Last week, I asked on the Sarah’s Cucina Bella Facebook page if anyone would be interested in my ultra-fast recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese that takes about 15 minutes to make. The answer was a swift and resounding “Yes!“
I loved the response. I loved knowing that this is something that people want to hear about. And I love sharing it because it is so freakin’ easy. Does it look like boxed mac and cheese to you? Good. Because this is a fresh, homemade replacement for the box.
This recipe is something I have worked on and honed over the last few months. I started making it one snowy night when Shawn and I were trying to decide what to make as a side dish for dinner. We were out of the boxed mac and cheese, but it seemed like the perfect accompaniment for the chicken he was making. So, I tossed together a quick roux (that’s just a fancy word for a butter and flour mixture), added whatever milk and cream I could find in the fridge and tossed in cheese.
It worked. In fact, it worked so well that I made it again shortly after. It’s become a staple for us because it’s fast (10 minutes of active cooking!) and made from ingredients that I always have on hand: butter, flour, milk, cheddar, dry mustard and salt.
A note on the dry mustard: I hate mustard. But this spice (it’s a powder, found in the seasonings aisle at the grocery store) is absolutely essential to a great cheese sauce. It really brings out the flavor of the cheddar cheese.
The recipe is below, but I wanted to give you three really clear steps on how to do this so it takes 10 minutes to cook (Note: total time is slightly longer if you add in the 5-10 minutes it takes to get the water to boil).
Step 1: Fill up the pot of water and get it going on the stove.
It’s going to take a little while to start boiling, so do this first.
Step 2: Gather and measure the ingredients.
I cannot stress how important this is. Once you start making the sauce, you need to move fast so having everything measured and ready to go is essential. Do this while you are waiting for the water to boil. Also, you will need a wire whisk and a rubber spatula or a spoon with a long handle.
Step 3: Cook everything.
Alright, this is crunch time. But if your ingredients are all ready, it’s a cinch. Toss the pasta in the water, then start cooking the sauce. But make sure you time it so that the pasta and sauce are done at about the same time. How?
Making the sauce will be an intense 10 minutes. You really need to stay there, stirring a lot. But once the cheese sauce is done, the whole dish is done. You toss the sauce with the pasta and voila! You’ve made macaroni and cheese, no package of powdered cheese required.
- 1/2 lb pasta such as small shells, macaroni or rotini
- 1 tbsp good quality unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup low-fat milk
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, Recommended: Cabot’s Seriously Sharp
- 1/4 tsp dry ground mustard
- kosher salt, to taste
- Fill a pot with water and set it on a burner on high heat. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Stir, and reduce heat to medium.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s completely melted, add the flour. Whisk well to combine, using a rubber spatula or a spoon to scrape the sides, as needed. Continue, whisking constantly, until the flour is fully combined with the butter and turns a light amber color.
- Whisk in the milk and continue whisking until the roux (flour/butter mixture) is fully incorporated. Continue cooking, whisking two or three times, for two minutes.
- Add the cheddar cheese and dry ground mustard. Whisk well to combine. Remove the pan from the burner.
- Taste the sauce and season, as necessary, with salt.
- By now, the pasta should be done cooking (be sure to drain it immediately to keep it al dente). Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir well to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir again, and then serve immediately.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.