There’s a good chance you already have everything you need in your kitchen to make a kick-ass mac ‘n cheese. Butter, flour, milk, cheese, and some kind of starch. When I first discovered that I could easily make up some yummy, cheesy pasta in under 20 minutes, I probably made some variation every week. Now, I am here to impart to you all the wisdom I have accumulated and give you 3 delicious alternatives to your traditional macaroni and cheese. It all starts with the mother of all mother sauces: the bechamel sauce.
Bechamel (or white) sauce is one of the classic French sauces and is my personal favorite. Why you ask? Well, butter and cream never hurt anybody. Here’s the skinny (or maybe not) on how to make a yummy bechamel sauce.
It all starts with a 1:1:1 ratio:
1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour and cook for 3 minutes until just starting to brown.
3. Constantly whisking, slowly pour in 1 cup of milk or cream. Continue to stir while milk begins to bubble and sauce thickens to desired consistency (~5 min).
4. Add in any extras and season with salt and pepper!
So you may be asking, “uh, where’s the cheese?” Once the bechamel sauce is nice and thickened, it’s time to add the cheese! I generally add about 1-2 cups of shredded cheese per cup of milk I add (staying true to the 1:1:1 ratio). The simple ratio makes it easy to scale up or down a recipe to your liking!
Here are the ways I like to spice up my mac ‘n cheese (each makes about 4 servings):
1. Use gnocchi instead of pasta. My favorite gnocchi ‘n cheese uses 1 lb gnocchi and 1 serving of the bechamel sauce with 2 cups of sharp white cheddar. Put it in a baking dish, sprinkle with some bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, broil, and eat yourself into oblivion.
2. Add ancho chili to the sauce. Soak two dried ancho chili peppers in boiling water until soft. Puree the flesh (not the seeds!) in a food processor (you might have to add some of the soaking liquid) and add to the sauce along with 1 cup cheddar and 1/2 cup monterey jack. Use 8 oz pasta and add about 1 teaspoon cumin and a small onion diced and sauteed along with the salt and pepper and enjoy!
3. Try quinoa instead of pasta. It’s like eating cheesy risotto without the needed patience and stirring. I like to use 1/2 cup sharp white cheddar and 1 cup harvati (so creamy) along with a teaspoon or two of my favorite herbs (French herbs like savory, thyme, and marjoram are the shizzle) with 2 cups cooked quinoa (~1 cup uncooked).
Do you like to cook mac ‘n cheese at home? What are your favorite variations on the classic?