Rich and Creamy Stovetop Mac & Cheese

March  2, 2018
2 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

This basic mac & cheese recipe comes together super quickly on the stovetop, making it a great candidate for any night of the week. It's also a fantastic canvas for all kinds of riffs, add-ins, and toppings.

For a hearty, zesty, main-dish version, try mixing in 2 tbsp Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning when you stir in the cheese in step 4. Then, add chopped greens (such as baby kale) and cubed pancetta (just fry and drain it first!) after you've added the pasta.

If you like a baked mac & cheese with a crust, preheat the oven to 400°F and butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat, or place it in a medium-size microwave-safe dish and heat it in a microwave oven until melted. Add 2 cups panko and 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan and stir until well combined. Transfer the finished mac and cheese from the pot to the baking dish and sprinkle the panko topping evenly over the pasta. Bake until golden and bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes.

Katie Workman

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Rich and Creamy Stovetop Mac & Cheese
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups coarsely grated flavorful melting cheeses, such as a mix of cheddar, provolone and Gruyere
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dried pasta (a short shape like cavatappi, penne, ziti, large elbows preferably with ridges)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and let the water return to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until the flour mixture is blond in color, about 4 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high and let come to a simmer, whisking frequently.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until it starts to thicken, about 3 minutes. Add the cream, grated cheese, Parmesan, mustard, salt, and black pepper, stirring until everything is smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or black pepper as necessary.
  5. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it until barely al dente (follow the package directions but stop a minute or two before the pasta is completely tender). Set aside 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  6. Whisk the reserved pasta cooking water into the cheese sauce, combining it thoroughly. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Stir for another minute or two until the pasta is tender and everything is well incorporated. Serve hot. (If you’d like to bake the mac & cheese with a topping, follow the instructions in the author note, above.)

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Author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and themom100.com blog. A New Yorker, cook, and mom, I don't sit still very much.

1 Review

Cynthia February 5, 2019
Here is an alternative to adding the cheese to the white sauce, which results in a fondue like consistency: grate (loads) of cheese. After draining cooked pasta, return it to the pot and add a TBS of butter and salt and pepper generously. Then add the white sauce to cooked macaroni and mix. Gradually add cheese a few handfuls at a time letting it melt into the pasta before adding more. Taste as you go until desired cheesiness is achieved. When all cheese is absorbed add an egg and stir in rapidly to make sure it doesn’t curdle. Either bake or eat right away.