If you can boil water and grate cheese, you can make this recipe. And in just as little time as it would take to make the boxed variety this was inspired by Annie’s (my childhood favorite). If you’ve delved into homemade mac and cheese before, you’re probably familiar with the usual spices: black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, ground cayenne, and even ground mustard. But reading the ingredient list on Annie’s Peace Pasta & Parmesan led me to two totally different, game-changing spices: garlic powder and white pepper. While the beige colors are happy to blend right in, the punchy flavors amplify the cheese’s cheesiness, making it taste more robust. This is especially handy since I prefer to use a younger cheddar in stovetop mac and cheese; it’s more gooey and melty than its older relatives. This recipe is adapted from Melissa Clark’s Genius Stovetop Mac & Cheese. In addition to switching up the spices, I increased the quantity of cheese sauce because, if you ask me, you can never have too much. I like this best with classic itty-bitty elbows, but you could use any small, short pasta shape, like shells or farfalle. You can also swap in whole-wheat if that’s your jam. —Emma Laperruque
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Stovetop Mac & Cheese
2 to 4
Kosher salt, for the pasta water, plus more to taste
cheddar, grated (preferably a younger, not super-aged variety)
Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it generously (I estimate 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 1 quart water). Add the pasta and cook until al dente, starting to check the noodles after 4 minutes. Remember, they’ll continue to cook in the warm sauce. As soon as the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander.
Set the empty pot back on the stove over medium heat and add the cream. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until it starts to look slightly thick. Drop the heat to low and add the cheese and spices. Whisk until a smooth cheese sauce forms.
Stir the pasta into the cheese sauce and give it a taste. More garlic powder, white pepper, or salt? Adjust accordingly, then serve right away.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.