It's hard to beat homemade macaroni and cheese, but while the process is straightforward, it can feel fussy when you're dirtying a handful of dishes just to make it. This recipe streamlines the process to lessen your load. Consider this your weeknight-approved mac and cheese — the kind you can make after a long, hectic day without resorting to the boxed stuff.
Cut Down on Dishes
By making the creamy cheese sauce in a cast iron skillet, then stirring the cooked pasta right in before transferring it to the oven, you skip having to use the extra saucepans and baking dishes. That means less to wash at the end of the night, which is always a win. Plus, baking the mac and cheese in cast iron means you'll get those deliciously crispy bits on the edges without even trying.
Skillet Mac and Cheese
8 ounces dried jumbo elbow macaroni, conchiglie, or pipette pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook per package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Remove 1 tablespoon of the butter and combine with the breadcrumbs and thyme in a small bowl; set aside.
Sprinkle the flour evenly into the skillet and whisk until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk while whisking to ensure it doesn't clump. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue cooking the sauce, stirring constantly, until it has noticeably thickened and coats the back of the spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir the cheese into the sauce, one handful at a time, until melted and smooth. Stir in mustard, salt, and paprika. Add the cooked pasta and stir gently until the pasta and sauce are evenly combined. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over top.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden-brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.