Both the men in my house love mac and cheese, and I do too. And by “mac and cheese,” I mean real, homemade, from scratch, with butter, macaroni and cheese. Any pasta shape will do.
If we’re being honest, my son and husband like the boxed version of mac and cheese a lot too, but I have never been able to justify sprinkling gelatinous powder over mini elbow noodles and calling the resulting buttery, orange concoction real macaroni and cheese – it’s isn’t, and the homemade version takes the same amount of time because you can make the cheese sauce while the pasta cooks. (Full disclosure: this isn’t to say that the infamous blue box has never made an appearance in our kitchen, it definitely has, but I cringe to see it. Every time.)
My favorite kind of mac and cheese to make is a baked version. It’s actually very simple: just cook your pasta a little al dente (because it will continue cooking in the oven) and while it’s boiling away make a roux (roughly equal parts butter, flour, some milk) and stir in your cheeses of choice. I almost always use cheddar, sometimes mozzarella, sometimes provolone, and often fontina for a smoky note. When the sauce is uniformly melted mix it up with the pasta and put it all in a casserole dish. I top it with thinly sliced or grated cheese (sometimes the same cheese that’s melted in with the noodles, sometimes different), bread crumbs, and grated parm and pop it in the oven to brown. It takes about 15 minutes more than stove top version, and it’s great. That said, you can definitely stop at the stove and just go straight from pot to plate; I do this a lot, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the crunch and complexity of the oven-baked version.
But last night, I had this great idea for a cheat…
While the sauce was resting and the pasta was still cooking, I took some leftover grated cheddar and parm and thew it into a nonstick pan. Just a thin layer. It melted into this awesome “cheese chip” that was crispy, crunchy, and intensely cheesy. See?
It’s kind of like when you’re making a grilled cheese and a little bit of yellow creeps out of the sandwich and crisps up in the pan (who doesn’t love that part?). I sprinkled bread crumbs on the melted cheese, and the oils that bubbled up from it kind of crunched and crisped the bread crumbs, too. JUST LIKE when you bake a mac and cheese casserole in the oven. So three minutes later, I had a topping for my stove top mac and cheese that evoked the extra touch of an oven baked dish, but took no extra time (and no actual oven). Here’s what it looked like with the “cheese cracker” crunched on top.
Yum, am I right? I served it with a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette (in my opinion, cheesy richness needs something acidic for balance, and balsamic is just right). What do you think? Think you’ll try this trick?