20-Minute Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Whether you're cooking from a box or from scratch, most of the time spent making macaroni and cheese goes into bringing water to boil and cooking the pasta. This is time that can be put to good use. A cheesy sauce for homemade mac 'n' cheese is totally doable in 20 minutes or less.

Here's the other thing: a cheese sauce doesn't have to be anything fancy. The basic ingredients are milk and cheese. Any milk. Any cheese. What you have in the fridge is fine. However, if your fridge happens to contain some farmstead cheddar or Gruyere, so much the better!

A little flour or cornstarch is also nice to make the sauce thicker, but a full-on roux isn't strictly required for your average weeknight mac 'n' cheese fix. In fact, our preference is to mix flour and softened butter into a smooth paste and then whisk this into the heating milk. The butter melts evenly, distributing the flour with no lumps while also enriching the sauce.

Once the sauce is finished and your pasta is drained, the only thing left to do is toss them together and dig in. This dish could easily become a new weeknight favorite.

20-Minute Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

    Prep Time: 10 minutes

    Cook time: 20 minutes

    Yield: Serves 4-6

20-Minute Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese Ingredients

1 pound pasta

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons room-temperature butter

1 1/2 cup milk, preferably whole or 2 percent

2-3 cups (8-12 ounces) of your favorite cheese, like cheddar, Monterey jack, Fontina or a mix

1/2 teaspoon salt

Optional: 1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

20-Minute Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese Directions

    Set a large pot filled with water over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Turn the heat down to medium, stir the pasta a few times, and set a timer for 8 minutes.

    While waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, start working on the cheese sauce. Grate all your cheese and set it aside. In a small bowl, use a fork to work together the flour and butter into a smooth paste.

    Warm the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. When the milk is just warm to the touch, scoop out a half-cup or so and whisk in the flour paste until there are no lumps. Whisk this back into the saucepan and continue heating while stirring gently.

    When the milk begins to bubble around the edges of the pot, watch for it to start thickening. Within a few minutes, it should look creamy and coat the back of your spoon. Don't worry if you're not sure. The sauce will be delicious even if you go a little under or over, and you'll know better for next time.

    Stir in two cups of the cheese a handful at a time. When all the cheese is added, stir in the salt and any spices. Taste the sauce and add more salt if needed.

    Check your pasta. If it's not done yet, turn the heat on your sauce down to low and stir it occasionally while the pasta finishes cooking. Drain the pasta, shake off as much excess water as possible, and immediately stir it into the cheese sauce. Taste the dish and add more cheese as desired.

    This macaroni and cheese is best eaten right away. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to one week. Stir a little milk into the re-heated pasta to make it creamy again.

Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese Variations

Southwestern Mac and Cheese

Add 1 to 2 cups cooked ground beef, 1 jar salsa and 1 tablespoon chili powder to the cheese sauce

Greek-Style Mac and Cheese

Replace 1/2 cup of the cheese with feta or goat cheese. Add 1/2 cup diced kalamata olives, 1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of chopped parsley to the cheese sauce.

Fancy Mac and Cheese

Replace the cheese in the sauce with a mix of Gruyere, Fontina and mozzarella. Add a splash of white wine.

Lighter Mac and Cheese

In the sauce, use 1 cup of low-fat milk, 1/2 cup yogurt or cottage cheese, and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of very sharp cheddar or other fully flavored cheese. The butter can be eliminated, but whisk the flour thoroughly before adding it to the milk.

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20-Minute Stovetop Mac and Cheese Recipe

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