Macaroni and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. There are so many ways to make it, but this one combines a mix of extra creamy sauce with a wonderful hidden ingredient of vegetables.
A family favorite, the sauce is creamy, rich, and full of flavor. Plus, since the dish is full of hidden vegetables, it has more nutritional value than your standard mac and cheese. You can always omit the vegetables if you want, but this recipe is kid-tested and kid-approved, so try it out and let me know what you think!
For the cheese sauce, I use whatever cheese I have on hand at the time. Monterey Jack cheese is a family favorite, but you can choose sharp cheddar, white cheddar, gruyere, gouda, Havarti, or pepper jack cheese.
Try a different mix of cheeses each time you make this recipe, to find your favorite combination. And honestly, just use what you have on hand in your fridge if you need to use up leftovers.
For this version, I used shell pasta, but it's also great with elbow macaroni if you're into the classics. Our kid Parker loves to pick the pasta shape when we grocery shop. Of course, his favorite is shells, but I also love bow-tie pasta.
It's also a great mid-end of week recipe because it's quick and is very open to substitutions! That way if you need to get groceries and don't have any items on hand you can easily swap ingredients to make the perfect dinner.
Chef tip: For this recipe, I recommend seasoning your pasta water and being sure to cook your pasta al dente. You don't want to overcook it, as it will finish in the oven. In addition, when blending hot ingredients, be sure to do batches if needed.
Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
2 medium-sized carrots - peeled and chopped
2 medium-sized tomatoes - whole
2 shallots - peeled and halved
1 clove of garlic - peeled
2 bay leaves
2.5 cups of shredded cheese of choice (reserve 1/2 cup for the top) - as mentioned use any mix of cheese you want here
1/2 cup heavy cream (you could substitute milk here if you don't have heavy cream)
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
410G box of pasta (your choice)
How to Make The Best Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe
- On medium heat, n a small sauce pan add your chopped carrots, whole tomatoes, shallots, garlic, bay leaves, and enough water so it's covered, but don't fill it up. Chef tip: by limiting the water, it will have a more concentrated flavor to use in the sauce. Plus the tomatoes and carrots will give it that 'boxed orange color' look.
- Turn up the temperature, and continue cooking to bring the vegetable/herb mixture to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for about 10 -15 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
- In the meantime, in a large pot cook your pasta according to package directions. Then set aside the cooked pasta and drain. (be sure to rrve some of the water)
- In a blender, add the cooked vegetable/herb mixture and blend until smooth.
- Then add the cheese, heavy cream and spices to the blender as well. Blend until creamy and smooth. Add a small amount of reserve pasta water if the mixture is too thick.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Toss pasta and cheese then transfer to a casserole dish.
- Top with remaining cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
If you want to add some kick, you can add hot sauce after serving. My favorite is the Original Hot Sauce by Dawson's. It's made right here in Hamilton, Canada.
Alternative Mac and Cheese Recipe Options
Protein & Vegetable Add-ins
What's better than adding in your favorite protein or whole vegetable? Try the following to add additional nutrients to your dish:
- Peas - use frozen or fresh
- Chickpeas - canned chickpeas are a great protein add-in
- Chicken - easily use leftover chicken cubed or shredded. Add a cup or more depending on your preference.
- Ham - cube or slice into strips and add in a cup or two
- Bacon - chop up leftover bacon from breakfast and add in with ham
Campfire Mac and Cheese Version
Mac and cheese is the ultimate camping food because it's so filling! Precook your vegetable portion of the sauce at home and then make this recipe above in a cast iron pot on the barbeque or fire pit.
You can boil the pasta in a cast iron pot on top of the fire or barbeque. Cook the pasta to al dente, and drain. Return the pasta to the cast iron pot, and add the vegetable sauce, cheese, and spices. Once the cheese is melted and incorporated, sprinkle some more cheese on top and heat it until melted.
5 Dishes that Go Great with Mac and Cheese
If you're wondering what goes great with Mac and cheese, look no further. Mac and cheese make a great side dish, there are a number of dishes that go great with this recipe:
- Ribs - oven-baked or slow cooker ribs are the classic dish that goes great with mac and cheese. Dial it up by adding coleslaw too!
- Broccoli - whether in salad form or steamed, broccoli is a great dish that will go great with your mac and cheese. Looking at Wikipedia, broccoli is packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamin C & vitamin K.
- Potato Salad - whether you make it fresh or buy it from the store, potato salad is another classic dish that goes so well with macaroni and cheese. Keep the skins on for added nutrients and dial it up with some smoked paprika.
- Brussel Sprouts - roasting vegetables in a little bit of oil or butter and adding salt and pepper s a great way to enhance their flavor. Fresh or frozen, brussel sprouts are delicious when you let them caramelize on a roasting pan in the oven.
- Collard Greens - Collard greens are the ultimate comfort food to pair with macaroni and cheese. Make them in a slow cooker or sauté them on the stove, collard greens are a great go-to.
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