This Ultra Creamy Macaroni and Cheese is comfort food to the max. Rich, satisfying, and ready in about thirty minutes flat. Read on, or jump straight to the recipe HERE.
The beginning of December has been cold, grey, and depressing as hell… and I find myself craving more than anything else my dad’s stove-top macaroni and cheese. It’s one of those foods I grew up on, and when future scientists study my body, they will no doubt find that it’s made up of approximately 95% mac and cheese.
When my brother and I were kids, my dad always added sweet corn to his mac, and as a teenager I started adding frozen peas, too. It might seem odd, but those little nuggets of corn and peas are a welcome pop of sweetness amid all the ooey gooey cheesy goodness, and to this day, “mac and peas” is my number one comfort food.
I could have been a mac and cheese connoisseur as a kid. My dad had his homemade stove top recipe, my mom had her famous baked mac (adapted from Betty Crocker and topped with a crunchy layer of crushed potato chips — best mom ever) and of course there was the occasional boxed variety. I remember loving all of them, in their own (very different) ways.
This recipe here was inspired by all of them — and also, by my brother ordering mac and cheese at Panera’s last week. I didn’t even know they HAD mac and cheese, and have you tasted it? Like a hug in a bowl, that is.
I took a queue from Panera’s super velvety cheese sauce, and decided to ramp up my dad’s old stove-top recipe to make it as creamy and ooey-gooey as possible. Then I added in some of the signature touches from my mom’s recipe, going with my gut as I stirred together the creamiest cheese sauce I could concoct. The result is an amalgamation of all my favorite macs put together. Like franken-mac, only less mad scientist-y.
I remember one time… just once, though the memory stands out clear as day… that I had one of those velveeta squeeze-from-a-pouch kinds of macaroni and cheese. Which, as a kid, was totally the coolest thing ever, but as an adult is kiiiind of scary. I mean, what is that stuff, anyway? I imagine it’s the same green slime they dumped on kids on Nickelodian, only tinted a different color. Ew.
But seriously, if you know the kind I’m talking about you know it’s basically the gooiest (in the best possible way) mac and cheese. And this homemade version reminds me of that, only minus the scary ingredients and freakish shelf-stability. It’s all the good parts (creamy, delicious) with none of the bad parts (mystery colors and preservatives). In fact, it’s almost sorta kinda healthy, because the secret ingredient for that ultra creamy texture is a big ol’ dollop of greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt makes everything healthy, right? RIGHT? (Don’t ruin this for me.)
Top Tips For an Ultra Creamy Mac And Cheese:
- Two kinds of cheese. You can totally go with all-out cheddar if that’s what you have, but I like to do a (approximately) 70/30 mix of cheddar and another kind of cheese. My go-to right now has been gouda, because it has a great mild nuttiness, and melts like a dream.
- Choose your noodles. It’s true that any kind of noodle will work for mac and cheese, but shells have got to be my favorite. They’re bowl shape really holds on to the cheese sauce, and the peas and corn nestle down into them so you get some in every bite.
- A dollop of yogurt for tang and consistency. I’ve been doing this for I don’t know how long, and I don’t foresee stopping anytime soon. Adding a scoop of plain (unflavored) yogurt is an easy way to add extra creaminess, a wonderful bit of tangy flavor, and a touch more protein.
I don’t remember where I picked up the whole adding-greek-yogurt-to-my-macaroni-and-cheese thing, but if you’ve never tried it, it’s a keeper. Beyond just adding a creamy texture, the yogurt lends a subtle tanginess that I really like.
Yogurt, vegetables, and if you use whole wheat noodles, whole grains! This mac and cheese is practically a health food, I tell you. Practically.
Needless to say, this macaroni and cheese succeeded at cheering me up. It’s a slightly grown up version of my childhood favorite, but at the same time, perfectly nostalgic and exactly what I needed. Like a great big cheese hug. Which, let’s face it, is my favorite kind of hug.
- 1 lb. shells, or other kind of pasta (like elbows or fussili)*
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter
- 4 TBSP all purpose flour*
- 3 cups warm milk (I like to use whole milk, but I grudgingly admit you can get away with using 2% or skim if you really want to)
- 8 oz. sharp white cheddar, shredded
- 4 oz. gouda (or other good melting cheese you like), shredded
- ½ cup plain (unsweetened) greek or regular yogurt
- 1 tsp. mustard powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt (or ½ tsp. fine grain sea salt), or to taste
- ½ tsp. fresh cracked black pepper, or to taste
- 2-3 dashes hot sauce, like frank's red hot, or to taste
- 1 cup frozen peas (or you can use fresh)
- 1 cup frozen corn (or you can use fresh, or canned)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, season well with salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the butter. Once it's melted, add the flour, and stir for a minute or two. Slowly add the milk, whisking/stirring constantly until there are no lumps.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk has thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring after each addition until the cheese has melted smoothly into the sauce. Once all of the cheese is in, add the yogurt, mustard, salt, pepper, and hot sauce, and stir to combine. If the sauce starts to get cold, set it over a low flame to re-warm.
- Drain the pasta, and add it to the sauce along with the peas and corn. Stir, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Serve hot.
A word about leftovers: when the mac and cheese cools, the sauce will thicken up quite a bite. To thin it out, just ad a little extra milk while you re-warm it. I successfully made a whole pot of this in advance, kept it in the fridge, and then reheated it slowly over a medium-low flame, stirring frequently, with about ¼-1/2 cup extra milk added. Be sure to adjust the seasoning after adding any additional milk, as it will dilute the flavor a bit. And, if you actually plan on making this in advance of when you want to serve it, it's a good idea to undercook the noodles a touch, as they will finish cooking while you warm everything back up.
Recipe adapted from my dad's recipe, with some inspiration from this copycat Panera Mac and Cheese from Food Folks and Fun.