necessary, to reach a creamy consistency.

Step 5: Once your béchamel is creamy, coating the back of a spoon, season it with a pinch of salt and some pepper.

Step 6: Now add your grated cheese slowly, bit by bit, until your cheese sauce is melty, sticky, and has a thick texture. Taste and season if necessary.

Step 7: Add your macaroni pasta and mix everything together with your wooden spoon, creating the perfect mac and cheese. If it is too thick, don't forget you can add a dash of starchy pasta water to loosen everything up a bit.

Now that you know how to make basic mac and cheese, it's time to start experimenting. As you are about to find out, this is a surprisingly versatile dish.

Variations: How to spice up the ultimate mac and cheese

Once you have mastered the basics, it's time to start experimenting. While we are only going to present you with three alternative options, you can get creative here. All sorts of different things go with mac and cheese, and it is commonly paired with other dishes – particularly, barbecued meats – so there's no shame in trying a few things out just to see what happens.

Here are our favorite variations to help you spice up the ultimate mac and cheese.

A good lobster or crab mac and cheese is a perfect and elevated comfort food.
A good lobster or crab mac and cheese is a perfect and elevated comfort food.  © IMAGO/Cavan Images

Lobster / shellfish mac and cheese

A good lobster mac and cheese is an incredibly delicious and naughty meal that'll fill your belly and soul while draining your wallet at the same time. Still, it's worth giving a go and actually not all that difficult to make. In fact, there's really only one more step when compared with standard mac and cheese – it's truly that easy!

How to make lobster mac and cheese:

Having taken the lobster flesh out of its shell, lightly fry it on a medium heat in butter, seasoning it with a little bit of salt before setting it aside. Now use the butter you cooked the lobster in to make the roux, and then cook the mac and cheese exactly the same way as before.

Garnish your mac and cheese with that beautiful lobster, some extra sprinkles of cheese, and maybe some freshly chopped chives.

Bacon and jalapeño mac and cheese

Bacon goes incredibly well with mac and cheese, as does the kick provided by a jalapeño. This is a great twist on the mac and cheese tradition. Quite reminiscent of bacon and eggs or some kind of breakfast treat, this is an indulgent version of a great mac and cheese.

How to make bacon and jalapeño mac and cheese:

Simply fry up your bacon and sliced jalapeños in the butter before you make the roux, and do everything else exactly the same way. You want to make sure the bacon is crispy and the jalapeños not too blackened, so fry off the bacon first, add the jalapeños, remove them both, make your mac and cheese, and mix in half of the fry up.

The second half of the bacon and jalapeño fry up should be used to simply garnish the final result. It's delicious and unbelievably unhealthy.

The ultimate loaded mac and cheese

You can put all sorts of amazing things in your mac and cheese.
You can put all sorts of amazing things in your mac and cheese.  © IMAGO/Cavan Images

In the end, you don't need our instructions to make mac and cheese. Simply select the ingredients you find the most exciting and combine them with mac and cheese recipe for the ultimate result. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive; it just has to be tasty.

Chuck in some peas, throw in some bacon, leftover pulled pork, beef bits, or whatever you have in the pantry. Whatever you do, season it well and try to make the flavors balance each other out.

Is mac and cheese Italian?

Macaroni and cheese is an American and British invention, not an original Italian recipe. While based off and inspired by a variety of Italian pasta dishes, particularly the infamous and delicious cacio e pepe, mac and cheese first appeared in the 18th century, before skyrocketing in popularity in the inter-war years, largely due to Italian immigrants.

"When Italian immigrants moved to the United Kingdom and United States, many held on tight to their culinary habits," food historian Anna Maria Pellegrino told the South China Morning Post. Over time, they "contaminated the dish" with various new and non-Italian ingredients, as well as French influences (the béchamel sauce), to form the dish it is now.

Even the pasta itself, and the way it is cooked, differs from classic Italian pasta tradition. Anglo-Saxon cooks, from America and Britain, want their mac and cheese soft and sticky, while the Italians want their pasta al dente. It's all a big combination of influences and styles, but it is certainly not Italian.

While you couldn't get further from a classy Italian pasta dish than mac and cheese, if you throw away your packet of powdered cheese sauce and use our fantastic recipe, you'll easily impress all your family and friends.

Cover photo: IMAGO/The Picture Pantry

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