Macaroni cheese is the ultimate comfort food – and these delicious recipes will bring you bowlfuls of joy.
Picture the scene: you’ve had a bad day. You’ve been caught in an unexpected downpour – twice. You have a mountain of life admin and not enough hours to do it. The one dish that can make everything instantly better? Macaroni cheese.
As much as shop-bought mac ‘n’ cheese can be handy when you’re too tired to cook, nothing beats the homemade version when it’s done properly. You can see it now, freshly baked out of the oven: the golden-brown crunchy topping, the wonderfully gooey centre, and that creamy, cheesy aroma as you pile it onto your plate.
While everyone has their preferred pasta and combination of cheeses, that doesn’t mean you can’t mix it up. There are endless ways to make the recipe your own, whether you want to add sweet tomatoes, crispy breadcrumbs or a hint of mustard.
Below, you’ll find three recipes for macaroni cheese. If you’re a fan of a traditional American-style dish, you’ll love Laura Goodman’s “straight up” mac ‘n’ cheese, a hearty, simple recipe that will take you straight back to childhood.
Katy Beskow’s vegan recipe, meanwhile, proves that a formidable dairy-free mac ‘n’ cheese is possible. And Olivia Andrews’ vegetable-packed version is a cross between mac ‘n’ cheese and tuna pasta bake – featuring a clever cauliflower-based white sauce. Consider your bad day banished.
Laura Goodman’s “straight up” macaroni cheese
Laura says: “Cut me, I bleed béchamel. I don’t, obviously, I bleed pasta water, but the point is: I’ve eaten a lot of macaroni cheese. There are recipes out there that do things like: use cottage cheese instead of sauce, insist that cheddar needs help from obscure French friends, allow only 37g of macaroni per person. For a classic macaroni cheese you can count on, you need to stand over a large pot of béchamel and personally load it with cheddar and some key accessories.”
- 500g macaroni
- 100g unsalted butter, plus 3 tbsp for the top
- 75g plain flour
- 1.2 litres milk
- 275g mature cheddar cheese, grated, plus 50g for the top
- 1 tbsp English mustard
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 50g breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and get some salted water boiling for the macaroni.
Cook the macaroni for 2 minutes less than the packet indicates, drain it and leave it to one side, keeping back half a ladle of pasta water.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat. When it’s melted, add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and beautifully beige.
Add the milk bit by bit (about 100ml at a time). It’ll take you on a whole journey, thickening up before it smooths back out again. All you have to do is keep stirring. Switch to a whisk if it helps. Once you’ve added all the milk, keep the sauce on the heat and stir through the cheese, followed by the mustard and nutmeg, and then salt and pepper to taste.
Add the macaroni to the sauce, along with the pasta water, and stir until even. Tip this straight into a wide, shallow oven dish, using a flexible spatula to get to all the sauce.
Melt the extra butter and mix it with the extra cheese and the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle this mix over the macaroni cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown all over.
From Carbs by Laura Goodman (£15, Quadrille), out now
Olivia Andrews’ tuna mac ’n’ cheese
Olivia says: “When it comes to tinned fish, I feel better about buying sardines or mackerel rather than tuna. Sardines may seem a bit of a stretch, but these days there are some really good-quality ones available. You can of course use tinned tuna here, or keep it totally vegetarian if you prefer.”
- 300g gluten-free macaroni, such as brown rice macaroni
- 750ml white sauce (recipe below)
- 125ml milk or non-dairy milk
- 50g finely grated parmesan, pecorino or provolone cheese
- 100g mixed nuts and seeds, such as almonds, pistachios, pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds (see tip)
- 250g tin wild-caught tuna, mackerel or sardines, drained and flaked
- 220g coarsely chopped artichokes, marinated or in brine
- 200g frozen peas or corn (or a combination), thawed
- green salad, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the macaroni for about three-quarters of the time recommended on the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, warm the white sauce and milk over low heat.
Combine the cheese, mixed nuts and seeds in a bowl.
Drain the macaroni and add to the white sauce, along with the fish, artichokes and frozen vegetables, stirring well to combine.
Transfer the mixture to a 2.5 litre baking dish. Sprinkle with the nut and seed mixture. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and the topping is golden.
Remove and set aside to rest for 5 minutes, before serving with a green salad.
Tip: Any of your favourite nuts and seeds will make a nutritious, crunchy topping for this dish. If someone in the family has a nut allergy, mix some breadcrumbs (gluten-free or spelt) with the cheese instead.
Olivia says: “White sauce, or béchamel, is up there for me, but the dishes it finds itself in are usually rich and heavy. This version is rich in veg — not that you can tell by its colour. Using tofu gives the sauce a lovely creaminess, but if you’re really not keen, you can always use cannellini beans.”
Makes about 1.25 litres
- 750g trimmed cauliflower, coarsely chopped, including the stem
- 2½ tbsp butter or extra virgin olive oil (or a combination)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
- 300g silken tofu, or 2 × 400g tins cannellini beans, drained well
- ¼ tsp ground white or black pepper
- 50g finely grated parmesan, pecorino or provolone cheese (optional)
Process the cauliflower in a food processor until finely chopped. Alternatively, you can finely chop it using a sharp knife. Transfer to a saucepan with 500 ml water, season well with sea salt, cover with a lid and place over medium heat. Cook for 15–20 minutes, or until very tender, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for 6–8 minutes, or until golden and softened. Season with more salt, then transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor.
Drain the cauliflower through a fine sieve set over a bowl to collect the liquid.
Transfer the cauliflower and 125ml of the cooking liquid to the blender. Add the tofu, pepper and cheese, if using, and blend until very smooth.
Season to taste with salt and use as recipe directs. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Tip: This sauce thickens quite easily, so you may need to thin it out with milk when using it in some recipes. To make the sauce dairy free or vegan, use olive oil instead of butter, and omit the cheese.
From Three Veg and Meat by Olivia Andrews (£17.99, Murdoch Books), out now
Katy Beskow’s ultimate vegan mac ‘n’ cheese
Katy says: “Look no further for the ultimate comforting mac ’n’ cheese (that also happens to be vegan), ready in just over 30 minutes. Team with pecan and cranberry slaw or dirty nachos for an all-American experience!”
Serves 2 generously
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and evenly chopped into 2cm chunks
- 200ml unsweetened soya milk
- 150g medium-strength vegan cheese, grated
- handful of chives, finely chopped
- generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper
- 200g dried macaroni (ensure egg-free)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ gas mark 6.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil over a high heat, then add the sweet potatoes.
Boil for 15–20 minutes until the potato chunks are tender.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the sweet potato from the pan (reserving the water to cook the macaroni) and place them in a high-powered jug blender. Pour in the soya milk and blitz on high speed to create a smooth sauce. If you don’t have a high-powered jug blender, put the cooked sweet potato and milk into a large bowl and use a stick blender to blitz until smooth.
Stir most of the grated vegan cheese and chives into the sauce, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the macaroni into the pan of boiling water and simmer over a medium-high heat for 8–10 minutes until al dente. Drain thoroughly and return to the pan.
Pour over the sauce and stir through to combine. Transfer to a baking dish, scatter over the remaining grated vegan cheese and chives and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until bubbling. Divide between bowls and serve.
Tip: The sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance; simply allow to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge. The sauce can also be frozen.
From Vegan Fakeaway: Plant-Based Takeaway Classics For The Ultimate Night In by Katy Beskow (£15, Quadrille), out now
Photography: Luke Albert; Louise Hagger; Phu Tang
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.