This shortcut recipe is ideal when you’d prefer not to clean messy pots and pans. You don’t even have to precook the noodles!
Settling on a Father’s Day recipe was particularly challenging this year. As is often the case, my inability to decide what to share in this space was more a case of sifting through too many worthy options than lacking material or inspiration.
As far as my husband is concerned, anything topped with maple syrup or pepperoni (not in the same recipe, of course) is sure to be well liked by him and our two boys. There are also a multitude of grilled favorites, sweet treats, and favorite childhood recipes that would likely have wide appeal.
I thought about my own dad, too. Growing up, my mom did all of the cooking, and dad liked it all. However, my earliest food memories of Dad center around the occasional times he covered for Mom in the kitchen. He never once burned anything. On the contrary, he seemed to think that if something was hot, it was cooked.
Perhaps the dish that we still laugh about the most is his macaroni and cheese. When he proudly served his cheesy casserole, it looked rather appetizing. What Dad didn’t know was that he had to cook the noodles before mixing them into the cheese sauce. No worries, everyone took the crunchy noodles in stride, and a pepperoni pizza was just a phone call away.
As I thought back to this memorable meal, an unusual recipe from my friend, Sue, came to mind. Many years after the crunchy noodle episode, Sue introduced me to her family favorite mac and cheese recipe.
The unexpected preparation of Sue’s recipe also makes it incredibly quick to prepare. There’s no need to boil the noodles or simmer a cheese sauce prior to baking. All of the standard ingredients go into one baking dish and the oven does all the work.
To date, I have made this recipe with four different kinds of cheese. The first time, I grated a block of Cabot’s sharp cheddar cheese. The consistency was good, but I didn’t add salt and felt it needed a pinch or two to bring out the flavor. The second time, I used Sargento’s pre-shredded sharp cheddar. This time, I did add a light sprinkle of salt and pepper and the result was quite good. The third time, I grated a block of Cooper sharp. This cheese provided excellent flavor as well, but as with the other cheeses, I found it separated a bit from the milk. Still, the result was delicious and everyone enjoyed.
In an effort to remedy the one detail of this shortcut version of a classic comfort food on which my family commented—the slight separation of the cheese and milk–I added a simple step on my fourth try, this time using Kraft sharp cheddar. As it turned out, a little stirring halfway through the cooking time was all that was needed to fully melt and incorporate the cheese into the milk. We all enjoyed the resulting smooth and creamy sauce.
So, where does all of the experimentation leave you? This speedy mac and cheese (which is lightning fast if you use pre-shredded cheese) will be slightly different depending on what cheese you choose, and it’s different than my classic crispy top recipe. But between the incredible ease of preparation and the great taste, I think this recipe is worth adding to the regular rotation. It isn’t gourmet fare, but it is classic comfort food and a convenient option when time is short…and my dad would nail this recipe!
Sue will tell you that this mac and cheese is her party staple, and she always makes it in a foil pan for easy cleanup. With Sue in mind, I made it that way for the pictures. A standard 9×13 baking dish works well, too.
For smaller portions, the recipe can easily be cut in half and baked in an 8-inch square pan–although leftovers are aways good! So if you’re already a fan of my original recipe (or the gluten-free adaptation) this offers a convenient option.
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni*
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated**
- 1 quart whole milk**
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and several turns of the pepper mill
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the melted butter in a 9×13 baking dish. (I like to melt the butter in the pan as the oven is preheating. Just watch so it doesn’t burn. I set the timer for 3 minutes so I don’t forget.)
Toss the uncooked noodles in the melted butter.
Evenly cover the noodles with the shredded cheese, pour the milk over all, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour. After 30 minutes, remove from the oven and carefully stir for about 2 minutes or until the cheese completely dissolves into the milk. Return to the oven for the final 30 minutes of baking.
If you’d like to create a little extra golden brown color and crisp bits on top, broil the mac and cheese on the top rack of the oven, watching very carefully to avoid burning, during the final 2-3 minutes of the baking time. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to sit for a few minutes before serving.
- * I have made this recipe successfully with gluten-free macaroni. (I used Ancient Harvest brand.)
- ** It is important to use whole milk in this recipe. As for the cheese, at various times I have used pre-shredded Sargento and Kraft sharp cheddar as well as 8-ounce blocks of Cooper sharp and Cabot sharp cheddar that I’ve quickly grated with a box grater. They all worked well—the flavor simply varied slightly from one to the next. The key to a smooth cheese sauce is the stirring midway through baking.