A couple years ago, at my second home (the grocery store, alas, not, like, the shore) I was passing through the boxed macaroni and cheese section and realized my son, then five, had grown up so far without ever trying it. I realize some people pat themselves on the back about this, but I’m more skeptical about things. Realistically, by the time my kids grow up, I will have inundated them so with so many kale caesars, farro salads and wholesome slaws, sweet potatoes, and homemade from-scratch birthday cakes they’ll have no choice but to rebel with a steady diet of sugar cereals, frozen pocketed foods, and frosting from a can. Maybe leveling things up earlier on will help avoid this outcome? So I bought a box, made it for dinner that night (with the requisite steamed broccoli on the side, nobody ever tells you how much broccoli you’re going to steam when you become a parent) and oh, I’m sorry, were you waiting for me to call it terrible? A disappointment? A memory from childhood that did not hold up? It was anything but. I love orange cheese powder and I do not wish to keep it to myself any longer.
I understand that the internet can supply me with orange cheese powder but I promise, that’s not where I’m going with this. I want to talk about why we like it and what I — an adult who doesn’t want to make a habit of the boxed stuff, nor live a life devoid of the dish it creates — do when I’m craving stovetop pasta with a sauce of melted cheese intensely* and nothing else will do.
Please note a perfect recipe for a decadent, show-stealing, centerpiece casserole of macaroni and cheese with baked buttery crumbs on top already exists and we’ve been making it for years. A miraculous hack (you don’t even pre-boil the pasta or make a sauce) of a rich, bronzed macaroni-and-cheese also exists in the archives, but it spends a long time in the oven. This isn’t for those times. This is for 15 minutes from now, all in one pot, from ingredients you already keep around. And it’s a single serving, so when your craving has passed, you can return to a life of leafy greens, or, you know, do it again tomorrow.
* often on days I thought I’d be fine just eating, like, a hard-boiled egg for breakfast after going for a run and roar into the kitchen an hour later ready to tackle any food that isn’t already dead
One year ago: Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes and Pomegrante Grapefruit Paloma
Two years ago: Broccoli Melts and White Russian
Three years ago: Perfect Corn Muffins and Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Fried Eggs
Four years ago: Stuck Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt and Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew
Five years ago: Italian Stuffed Cabbage and Blood Orange Margaritas
Six years ago: Double Coconut Muffins
Seven years ago: Green Bean Salad with Pickled Onions and Fried Almonds and Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil
Eight years ago: Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Mint Cream and Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Nine years ago: Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage, Toasted Coconut Shortbread, Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks and Red Kidney Bean Curry
Ten years ago: Pear and Almond Tart and Greens, Orzo and Meatball Soup
Eleven years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues and For Beaming, Bewitching Breads
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Fried Rice with Zucchini and Tomatoes and Cheesecake Bars with All The Berries
1.5 Years Ago: Burrata with Lentils and Basil Vinaigrette
2.5 Years Ago: Frozen Hot Chocolate
3.5 Years Ago: Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
4.5 Years Ago: Kale Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
Quick, Essential Stovetop Mac-and-Cheese
A few other tips: I find using smaller quantities of water than usually recommended for pasta is fine for mac-and-cheese, where we want a starchier effect. I like to season mine with a good amount of black pepper for a cacio e pepe vibe. For pasta, you’ve probably noted that no “mac” or macaroni was used in the making of this dish, but you can use it here. I am forever weak in the face of an unusual pasta shape, however, and used something called “sagne a pezzi” which looks like broken pieces of ruffly lasagna edges. I also love this with medium shells. Finally, and I forgot to mention this initially, but sauces like this can be great with a touch of finely grated garlic — just half a small clove, Microplaned, would be ideal for this volume.
Previously: I shared this quick recipe on Instagram Stories last month using 1 tablespoon butter and flour for 1/2 cup milk, which had always been my formula here, but have tweaked it since after finding the sauce a little thick and dry, and now use less; I find this just right. Do not go crazy measuring two teaspoons of butter from a stick, just use a little shy of the tablespoon mark.
- Kosher salt
- 4 ounces (115 grams) dried pasta, such as macaroni or another small twisty shape
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) salted or unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons (6 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) low-fat or whole milk
- Many grinds of black pepper
- 1/2 cup (1 ounce or 30 grams) finely grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
** I talk about my cheddar cheese fixation here, actually, and a few other favorite things.