I've always been a purist when it comes to making mac and cheese, sticking to a fairly classic recipe that starts with a roux and white sauce. But then this recipe came along and trumped the classic with its ease and amazing flavor.
Imagine a creamy, three-cheese pasta that comes together with absolutely no milk and butter. Now imagine that it's cooked all in one pot (you don't even need to strain the pasta!).
I call that magic — you'll call it the weeknight dinner of your dreams.
One-Pot 3-Cheese Mac & Cheese: Watch the Video
The Magic of Cream Cheese
The magic in this recipe comes from two things: using the pasta water as a base for the sauce, and cream cheese as the binder. By cooking the macaroni in a measured amount of water, you don't have to drain it at the end, and the starchy liquid that's left over helps to melt the other cheeses and turn it into a creamy, dreamy sauce. Cream cheese has the right mild creaminess and stabilizers when melted to basically make a white sauce without the use of any flour or butter.
Choose Your Cheeses
As for the other two cheeses, flexibility reigns supreme here. You'll need a good amount of your favorite melty cheese. Monterey Jack and mozzarella (or even string cheese — yes, use that up!) are mild, but you can go up to sharp cheddar, Colby Jack, pepper Jack, or even Fontina for more flavor. My favorite is a 50/50 mix of mild and sharp melty cheeses.
The final touch is a hard nutty cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino to round things out. Use what you have — I promise it'll still be tasty and take you less than 15 minutes to cook once the water comes to a boil.
The Best One-Pot Mac & Cheese
Serves 4 to 8
dried short pasta, such as macaroni
shredded melting cheese, such as Fontina, mozzarella, sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby
cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces
grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally, until tender. Do not drain the pasta.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the shredded cheese, cream cheese, Parmesan, and mustard. Stir until all the cheeses are melted and the sauce is creamy. If the sauce is very thick, add water or milk a few tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve immediately.
Baked mac and cheese: If you have a little extra time, you can bake the macaroni and cheese to give it a golden crust. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into a casserole dish, cover with a lid or foil, and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter, and bake uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the interior is bubbly.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat in the microwave in 30-second bursts. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk to make it creamy again.