I have been a mac and cheese lover since day one. My mom used to make it on the stove top with shell pasta, velveeta, butter, and milk. Sorry for giving away the secret family recipe, mom. It wasn’t until college I realized that people top macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs and bake it. Or that you could make it without Velveeta, honestly. (Thanks for teaching me things, Emma!) I have been working diligently since college to figure out a recipe that tastes good and isn’t a hassle to make. Nobody has time for boiling pasta, making bechamel sauce, roasting veggies, toasting bread crumbs, and baking a dang casserole on a Thursday night.
Anyway, I have finally found my go-to, weeknight mac and cheese. It’s based off The Defined Dish One Pot Mac & Cheese with some veggies added and amounts adjusted to suite one box of Banza pasta – more on that later. The best part is that you can go from walking in the door to dinner on the table in 18 minutes. I timed it. And that includes pulling my wild child off of our house plants approximately 18 times, so I bet you could shave some a couple minutes off there if you tried.
So the key to (and beauty of) this recipe is that you make it all in one pot. You simmer the pasta in milk and chicken stock and stir as you go. Stirring is key, because it helps release starch from the pasta. This mingles with the liquid and forms the base of the cheese sauce, eliminating the need to make a roux. It also gives the pasta a lot more flavor than boiling it in salty water.
I like to throw veggies into my mac and cheese. If I have any leftovers in the fridge, warm them up in the skillet, then set them aside before starting the pasta. Then I just toss them back in at the end. All I had today was frozen peas, so I just simmered them along with the pasta. I’ve done the same thing before with frozen cauliflower and frozen mixed veggies. Use whatever you’ve got.
Once the pasta is cooked and the sauce has reduced to about a third of what you started with and has started to thicken, remove it from the heat and add your butter, cheese, and spices. Stir, stir, stir until the cheese melts and mixes into the sauce and looks so good you want to eat it directly out of the pan. Taste, adjust to your liking, and serve.
You can use literally whatever pasta is in your pantry right now. I’ve tried whole wheat, gluten-free, and plain old 99 cent generic brand pasta and they have all worked pretty well, but Banza pasta has worked the best for me. It’s a little more spendy, but the taste, texture, and nutritional upgrade are totally worth it. It’s made from chickpeas and is higher in protein than wheat pasta, so I don’t worry about not serving any meat alongside it.
I used mild cheddar cheese for this, but you can use whatever melty is in your fridge. I don’t love sharper cheddar for this, because it doesn’t tend to melt very well, but I’ve made it with a combo of cheddar and parmesan or mozzarella before and both were really good.
Who knew I had so much to say about macaroni and cheese? Long story short, I love this recipe and how customizable it is. I hope you’ll try it.
8 ounces of pasta – I love Banza chickpea rotini for this
1 ½ cup frozen sweet peas
1 ½ cup chicken or veggie stock
1 1/2 cup milk (I used whole milk)
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
Dump the pasta, peas, stock, and milk into a large, deep skillet over high heat. Heat to almost boiling, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. No need to put a lid on it. You want the liquid to reduce down, because it’s going to form the sauce. Continue to simmer for about 8 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. If it starts to look dry before the pasta is done, add another splash of milk or stock.
Once pasta is al dente and the sauce has reduced to about a third of what you started with, remove the pot from the heat and stir in garlic powder, paprika, butter, and cheese until the cheese has completely melted into a creamy, dreamy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. If your sauce is too thick, just add a splash of chicken stock or milk and thin it out to your liking.