Recently my friend Lyla sent me a link to lots of one-pot pasta recipes, where you stick everything in the one saucepan, and just let it happen – no draining pasta, no wasted pasta-water.
I scoffed. Then I thought about it. Then I tried it…
And it bloody works.
Aside from the practical advantages of making everything in one single saucepan, cooking the pasta directly in the sauce concentrates the flavours, and also thickens the sauce with the starch from the pasta which would normally be poured away with the water. So that’s nice.
Yesterday I made Macaroni Cheese using this method, turning what I am pleased to think of as an already pretty damn good dish into something even better.
There are a lot of one-pot mac cheese recipes online, but most of them are American and didn’t really fit my requirements, so I created a hybrid version. This worked well, although in my dish yesterday I used a lot of V8 Juice, which made it all too salty – so I’ve cut the quantity right down in the directions below, substituting with water.
(While V8 Juice in Macaroni Cheese may seem strange, it really works – it adds a bit of flavour, as well as some welcome colour. Credit for this innovation goes to Scott MacMillan.)
And so, I present…
One-ish-Pot Macaroni Cheese
Serves: 6 to 8 portions – adjust quantities below to fit your requirements
For ingredients, you will need:
- 500g pasta (penne, macaroni, fusilli are fine)
- 500g mature cheddar (stronger the better)
- 50g parmesan/grana padano
- Any other hard cheeses you want to add (reduce cheddar as appropriate)
- 2 slices bread (anything you like)
- 1 litre milk (not skimmed)
1 litre laban or other yoghurt drink
- 250ml V8 Juice (add more or less, to taste)
- 250ml water (adjust according to amount of V8 Juice used)
- 1-2 teaspoons mustard powder (to taste, 2 teaspoons is quite spicy)
- 1 teaspoon plain flour
- 1 teaspoon butter
- Fresh ground pepper, to season
For utensils, you will need:
- Something to grate the cheese and bread with
- Spoons and stuff
- 1 large saucepan which can also go in the oven
- 1 large saucepan, and
- 1 oven dish, of greater capacity than the saucepan
0 – Prep. Get everything ready: grate the cheese, keeping the cheddar and parmesan (or whatever) separate, as that’s mostly for the topping. Also grate the bread, if you aren’t using breadcrumbs.
Most importantly, have your milk ready to go, next to the stove, as you’ll need to be quick when adding it.
Now’s also a good time to put on your lucky hat/underwear/animal skull.
1 – Make the roux. Melt the butter in the saucepan on medium heat – when it’s melted and starting to sizzle, add the flour and mix in thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Let the mixture cook off for a bit, stirring continuously, until you see it change consistency. Then turn the heat down.
2 – Start adding the milk, a little at a time, still stirring continuously to keep it smooth – we’re aiming for no lumps here, people. As you go, grind some pepper into the sauce.
3 – Add the mustard powder, V8 Juice and water, after all the milk has gone in. As mustard powder tends to clump, I recommend using a small sieve to sift it into the sauce, but this isn’t essential. Add some more pepper, too, and stir for a bit until simmering. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, to mix in any roux that’s stuck there.
4 – Add the pasta. That’s right, into the sauce. Go on, it’s fine. Make sure the liquid more than covers the pasta, otherwise this will get too dry.
Let the pasta simmer in the sauce for around 10-15 minutes, or until al dente – keep stirring often, and don’t let it boil over. Even if you like your pasta soft, don’t let it get too soft now, as it’s staying in the sauce for a while yet.
Once the pasta’s cooked, check the consistency of the sauce – it should be thick, but still very liquid, and not gloopy. If it’s too thick, add more milk or water. If it’s too thin, spoon out a bit and set it aside.
5 – Add the cheese, after taking the heat right down. Don’t boil the cheese. It’s not nice. Add almost all the cheddar and whatever other cheeses you have, along with about half the parmesan (the bit you’re keeping back is for the topping). Add the cheese a bit at a time, stirring it in thoroughly after each addition. About half-way through this, switch off the heat completely.
At this stage, check the consistency of your sauce again, to make sure it’s how you want it – it won’t thicken too much more, once all the cheese has gone in. As before, add more liquid (or sauce if you took some out earlier), or remove some sauce.
(5a – If not using an oven-safe pan, pour pasta and sauce into an oven dish, making sure there’s plenty of room at the top after it’s all gone in. Trust me – leave some space.)
6 – Add your topping. Mix the remaining grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and some black pepper – make sure it’s all thoroughly combined. Then spread this evenly over the top of the pasta. If you want you can put some sliced tomato or something on top at this stage, if you like to get fancy.
7 – Bake the macaroni cheese in the oven, for 15-20 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. You could also grill it, but the oven will make sure the whole thing is piping hot.
8 – Serve, with green vegetables or salad, in an attempt to pretend this is even vaguely healthy.
Seasoning – go wild. This could work with some garlic, maybe a hint of chilli, whatever. Just remember it’s got to work with the cheesy base.
Meat – some people like to add ham and things. While they are wrong, I’d suggest adding meat that doesn’t need to be cooked (like ham) to the sauce before adding the pasta. For other meats, like chicken, best to cook it separately, then add it before the pasta.
Serving – some places do those fried Macaroni Cheese balls. I wonder how that works?