{no recipe} How To: Make Homemade Mac & Cheese Without A Recipe

The other night, I made Mac and Cheese with no recipe and had an epiphany- you don’t need a recipe to make Mac and Cheese. (I know, that’s not a particularly brilliant flash based on the context.) While there are lots of great recipes out there (I particularly favor this one) this is a dish that is perfectly suited to experimentation and variation. As long as you have the basic proportions and method down, you can go wild with this!

To make a 9×13 pan of tasty M&C, the proportions you need are essentially 1 pound of pasta, 2-3 cups of roux, 2-4 cups of cheese, and 1-2 cups of topping. Once you have this basic setup, you can play around with flavor combinations to your heart’s content.

About the elements:

  • THE PASTA: Whatever shape you like should do fine. I have never tried with a long noodle like spaghetti or fettucine but if you’re feeling adventurous I’m sure it won’t kill you.
  • THE ROUX: The base of the gooey cheesy part is a white sauce or roux. To make a roux you need 1 Tablespoon butter to 1 Tablespoon flour to 1 cup milk. For 2-3 cups double or triple those amounts. Melt the butter and add flour, whisking. Cook until pasty. Add milk, salt, and pepper, and continue whisking as you bring to a boil. Cook until thick.
  • THE CHEESE: You can use one type of cheese or a mixture. If you’re using a mild cheese like a medium cheddar, you might want to punch it up with a parmigiano or a brie. On the other hand, if Gorgonzola’s your game, you may want to cut the pungency with a more demure Jack.
  • THE TOPPING: The basis of the topping is generally bread crumbs mixed with a bit of melted butter. I like to add grated parmigiano and often, a pork product (crispy bacon pieces or prosciutto spring to mind.) Toasted nuts would be interesting, especially depending on your cheese choice (blue cheese mac with pecan topping, anyone?) You can make a couple pieces of toast in the toaster and put them in the food processor to get 1-2 cups of crumbs. Mix with a few tablespoons of melted butter, salt, pepper, and other accoutrements as desired. Or, you could skip the topping altogether and go for a strictly creamy casserole.
  • THE EXTRAS: If you’re inspired to mix in a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, some chopped steamed broccoli, a swirl of pesto, a fistful of browned sausage, or anything else tasty you can imagine, then don’t let me stop you! You should also feel free to jazz up your roux by starting it with sautéed shallots, a couple chopped chipotles, some fresh herbs, or… the possibilities are endless.

The Method:
Heat oven to 350.

  • Cook the pasta to al dente and drain.
  • Make the roux and stir the cheese in it.
  • Combine the cheesy roux and the cooked pasta well and pour into a buttered 9×13 glass pan.
  • Distribute topping over Mac and Cheese and bake for about 20 minutes, until cheese bubbles up.
  • Serve immediately.

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2 Responses

  1. april says:

    Ok, I found your blog today and have been clicking through and picking up some great ideas, so firstly, thank you.

    I make this all the time, and I had to share a personal preference that I think you’d appreciate. First, I cut up a pound of bacon into inch-long pieces and fry them up sort of slow so they’re on the dried-out side but not too dark (I hate burnt bacon). During the last round or so of bacon crisping in the skillet, I’ll toss a chopped shallot into the grease along the side of the pan and let it soak up some goodness and soften. I make the roux using the bacon grease from the pan, plus some butter if I need it to loosen up the flour. The white sauce created from this resembles a bacon gravy. Do you love me yet?

    I try to use 3 types of cheese for good measure every time. My favorite combo so far has been some NY sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, and asiago. Smoked gouda is a great “secret weapon” and cuts the sharpness of the cheddar perfectly, while complementing the bacon with smokiness. Mmm. I leave about 1/5 of my overall cheese pile to the side when I’m mixing it in to the sauce. Once the pasta (try this with Radiator-shaped pasta, I’ve found it at Harris Teeter in the US, and it’s perfect because the little ridges soak up the sauce) and cheese sauce are mixed together, I stir in the bacon pieces – always last, to preserve crunch. On top of the whole mess I sprinkle the rest of the cheese, usually mostly cheddar for the nice color, and then the butter/breadcrumb topping over that. And maybe a sprinkle of paprika and/or chili powder. Like you, I reserve measuring cups for baking and I actually don’t own any measuring spoons. The joy in cooking, for me, is winging it… and getting it right. Usually.

    I made a gigantic pot of this for a potluck of around 30 people a few weeks ago, and saved the day. Being the weekend after Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone had the great idea of making some sort of turkey shepherd’s pie with their leftovers, and good luck getting the 4-year-olds to dig in to that – there’s GREEN STUFF. Mac and cheese was devoured by all, and we even snuck home the leftovers. Mmmmm.

    Oh, another mix-in that I loved was artichokes. I am an artichoke fiend, so this may not apply to you, but I marinated some artichoke hearts out of the freezer overnight in some mix of garlic, herbs, and mayo then stirred them in to the mixture when I added the bacon. I couldn’t touch the rest of my food until I ate all the ‘chokes, and my husband isn’t a fan, so I conveniently snuck his as well! Your idea for a swirl of pesto is getting filed away under “try this ASAP”, so thank you. My only other tip for this dish is to do the whole thing in a cast iron skillet – there’s nothing like it, and you can do everything but the pasta in the same pan!

    Cheers and happy cooking 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Wow, April, I think you should have your own blog 🙂 I’m loving the bacon gravy idea and must try that soon. I also do love artichokes but wouldn’t have thought of putting them in mac and cheese, although just this weekend my mom made a cheesy artichoke frittata that was very tasty so this is great timing. I am also a fan of the radiatior-shaped pasta. Thanks for your in depth ideas and comments! Yay!