Mac and Cheese is one of those recipes that everyone should know how to make. It’s like a great roasted chicken (I definitely need to post a roasted chicken on here), a really perfect hamburger or a classic apple pie. If there’s a definitive recipe you should keep up your sleeve, I feel like it’s mac and cheese. I grew up eating the artificial stuff from the blue box, and I loved it. I’m pretty sure I was the only one that liked it as a kid in my house, but I couldn’t get enough of it. At the same time, it was my sister’s most hated dish, and to this day she still hates mac and cheese, but she’s weird and that’s a story for another time, and I’m still not convinced we’re related. This is a basic stovetop mac and cheese that is so incredibly easy to whip up, because it takes no time at all, it’s completely versatile and you can make it after a long day at work without any effort. Eat it plain or add in your favorite ingredients such as crispy bacon, caramelized onion, mushrooms and peas like this one. It’s a dream come true and I can’t wait for you to try it.
I think more recipes should start with bacon. It’s the mark of a great dish that’s yet to come. This one starts by browning up four slices of bacon.
**Note: I used to buy the packaged bacon. The bright pink, super thin stuff and it just isn’t that good. If there’s at least just one thing you learn from me, it’s to always always ALWAYS buy your bacon from the meat counter at your grocery store. I know it looks brown, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That bright pink color is added to the packaged bacon. Plus the one at the meat counter is always much thicker.**
Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the grease, and then add in the onions. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until they’ve browned and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Once the onions have browned, add in the mushrooms and cook until browned as well. Transfer the onions and mushrooms to a plate and set aside.
**Note: Don’t worry about cleaning the pot, it’s not necessary as that really will flavor the mac and cheese even more! Plus why make more work for yourself?**
Add in the butter and once melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds. You just want to cook off some of that raw flour taste.
Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over low heat until thickened. You’ll know it’s ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon and if you run your finger down the middle the line stays. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder and cayenne pepper.
**Tip: The milk sauce will thicken a lot faster if you warm the milk in a separate pot. If you add cold milk to the roux, you’ll have to wait for it to come to temperature and then thicken.**
Once the sauce has thickened, lower the heat to low, and then stir in the cheeses with a wooden spoon until fully melted through.
**Note: I used a combination of Cheddar, Gruyere, and mozzarella cheese for this mac and cheese. Here’s the deal with though, as with any mac and cheese, you could really use whatever cheese you’d like. Monterey Jack, pepper Jack, Colby jack, or even gouda would all be great here. I just like to have a Cheddar base because it’s a good sturdy cheese. Then switch things up a bit by adding your favorite cheese.**
Add in the cooked pasta, bacon, onions, mushrooms and peas and stir until evenly combined and everything is well incorporated.
**Tip: Traditional mac and cheese is made with elbow macaroni, but I love switching things up by using orecchiette. That is irrelevant though because you can literally use whatever you have on hand or find at the store. Penne would be great or cavatappi (they look like corkscrews) I love as well!**
At this point give it a taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly, adding more salt or pepper as needed. I love things very peppery, so I add more at the end, but you don’t have to. It’ll taste great from everything else, I promise.
If you want to keep things vegetarian, you can totally omit the bacon and just use butter or oil to sauté the onions and mushrooms in the beginning. You can also just have it plain and traditional with none of the add-ins and it would STILL be great.
Stovetop mac and cheese is great because it’s super quick and only requires one pot (two if you count the pasta cooking). If you miss the crunchy topping from oven-baked mac and cheese, you can definitely transfer this into a casserole dish, sprinkle the top with cheese and breadcrumbs, and bake for about 20 minutes and then place under the broiler until golden brown.
I love this dish because it’s super versatile and can be adapted so many different ways, depending on your mood and what you’re craving, or what you have on hand already. It’s a great recipe to keep on hand, up your sleeve.
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon onion garlic
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- ½ cup shredded Gruyere cheese
- ½ cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1 pound elbow or orecchiette noodles
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- Set a large pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon onto a plate lined with paper towels.
- Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the grease from the pot. Add in the sliced onions and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until deeply golden brown and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until browned, another 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the onions and mushrooms onto a plate and set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Season with salt and add in the pasta. Cook according to the package directions, until al dente.
- Add the butter to the pot, once melted whisk in the flour, cooking for about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until thickened. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder and cayenne. Lower the flame and stir in the cheeses until melted through. Add in the drained pasta, bacon, onions, mushrooms, and peas and stir until evenly incorporated. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning accordingly, adding more salt or pepper as needed. Serve immediately. Enjoy!