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In 15 Minutes, Genius One-Pot Mac & Cheese Can Be All Yours

October 11, 2017

Let’s say that—in, oh, about 15 minutes—you could be staring at a big pot full of mac & cheese, with all the ease of cracking open a box and shaking out the foil packet. But instead of noodles in a slurry of cheese-ish dressing, these would be hugged by a truly gooey, molten cheddar sauce that tastes like real, sharp, salty cheese. Cheese cheese.

Let’s just say you could do that. Would you ever buy a box of shelf-stable mac again? (Some of you would, probably for the same reason that I sometimes need a glass of Ovaltine before bed—I get it.)

Melissa Clark’s stovetop recipe, from her latest book Dinner: Changing the Game, tastes lovingly homemade and fresh—even though it doesn’t take any longer than the box, and still uses only one pot and three-ish core ingredients.

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Here's how: Once you’ve boiled and drained your pasta, in the still-hot pot, you reduce a tiny amount of cream down to an even tinier amount, then whisk in a comparatively massive pile of shredded cheese. Then dump your pasta back in. See?

Look how fast!

When our Food52 Cookbook Club on Facebook got ahold of this recipe in August, the month they were cooking through Dinner, they lost their minds a little. “Wanted something quick and easy that involved a bare minimum of actual thinking,” member Elizabeth Ann said‎. “This totally delivered.”

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Top Comment:
“The use of the enameled cast iron pot is a great way to keep it warm until SO makes it thru traffic. Best add in I've found is just a quick splash of bourbon (the alcohol cooks off) just for flavor.”
— peterDM

A little tip: Make it in a hefty pot so that, when you haul it to the table, it will keep itself warm—you'll want seconds close at hand.

Photos by Rocky Luten

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Food52 early employee and earlier adopter Michael Hoffman and the Food52 Cookbook Club for this one.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Deedledum
  • babyboibelcher
  • Heidi Reinberg
    Heidi Reinberg
  • Sherry E
    Sherry E
  • Connie Tucker
    Connie Tucker
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Deedledum September 12, 2018
For people wondering about the sodium citrate thing, here's an explanation:

Carnation evaporated milk contains sodium citrate, and seems to work pretty well as a substitute.
babyboibelcher July 24, 2018
Added some gruyere and mozzerlla
Heidi R. October 30, 2017
If you don't have sodium citrate, you can add a slice or two of American cheese, which does the trick!!
Sherry E. October 15, 2017
hate to ask but will! subbing plain Greek yogurt or ricotta, for heavy cream. anyway to accomplish this???
Connie T. October 15, 2017
Where did sodium citrate enter the comments? I got lost on that comment. As for the recipe, I just dump in a small container of cottage cheese to my mac, and it seems to help the cheddar remain fluid and velvety. Ever try that?
Barb October 25, 2017
Connie Tucker-I've never heard of this. I love cottage cheese so I'll try this, thanks!
Lorraine October 15, 2017
Can you use milk instead of cream?
gayle S. October 12, 2017
You said the staub 4 quart is 125 I can only find for 149 can you let me know where it is for 125? Thanks
Kristen M. October 13, 2017
Hi Gayle, I mentioned in the Genius newsletter that the 4-quart size is $125 off right now (originally $274)—so $149 is correct (and a pretty great deal).
mraowl October 11, 2017
im a broke college kid...anyone have tips on how to do this with a stainless steel pot (to keep it from being really hard to clean after, to taste better, to not burn etc)
Kristen M. October 13, 2017
A stainless steel pot is a-OK! And the recipe should be just as tasty and easy to clean up as if cooked in a heavier enameled iron pot. The only chance you have of burning anything would be when you're reducing the cream—it happens fast, so don't walk away or it could scorch.
Leah October 15, 2017
If it DOES get messy, you can dry the outside of the pot and fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil. THEN clean the pot. A lot of the debris should come off in the water!
Mary B. October 11, 2017
Mary Beth
I've been making my own quick mac and cheese essentially the same way for decades but often (to replicate my mother's yummy baked variety) open a can of diced tomatoes and spoon over my steaming bowl before digging in.
peterDM October 11, 2017
This is great. Been doing pretty much like this for years. The use of the enameled cast iron pot is a great way to keep it warm until SO makes it thru traffic. Best add in I've found is just a quick splash of bourbon (the alcohol cooks off) just for flavor.
Joslyn October 11, 2017
My only problem with this 15 minute meal is not taking into account the time it takes to bring the water to a boil to cook the macaroni, that's practically 15 minute alone.
Joslyn October 11, 2017
I've never heard of using sodium citrate, what does do in recipes?
Keirsten M. October 11, 2017
keeps the cheese ooey gooey! (I don't know the science behind it but the result of adding it is melty cheese that stays melty)
Joslyn October 12, 2017
Will it keep that pesky cheddar cheese from congealing? LOL! Being a form of sodium I would assume no additional salt would be needed, when using sodium citrate, am I correct?
Dawn March 11, 2021
I don’t see sodium citrate in the receipt how much and when?
zoemetro U. October 11, 2017
I will try this tonight. Usually I just use sodium citrate (4g/100g cheese) to make it. I just take about a 1/3 of a cup of the pasta water then add the sodium citrate, then the cheese and then the cooked pasta et voila! I also use the sodium citrate when making aglio olio and cacio e pepe to ensure an unctuous sauce that clings to the spaghetti beautifully.
EmilyC October 11, 2017
I've been making this for years, ever since Melissa Clark wrote about it (have no idea where! It was more of a mention than a recipe). I've never reduced the cream by half. I just dump the cream, cheese, and hot pasta together and stir until creamy, and I just eyeball the amounts. It's my daughter's favorite mac. I usually use pre-shredded sharp cheddar, but it's SO much better with cheese you shred yourself (less processed and melts better).
Julie A. October 11, 2017
I've been making it for years, too! I believe a version of this was either in the NY Times under her byline or one of her previous cookbooks. It's such a versatile recipe - you can switch up the cheese and pasta based on what's in your larder. I will try reducing the cream next time I make it.