Homemade Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Like I said last week, Sara and I have almost been doing this for 10 years. In those 10 years, there have been countless times when we’ve nearly posted the same recipe the same week or when we’ve posted something and then one of us has texted the other something like, “So remember when I posted almost exactly that same thing 2 years ago?” At the same time, there are some glaring absences in our recipe index. Most noticeably, these absences have been macaroni and cheese and red velvet cake recipes. This is not a red velvet cake recipe. (That’s a whole other post, like, Red Velvet Cake, what are you and what are you trying to be?? Are you chocolate? Are you just red dye? Can I just eat the cream cheese frosting??) This is a recipe for Homemade Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese and we’ve been seeing a lot of each other lately…I guess you could say we’re pretty serious.

the macaroni & Cheese challenge

Our biggest hesitation with posting a macaroni and cheese recipe is that we just did not have one that we liked; both of us had incredibly high standards for what a homemade mac and cheese recipe should be and while I don’t know exactly what Sara’s list of standards looked like, I know hers is similar to mine, which included: doesn’t use processed or American cheese, is smooth and creamy, has actual cheese flavor (if I’m eating a week’s worth of calories all at once, it had better taste like cheese), isn’t gritty, and isn’t baked.

I know the baked mac and cheese thing (and the subsequent accompanying bread crumb topping), like hating red velvet cake, is an abomination in the South…I’ll turn in my honorary Southern girl immediately. But my thing with baked mac and cheese is that it contributes to a lot of the issues that I tend to have with homemade mac and cheese–grittiness, rubbery-ness, and lack of cheese flavor. This is usually remedied by using American or processed cheese, which is in violation of another of my rules. Do you see why this took me ten years? Do you feel like it’s taking you ten years for me to get to the recipe? Like in this video? (Disclaimer: there’s a little PG language at the very end, so if you’re concerned or have littles around, you might want to hit mute during the last 3 seconds or so).

I’m almost there. I promise. Here, look at this picture. It will keep us all going on this journey together.

final stovetop macaroni and cheese

tips & tricks for creamy mac & cheese

One tip I unknowingly stumbled into was using the starchy pasta water to thin out the sauce instead of using milk. I know. Your reaction to this information is similar to his. But I started researching it and apparently it is a thing–it helps give homemade mac and cheese that silky, smooth, luxurious texture while milk sometimes makes it gritty and unpredictable. Don’t run. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to get through this together and we get to have homemade macaroni and cheese when we’re done.

You’ll need 12 ounces of pasta (I love Cavatappi, but elbows would work; look for slightly larger, “meatier” elbows like Barilla if you decide to use elbows),

dry cavatappi

medium or sharp cheddar, fontina, and Parmesan (optional; it adds some dimension to the flavor of the mac & cheese, but it is a little strong and it’s gritty texture may impact the overall texture of the finished dish.) Whatever you use, be sure the cheese is freshly grated.

grated cheese

Pre-grated cheese is coated in a powder to prevent the shreds from sticking to each other and does not always melt very well.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When it’s boiling, add the pasta and cook al dente. When it’s almost done cooking, carefully ladle 1 cup of the pasta water into a heat-safe bowl, mug, or measuring cup and set aside.

Drain the cooked pasta,

drained cooked pasta

return pan to stove, and turn heat to low. Place the butter in the pan and melt, then add the onion and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta with the butter. Drop the cream cheese into the pot and stir until it starts to melt, then add the cheeses and stir until the cheese is melted. Drizzle the pasta water, a little at a time, until a desired consistency is reached (you may not use all the pasta water). Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately (with additional shredded cheese on top if desired.) Serve as a main dish with a big green salad on the side or as a side dish to grilled chicken, pork, or rotisserie chicken f0r a quick weeknight dinner.

the best stovetop macaroni and cheese

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the best stovetop macaroni and cheese

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

  • Author: kate jones
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6

Ingredients

12 ounces bite-sized pasta (I like Cavatappi, but elbows will work)

6 ounces medium or sharp cheddar, freshly grated*

2 ounces fontina cheese, freshly grated*

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional; see note)

1/2 teaspoon grated onion

salt and pepper to taste

Up to 1 cup reserved pasta water

4 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons butter


Instructions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When it’s boiling, add the pasta and cook al dente. When it’s almost done cooking, carefully ladle 1 cup of the pasta water into a heat-safe bowl, mug, or measuring cup and set aside.

Drain the cooked pasta, return pan to stove, and turn heat to low. Place the butter in the pan and melt. Add the onion and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta with the butter. Add the cheeses (including the cream cheese) and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the pasta water, a little at a time, until a desired consistency is reached (you may not use all the pasta water). Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately (with additional shredded cheese on top if desired.) Serve as a main dish with a big green salad on the side or as a side dish (alongside rotisserie chicken makes a quick weeknight meal!)


Notes

*It is important to use freshly grated cheese; pre-grated cheese is coated in a powder to prevent the shreds from sticking to each other and does not always melt very well.

**Parmesan is optional; it adds some dimension to the flavor of the mac & cheese, but it is a little strong and may impact the overall texture of the finished dish.

50 comments

  1. Thank you. I knew when you posted a mac and cheese recipe, it had to be a good one because I remember that you hadn’t yet found a good one. I will be trying this sometime soon!

  2. This mac n cheese looks so easy and delicious! Totally making it for my kids the next time we need a quick meal!

    Paige

  3. Thank you!! My mac and cheese requirements are the same as yours. So far I’ve had the most luck with the evaporated milk and eggs style of stovetop mac, but it’s kind of fussy and it never seemed right having the eggs in there. Love the simplicity of this method and will definitely try it soon!

  4. Does this reheat well? Trying to decide if I should half the recipe or make it all and have leftovers. Thanks! Looks so delicious

    1. Yes…if you’re using a microplane, the flavor will be surprisingly strong. I didn’t really want a strong onion flavor in there, but something to round out the flavors. If you’re using a regular cheese grater, it will be less pulp-like, so you could probably use a whole teaspoon or two.

  5. This looks good! I also make a non-baked one where I add a little bacon and some garlic when I cook the onion. Just saying some additions are yummy too. I once had 3 16-year-olds eat the whole bowl and ask if there was anymore, so I figure its good enough.

  6. Can I just thank you right now for a few things? #1 – that video….the fact that I was reading this on my lunch break at work was the only thing that kept me from going down a Youtube rabbit hole for a good hour or so. #2 – A mac and cheese recipe without flour – my hubby always complains that he can taste the flour in a dish with a roux no matter how long I cook it before adding the liquid. #3 – you gave the cheese measurements in WEIGHTS….hallelujah! None of this guessing about what a cup of cheese actually is. #4 – Your musings on red velvet cake, which I echo completely – some people make a “natural” version using beets to dye it – WHY BOTHER? WHY DOES THE CAKE EVEN HAVE TO BE RED?!?

    Anyway – I’ll try the recipe and report back to tell you how awesome it is.

  7. My mac and cheese always comes out gritty. I always start with a roux though and use milk to make the sauce. I’m excited about this pasta water idea. Looking forward to my next batch! Thanks!

    1. I like it with a roux, but you have to be Super careful and diligent to keep it from being gritty. Same goes for melting the cheeses, slow and steady will get it there.

    1. If you can’t find it, try mozzarella or unsmoked Gouda. You probably won’t find it with the regular cheese, but try checking the deli or near where specialty cheeses are sold.

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