Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Mac and Cheese

My husband is a macaroni and cheese fanatic, even more than our kids, so I am always on the hunt for great mac n’ cheese recipes for him. Honestly, if left to his own devices, he’d eat it every day, all day. When I came across this recipe for baked mac n’ cheese I knew I had to give it a whirl. I do have a tried and true recipe for both baked and stovetop macaroni and cheese but this one looked too good to pass up. Plus, it was SO quick and easy to pull together. This recipe absolutely did NOT disappoint. It was very rich and flavorful and the pasta was cooked to perfection in the sauce.

The original recipe is from The New York Times and it can be found right here . The only changes that I made to the original recipe was to use ricotta in place of cottage cheese and I substituted mini penne regate pasta for elbows. The great thing about this recipe is that you do NOT need to precook the pasta. You simply toss the dry, uncooked pasta with the milk sauce and cheese then bake. It doesn’t get much easier than that! During baking, I recommend placing a piece of aluminum foil underneath your pan, the macaroni and cheese bubbles up a lot during baking and it did drip a little in the oven. The aluminum foil will help to catch the mess and avoid any cheese from burning to the inside of your oven.

Because this is a baked macaroni and cheese it will not be as creamy or “soupy” as a stovetop version. If you prefer it a little more on the “wet” side, cut down on the cooking time by a few minutes so that the pasta doesn’t have time to absorb all of the cheese sauce. Also, feel free to play around with what cheese you use in this recipe. Cheddar cheese is a classic choice but other cheeses such as Asiago or American will also work nicely in most macaroni and cheese recipes. Be creative and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 cup full fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups milk (not skim)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  •  Pinch cayenne
  •  Pinch grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ pound elbow pasta, uncooked

Instructions

Heat oven to 375ºF and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tbs butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan.

In a blender, purée ricotta cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Phthalates Found in Boxed Macaroni and Cheese

Wow! Did anyone else see some of these articles about the chemicals in boxed macaroni and cheese? This article, What Chemicals Are In Your Mac and Cheese? , appeared on CNN and I was actually horrified to hear what was in the powdered cheese. Phthalates!! This is a chemical that is actually found in things like soap, plastics, rubber, and even adhesives! Why on earth would we want to feed our children food that contains a chemical that is found in our common household products? Although the organic versions seemed to fair better with the levels of phthalates found in their product in my opinion, even a little is too much.

Macaroni and Cheese is one of those meals that is so simple to pull together that there really is no reason to rely on the boxed versions anymore. Making a batch of my Creamy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese doesn’t take much longer than making the commercial versions and it’s so much healthier and better for your kids. Real fresh milk and cheese, flour and salt. It doesn’t get anymore basic and simple than that. Make a big batch in the beginning of the week and you’ll have lunch for days. Just splash a little milk in the bowl, heat in the microwave for 30-60 seconds, stir, and you have a hot, homemade lunch for your kiddies. It’s so much better, and just as easy, as making mac n cheese from a box with cheese that’s filled with phthalates!

Before I step down from my soapbox, I want to point out that I am most certainly NOT above giving my kids boxed mac n cheese or commercially prepared chips and snacks because we’re all human and sometimes we just need quick and easy. I totally get it, I’ve been there many times myself but lately I’ve been trying my best to make my family as many things from scratch as I can. I don’t mind that my kids eat cookies, waffles, or ice cream but I feel a little better about those treats when I know what is in them. My best tip is to make big batches of your favorites and freeze them so that you always have a quick breakfast or sweet homemade treat on hand. Also, definitely give this stovetop mac n cheese a try, I promise that your kids will love it and it’s so easy to make that you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner! Bye-bye blue boxed mac n cheese!!

cutlets and macncheese

Creamy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

cutlets and macncheese

My kids are obsessed with macaroni and cheese and would pretty much eat it every day if they could. I feel A LOT less guilty about letting them have it when I make it from scratch over serving them the little blue box mix. The great thing about this recipe is that it’s super easy to make and it doesn’t really take any more time than making a prepackaged version. This mac n cheese is very creamy and flavorful and it even reheats well too. Just add a splash of milk to thin it out a little, microwave, and stir!

I like to use extra sharp cheddar cheese since it has a more distinct flavor however, feel free to change out the cheese to others such as American, Swiss, Asiago, etc. You can even use different cheese combinations, American and cheddar is a nice one to try. Make sure when you heat the milk you let it bubble and thicken. You will know the milk is thick enough when it can coat the back of a spoon easily. Rushing this step will result in a very wet, “soupy” mac n cheese which isn’t very appetizing.

Traditional mac n cheese recipes call for an elbow macaroni which is what I used but other pasta shapes also work well. I like gemelli and mezze penne in this recipe as well. If you use elbow macaroni, try the 3 minute versions they make, I use them all of the time and it really speeds up the process of making this dish. As is, this makes plenty of macaroni and cheese for a side dish but the recipe can be easily doubled to serve a crowd of hungry kiddies too!

Ingredients

  • 8 oz elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 c salted butter
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups of milk 
  • 8 oz grated cheese (cheddar, American or a blend)

Instructions

Cook the macaroni while preparing the cheese sauce.

Melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the milk and cook until bubbly and thick, stir frequently as it warms up.

Add in the grated cheese and stir until melted. Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce, stir to coat.  Serve hot.

**TIP** – If the sauce seems to thin, stir in a little sprinkle of Wondra to thicken it up. Also, letting the mac n cheese sit for a few minutes before serving will also help to thicken the sauce.