Stovetop Mac and Cheese is creamy, cheesy and every bite more flavorful than the next. Made in one pot in 30 minutes, this classic soul-soothing comfort food rivals any other recipe around!
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Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Homemade macacroni and cheese may be the first thing that pops into our minds when we’re on the hunt for classic comfort food. It’s so cheesy and I happen to think it’s the BEST recipe. Traditional, delicious creamy mac and cheese!
It’s so easy to come together in one pot and the 30 minutes it takes to prepare makes it perfect for quick dinner ideas on busy weeknights right alongside baked BBQ chicken wings and a side of roasted green beans.
Everyone has their versions and you are welcome to tweak even this one to suit your tastes, but I for one, think this one is delicious as is!
We’re making it from scratch with shredded cheese right off the block and a quick roux to thicken it up. This is basically how we get our cheesy sauce thick and creamy which coats every inch of the tender macaroni. No more of the boxed mac and cheese, this is the good stuff. The REAL stuff. The stuff that Grandma used to make that we can only hope to replicate!
She doesn’t need to know that we’ve officially made it better 🙂
- Pasta. This recipe works with any short or medium pasta. I prefer to use cavatappi, shells or elbow macaroni as the more traditional choice. You can even make ti with gluten-free pasta or even whole wheat pasta if you prefer.
- Olive oil. Used to sauté the aromatics as the base of the yummy cheese sauce. You can substitute with butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, or whatever you prefer.
- Seasoning. Shallots, garlic, fresh thyme, and red pepper flakes. Just a few ingredients to give the cheese sauce a depth of flavor. Fresh thyme gives it a fresh note, while the red pepper flakes add optional heat.
- Roux. Butter, all purpose flour, and whole milk give the sauce a thick, creamy, richness. You can use low-fat milk, you just won’t get the same consistency.
- Reserved pasta water. Just a cup of this slightly salty, starchy water helps to thin out the sauce and bring everything together to better coat each pasta noodle.
- Cheddar cheese. Use a good sharp cheddar cheese for maximum flavor. As you can tell by the photos I love using white cheddar, but for that beautiful orange color, you can use orange cheddar.
- Ground nutmeg. A classic warm spice used in cheese sauces. It adds a tasty element that most just can’t resist!
How to Make this Stovetop Mac and Cheese Recipe
Make this a one-pot meal for easy cleanup or use two pots to make the sauce and cook the pasta at the same time. It’s up to you!
Step 1: Cook the pasta in a large pot or Dutch oven according to package directions (I love to cook it al dente). Salt the water for added flavor and faster boiling time.
Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta.
Step 2: To the same pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until translucent and tender. Then, add the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes, stirring consistently for 1 minute.
Step 3: Add the butter and keep stirring to melt butter and immediately add the flour. Stir for 1 minute until it starts to thicken into a paste. It will turn slightly brown and give off a nutty aroma.
Step 4: Slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously as you go, making sure there are no lumps. To that, add the reserved pasta water and cook the sauce for 3-4 minutes until thick enough to stick to a spoon.
Step 5: Remove the pot from the heat and add the freshly grated cheddar and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Stir until cheese has melted and is fully incorporated with the sauce. Add the pasta back into the pot of cheese sauce and stir until you’ve got yourself the most delicious pot of macaroni and cheese. EVER!
- Make it more of a main course by adding some protein. Bacon, ham, chicken, or ground beef mixed in not only adds flavor and protein but it’s a great way to use up leftover meat!
- For a cheesy crust. Pour mac and cheese into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle with another 1 ½ cups of grated cheese and place it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.
- Bake with breadcrumbs. If you like even more crunch and a breaded topping, sprinkle in some Panko breadcrumbs with your cheese topping.
- Hidden veggies. Fresh or frozen peas, broccoli, or cauliflower can be cooked right along with your pasta using the same pot of boiling water. If you’re using spinach, it will wilt right in the cheese sauce.
- Jalapenos. A slightly different kind of heat, make it a jalapeno mac and cheese with some diced jalapenos for spice!
- Fresh or dried seasoning options. Use ½ teaspoon garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. ¼ teaspoon dried thyme can be substituted for fresh thyme.
- A different herb. Completely omit the thyme and use rosemary or sage instead.
- Yellow or sweet onion works if you don’t have shallots.
- Ground dry mustard added to the base of the sauce, is another quite popular seasoning option to use instead of the nutmeg. It adds a bit of a zesty sharpness that enhances the flavor of the cheese sauce.
- Use your favorite cheese. I love a good sharp white cheddar, as I’ve mentioned, but you can really have fun with this. Think any type of cheese – gruyere, Parmesan, Swiss, fontina, monterey jack or even American cheese. A combination of more than one is also yummy!
- Freshly grated cheese. The reason we use it rather than the pre-shredded packaged cheese is that when it comes pre-shredded it’s mixed with anti-clumping agents. That’s why when you pour it out of the bag it’s miraculously in individual bits of cheese. This starch or cellulose that is used prevents it from melting nicely and also just tastes a bit funny. Fresh is best!
- Don’t forget to salt your water. Either before it boils or after, just as long as it’s given a chance to dissolve!
- No pasta water. If you forget to reserve pasta water before draining the pasta, use another ¾ cup of milk instead.
- Leftover grated cheese. If you happen to have any cheese left, consider making this deliciousness of a beer cheese soup!
- Serve with a side of veggies or salad for a light dinner or use it as a side dish for grilled meats or a Buffalo turkey burger. A big bowl of macaroni and cheese is as cozy as it gets, for weekends, sleepovers, or packed in a thermos for the next day’s lunch!
Enjoy stovetop mac and cheese leftovers for up to 3 days! Keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
You can reheat mac and cheese on the stovetop again over low heat. You want to watch that the cheese isn’t burning on high heat. For single portions using a microwave might be worth your while.
If you notice your cheese sauce is a little too thick, add a tablespoon of milk to help thin it out. Cheese sauce will naturally thicken as it cools, so make sure it’s warmed up first before you decide if it needs thinning out if you’re not doing this upon making it the first time.
Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound dry pasta cavatappi, elbow or shells pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot minced (or ¼ cup minced yellow or sweet onion)
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 4 tablespoons ½ stick butter
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup reserved pasta water see notes
- 16 ounces freshly grated cheddar cheese
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Fill a large pot or dutch oven half full of water. Add one tablespoon of salt to the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Cook the pasta per the package directions for al dente pasta.
- Before draining the pasta, remove 1 cup of the pasta water with a measuring cup and set aside.
- Using the same large pot or dutch oven, add the olive oil and heat on medium heat. Then add the minced shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the shallot is translucent and tender.
- Then add the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir constantly for one minute.
- Add the butter and stir continuously until it has melted.
- Once butter has melted, add in the flour and stir for one minute until it gets thick and starts to turn slightly brown.
- Slowly add in the milk, stirring continuously until there are no lumps. Use a whisk to help break up the lumps if necessary.
- Then add the pasta water that was removed.
- Cook the sauce for 3-4 minutes or until it has thickened enough to stick to the spoon slightly.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the freshly shredded cheddar cheese and ground nutmeg. Stir until the cheese has completely melted.
- Then add the cooked pasta and stir to combine well.