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A Brilliant Trick for Better Mac & Cheese

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There are some clever vegan pasta recipes out there that approximate cheese sauces by way of blending nutritional yeast, miso, paprika, and probably a pinch of voodoo magic.

This is not one of those recipes. If you aren’t planning on diving face-first into a gooey bowl of pasta, butter, and extra cheese, I suggest you politely look away.

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Miso Mac and Cheese
Miso Mac and Cheese

See, unless you live in a far-flung place and haven’t checked the internet lately, you know we’ve had some serious weather on the East Coast. All this ice and swirling snow has me craving warm, comforting food.

I set out to make a simple baked macaroni and cheese, using the Mueller’s back-of-the-box recipe as a guide. I applied a few well-known tricks to improve upon it: choosing butter instead of margarine, slightly warming the milk for the béchamel, and initially cooking the pasta a few minutes shy of al dente.

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While pulling out my pasta ingredients from the refrigerator, I spied my lonely jar of miso paste tucked in the back corner. Ever on the hunt for ways to use up miso, I wondered if I could try adding it to my pasta.

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A quick internet search yielded very little on the pairing of miso and cheese. As experimentation is the best route to discovery, I tried it. And am I ever so glad that I did! One bite had me dangerously hooked, and I can’t understand why more dishes don’t marry miso and cheese.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Japanese food traditionally doesn’t use much dairy, so it’s not surprising that miso and cheese isn’t a natural combination. But consider the savory, umami-heavy, salty qualities of both: It makes sense that they amplify and intensify each other wonderfully.

If we use miso in place of cheese to add a rich complexity to vegan dishes, why not use it in addition to cheese and really go all out?

Photo by Posie Harwood

When you make this pasta, you’ll stir the miso paste into your béchamel sauce along with the cheese. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of miso paste, but I suggest that you start with 2 tablespoons and taste the sauce. See how you like it: I found I preferred a more pronounced miso flavor, but you might prefer it on the subtler side.

Now go start cooking! I’ll just sit here and dream up the menu for my forthcoming miso and cheese-themed restaurant.

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Miso Mac and Cheese

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Serves 6 (or 4 hungry people)
  • 8 ounces dried pasta (I like elbows or cavatappi)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk, warmed slightly
  • 2 1/4 cups shredded cheese (I like a mix of cheddar, Pecorino, and Gruyère), divided
  • 1/4 cup sweet white miso paste, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

What's the most unusual miso combination that you've tried? Tell us in the comments below!


Tags: macaroni and cheese, pasta, baked pasta, casserole