This is the macaroni and cheese recipe I grew up on — creamy sauce, chewy pasta, and plenty of cheese. It always felt like a special treat to us kids, although I suspect my mother liked it more because it was an easy stovetop dish that required almost no thought to pull together at the end of a long day.
Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion, a bowl of this mac and cheese will always spell comfort. Here's the best, most classic recipe I know, with step-by-step pictures to guide you.
Skip the Roux
My mother was a bit of a rebel with her macaroni and cheese in that she didn't believe in making a roux. She always said she couldn't see what the fuss was about, and honestly, I'm with her. For a simple weeknight meal, skip the roux. I find that the sauce thickens just fine without clumping if I just whisk a little flour with some of the milk before adding it to the pan.
Make It Yours
When my brother and I were kids, we didn't like any "stuff" in our mac n' cheese. These days, I like a little more substance. Ham and peas are a favorite addition. Onions, red peppers, and sausage cooked with chili powder and cumin give a southwestern kick. Slow-cooked mushrooms and caramelized onions also make a bowl feel extra decadent.
As a bonafide roux-lover, I was skeptical of this recipe, but as a mom trying to quickly feed two little kids every night, I fell hard for this fuss-free technique. If you prefer a little bit looser cheese sauce, you can add up to another 1/4 cup of milk. Do this when you coat the pasta in the serving bowl, rather than while the sauce is simmering.
Meghan, November 2017
This is a dish to fill you up and satisfy you to your toes, no matter how old you happen to be. How do you like your mac and cheese?
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese: Watch the Video
How To Make Creamy Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
dried short pasta
1 1/2 cups
whole or 2% milk, divided
2 to 3 cups
shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby
Optional extras (cook before adding): Ham, bacon, onions, peas, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower
Cook the pasta. Bring about 4 quarts of salted water to a boil over high heat in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Warm the milk. Place 1 cup of the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and flour in a small bowl and whisk together until there are no lumps. When you just start to see whisps of steam rising from the warming milk, whisk in the milk-and-flour mixture. Continue whisking gently until the milk thickens slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 4 minutes.
Make the cheese sauce. Turn the heat to low and begin mixing handfuls of cheese into the milk. Stir in the salt and mustard. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Remove the sauce from the heat.
Combine the pasta and cheese sauce. Place the pasta and 1/2 of the cheese sauce in a large serving bowl. Stir to coat the pasta evenly. Add the remaining sauce and any extra add-ins and stir to combine. If you'd like a looser sauce, add up to another 1/4 cup milk if desired. Serve the mac and cheese immediately while still warm.
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 will keep for up to 1 week and can be reheated in the microwave. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk to make it creamy again.
This piece has been updated — originally posted September 2015.