Carolyn Cooks: Mac N Cheese

One of the dishes my mother made very well in the days when she still cooked is Macaroni and Cheese. For many years I tried to replicate her recipe, including watching her method quite carefully. Mine was NEVER as good.  I decided I would more or less give up on that and strike out on my own.

Note: my mother appears to cook the way I do. No actual recipe. Sorry.

In the last year, I have settled on a method of Mac N Cheese that is reliably delicious. I share with you my method.

The better quality your pasta, the better the outcome, but to be honest, you can get by with just about any kind. There are two extra steps in the pasta cooking method.

Here is what you need:

  • Large, lidded pot for cooking the pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • Colander
  • Peeled Garlic to taste (for me, LOTS!)
  • Garlic press
  • A measuring cup with a handle (No worries!! No measuring involved)
  • slotted spoon
  • A very large frying or saute pan
  • Olive oil: First Cold Press
  • unsalted butter. 1.5 to 2 sticks
  • Half a cup of full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup of water reserved from the boiled pasta water
  • Finely grated Parmesiano-Reggiano. You might try substituting another tart, dry cheese. Maybe 1/2 cup or whatever, depending on the other cheese you use. Too much and it may be bitter.
  • 2-3 cups grated smooth-flavored cheese(s), such as Raclette, A Danish Fontina, etc. Bellwether Farms Carmody is excellent. Depends on your favorite cheeses and it depends on how they taste, so make sure you use cheese where you are familiar with the taste ahead of time. I have had good success adding a small amount of triple cream brie, but whoa, Nelly! Advanced technique!
  • white pepper (you can use black, but it will be unsightly) About a tsp or to taste.

Fill the pot with water
Salt it (as in throw in about a teaspoon or whatever)
Drop in the peeled garlic
Bring to a boil, covered
Use the slotted spoon to remove the garlic from the pot. Set aside.
Add the pasta (leave pot uncovered)

NOTE: the pasta pot is supposed to be big/deep enough to totally immerse your pasta in the boiling water. If I use linguini noodles, which I often do, we don’t have a pot that deep which means I have to smoosh down the pasta as the bottom part cooks. Don’t tell my brother (the chef).


Under-cook the pasta

Cook the pasta to less than al dente. Meaning, it should taste like it’s not cooked all the way. This is because there will be further cooking, and if you cook it to finished in this step, you will end up with over-cooked pasta. Yuk.

While your pasta water is coming to a boil, put the large frying pan on medium heat. Pour in some olive oil– a couple tablespoons, less if your olive oil is strongly flavored. When the frying pan is hot, add the butter — chop up the butter.

Grate your cheese. (Use cheese you have to grate. There’s no point in going through all the extra steps if you use inferior cheese.)

When the butter is half melted or so, add the milk.

Add the garlic that you removed from the boiling water prior to adding the pasta, using the garlic press. It will smoosh easily. Before or after the milk, doesn’t matter. But let things heat together for a bit.

When the pasta is sufficiently under-done, fill a cup with some of the pasta water and set aside.

Drain the pasta (DO NOT RINSE) and put it in the frying pan. Technically, you should add a little more salt, but I don’t because the Parmesan is a salty cheese and also I don’t like salty food.)

Add a half-cup or so of the pasta water.
Add the cheese.
Add the pepper.

Stir everything and continue gently stirring until the cheese is fully melted. See, right now your pasta is continuing to cook!

You should taste-test and adjust the proportions of cheeses until you have a pleasing combination of smooth to tart.


The best part is that this is quite delicious and filling so a smaller serving will make you very happy.



2 Responses to “Carolyn Cooks: Mac N Cheese”

  1. Angie Thompson says:

    Ha! I hate overcooked pasta!! Your recipe sounds good. I’ll have to try it.

    • You totally should. The pasta cooking method applies to pasta with normal sauces, too, by the way. If you use a tomato based sauce, definitely throw in a small amount of additional salt, as it will bind the sauce to the pasta. For tomato-based sauces, no milk, a small amount of cheese, perhaps 1-2 TBS of butter, and more olive oil. This is delicious if you just use diced tomatoes, by the way.