Fact: There is absolutely, positively no comparison between the macaroni and cheese from that familiar blue box and a batch made completely from scratch (#scratchbatch*). They're not even similar!
*Are people still doing the hashtag thing? I'm always a few steps behind.
Truly, other than the presence of milk and salt, the only quality my homemade mac and cheese shared with the stuff I ate as a kid was the pasta, and even there, I used a different shape**.
**Incidentally, it's a shape I wouldn't recommend--too bulky!
Flavor, consistency, and yes, ease and time of preparation are all vastly different when looking at these two beasts side by side. Where the boxed creation is often thin, neon orange, and slightly artificial in taste (though admittedly comforting), the dish I made is lusciously thick and creamy, a paler, more reasonable hue, and actually has the flavor of real cheese. That's as it should be, though, since there's A LOT of cheese in this recipe. As much cheese as pasta, if we're being honest.
I like that you can vary the shape of the pasta as well as the type(s) of cheese you use. Plus, the list of potential add-ins is lengthy and exciting--Spam, brussels sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, beans (I COVET that corgi), lobster...and on it goes. Take a little extra time and make your cheese and macaroni from scratch--I don't think you'll regret it!
Cheese and Macaroni
Based on this recipe
- 2 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 pound (2 cups) elbow macaroni or other shape of your choice
- 1-1/2 cups shredded cheese, a good melter, like sharp cheddar or jack
- 1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it just becomes warm, then turn off the heat and set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt, taste, and season with additional salt if desired. Add the pepper, mustard, and nutmeg, and stir to combine.
Remove from the heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, then drain, being sure to reserve some of the cooking water in case the sauce needs to be thinned out.
Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and heat, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is warmed through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.