Oftentimes, mac and cheese recipes call for making a roux, a cooked mixture of butter and flour, which is super easy to mess up. I once made mac and cheese with a lumpy roux, and I got mac and cheese with flour lumps. Blegh.
To avoid this problem, you can make one pot mac and cheese. Unlike fresh pasta, you can cook dried pasta in milk instead of boiling it separately. The starch from the pasta makes a creamy, cheesy sauce without butter and without lumps.
One Pot Mac and Cheese
For a complete meal, you can serve one pot mac and cheese with vegetable side dishes, such as tomato mushroom stir fry or a fresh salad. Alternatively, you can add meat and vegetables directly to the pasta for a quick, easy dinner.
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups of milk
- 3 cups of water
- 1 pound (16 ounce box) of dried pasta
- 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper.
- Heat up the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned.
- Add in the milk, water, and pasta. Stir occasionally, and cook for 20-25 minutes uncovered until the pasta is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately. Store leftovers in the fridge for a few days.
- Olive oil: Used for cooking the onion. Substituting butter or any sort of neutral flavored oil would work. Omit if you're not cooking an onion.
- Onion: Optional. Adds flavor to the one pot mac and cheese. Substituting 1 teaspoon of onion powder would work.
- Garlic: Adds flavor. Add up to 4 cloves, more if you really like garlic. Substituting 1 teaspoon of garlic powder would work.
- Dried pasta: Required for one pot mac and cheese. Any shape of short, discrete pasta (penne, bow ties, elbows) would work.
- Cheddar cheese: Required for one pot mac and cheese. Reducing the amount makes the dish less rich. You can add different types of cheese for additional flavor, such as 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Shredding your own cheese may be tastier, but pre-shredded cheese would also work.
- Salt: Seasons the one pot mac and cheese. Reduce the amount if you're cooking with broth or if your cheese is very salty.
- Spices: Add flavor. Add up to 1 teaspoon of mustard. Add up to 1/2 teaspoon of the following: black pepper, paprika. Add up to 1/4 teaspoon of the following: nutmeg, red pepper flakes/cayenne.
You need liquid to cook the pasta. For one pot mac and cheese, you want 5-6 cups in total. You can play around with the ratio of milk and water.
- Milk: Used for cooking the pasta. Adds creaminess. Any sort of cow's milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole) would work, but higher fat percentages will be richer. Substituting half and half or cream for part of the milk would be a lot richer. Substituting 1 can of evaporated milk (12 ounces) and 4 cups of water would work.
- Water: Used for cooking the pasta. Substituting broth would be more flavorful.
Alternative Cooking Methods
- Slow cooker: Requires significantly more work than stove top mac and cheese. You have to cook the pasta before putting it in the slow cooker and then cook for 2-3 hours while stirring occasionally.
- Baked mac and cheese: After making one pot mac and cheese, you can bake it in the oven. Before starting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the mac and cheese in an oven proof pan. Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs (1/2 cup bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of melted butter) on top, and bake for 30 minutes. It takes longer, but you get a crispy topping.
Step by Step Photos
Before you start cooking, you should take the cheese out of the fridge because room temperature cheese melts more easily.
Dice the onion and finely mince the garlic. Heat up the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned. If you want plain one pot mac and cheese, you can ignore this step.
Add in the milk, water, and pasta. A standard mug is about a cup, and you don't have to measure the liquid precisely. There should be enough to mostly cover the pasta.
If you have a block of cheese, you can shred the cheese while the pasta cooks. You can use a cheese grater, a food processor/blender, or a knife. This time, I only had 4 ounces of cheese instead of 8 ounces so the mac and cheese was fairly light.
Stir occasionally, and simmer for 20-25 minutes uncovered until the pasta is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Milk tends to stick to the pot, so make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot.
At the end of the cook time, eat a few pieces to check if the pasta is done. If the pasta is not yet done, and if there is no liquid left in the pot, add an additional 1/2 cup of milk or water, and continue cooking.
When the pasta is done, turn off the heat and do not drain. Stir in the cheese, and add salt and spices to taste. The residual heat from the pasta and pot is enough to melt the cheese, and the leftover cooking liquid makes the sauce.
Serve immediately. Store leftovers in the fridge for a few days.