Mac N Cheese, please!
January 29, 2009 12:35 PM   Subscribe

[ComfortFoodFilter] Give me your kickassedest huevo-lacto vegetarian mac-n-cheese recipes.

I've been tasked with making mac n' cheese for the Super Bowl party the mister is hosting on Sunday. I have limited online / wireless time right now and have come up short on google and mefi search is down. I'm sure this has been asked but I have a couple qualifiers:

I need a killer baked mac n cheese recipe. I have pretty much every good spice available, and I will probably be using the good Tillamook extra sharp cheese. But beyond that I'm kind of stumped.

Here are the ingredients qualifiers:

- NO meat, with no meaning none. No bacon, no chicken, no ham, no tuna, no broth.
- NO mushrooms. This makes me sad, but that's just how it goes.


- no canned soup / soup packet type ingredients. My goal is to use fresh grated x-sharp cheddar for the main cheese.
- would prefer this not to have too much of a custard-based sauce as custards kind of scare me to begin with, and especially at altitude (5300')

So we're looking at a pretty simple, straightforward mac n' cheese casserole recipe. I was pointed at the one on Alton Brown's site but the custard base thing kind of gave me the willies. I've never done the baked mac 'n cheese deal before, only the sort from a box. So I need one that will both rock and be fairly easy to deal with when we've got a bunch of people over.

Help? Thanks!
posted by lonefrontranger to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I really like this 4 cheese bake from Cook's Illustrated. They don't call it "mac n' cheese," but it is pasta (we use rotelle instead of penne) and lots of yummy cheese. I suppose you could substitute the romano with the sharp cheddar, though I was really happy with their particular cheese combo. There is also a variation where you add tomato and basil. I have not tried it, but it sounds good.

Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta

Serves 4- 6 as main course, 6-8 as a side.

Bread Crumb Topping
3–4 slices white sandwich bread with crusts, torn into quarters
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 ounce)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pasta and Cheese
4 ounces fontina cheese , shredded (about 1 cup)
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese , crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 ounce)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 ounce)
1 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon table salt
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. For the topping: Pulse bread in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Transfer to small bowl; stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Set mixture aside.

2. For the pasta: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in stockpot. Combine cheeses in large bowl; set aside. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water; stir to separate pasta. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in cream, increase heat to medium, and bring to boil, -stirring occasionally; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 minute to ensure that flour cooks. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper; cover cream mixture to keep hot and set aside. When pasta is very al dente (when bitten into, pasta should be opaque and slightly underdone at very center), drain about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Add pasta to bowl with cheeses; immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl with foil or large plate and let stand 3 minutes. Uncover bowl and stir with rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl, until cheeses are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.

4. Transfer pasta to 13 by 9-inch baking dish, then sprinkle evenly with reserved bread crumbs, pressing down lightly. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Serve immediately.
posted by waitangi at 12:46 PM on January 29, 2009

Although I think Alton Brown is hot and his recipes are awesomer, I actually prefer Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese. Mind her note about sharp cheddar rather than extra sharp, though - it actually seems to make a difference in the quality of the result. I have read that less sharp cheddars are aged less and hence are less likely to curdle when baked.
posted by saeculorum at 12:47 PM on January 29, 2009

You want straightforward?

You want vegetarian?

You want delicious?

You go with the mac and cheese from the Moosewood Cookbook.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 12:49 PM on January 29, 2009

Make Alton Brown's recipe. Leave out the onion and the egg, increase the flour and butter by a tablespoon each. Perfect.

Also, use cavatappi (cellantani) instead of elbows.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:50 PM on January 29, 2009

The sauce is critical. Start with a nice rich bechamel.

1 pint half and half
1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoons flour

Melt the butter and mix in the flour in a medium saucepan. In a smaller pan on the side, heat the half and half but do not boil. When the butter and flour are all mixed up, slowly stir in the half and half and mix until completely smooth. The heating of the half and half will make this stuff turn into a perfectly smooth sauce. This is your base, and from here you can mix in cheese and spices to your heart's content. I recommend a sharp cheddar, and hey I see you're rolling with tillamook extra sharp. Excellent choice. I'm a pretty big fan of spicy mac, and sriracha sauce is your friend if this is how you want it. Tomato basil mac is also a great one, mix in some sun-dried tomatoes with fresh basil in your bechamel. I haven't included measurements here, because I eyeball it every time, and that's the method I recommend.
posted by mullingitover at 12:53 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have a recipe, because I always just do this by eye, but I do have a few tips.

- what is this custard? Custard? The idea is to make a bechamel (aka "white sauce") and then put as much cheese in it as it can absorb without it merely being melted cheese. Generally, you can not have too much cheese.
- when you put the flour in the butter to make the sauce, let it cook for a bit. To be precise, there is a point where it starts to smell cooked, sort of a pancake smell, but before it colours. Resulting sauce is much tastier.
- I like to saute some minced onion and celery in the butter before making the sauce.
- a pinch or two of paprika, perhaps even smoked paprika, in the sauce is mystifyingly good.
- grated cheese + breadcrumbs on top = crunchy top. NOM.
- again, if you have enough cheese, and you let the top brown, you will be forgiven for just about everything else.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:54 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mac'n'cheese recipe is actually from Alton Brown. It's stovetop though, not his baked recipe. If I want it baked I just throw it in the oven when I'm done, topped with some buttery breadcrumbs and a lot more cheese, and wait for the cheese to melt.

* 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
* 4 tablespoons butter
* 2 eggs
* 6 ounces evaporated milk
* 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* Fresh black pepper
* 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
* 10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

Lately I've just been making a whole box of pasta, using 3 eggs, most of a can of evaporated milk, 16oz of cheese, and the spices to taste.

1. While the water and salt heat to boiling I shred the cheese (I use xtra sharp too, and sometimes mix it up with a few oz. of muenster or pepper jack).
2. When the pasta goes in I start mixing the eggs, evap. milk, hot sauce (I use tabasco, plus some ground chiles tepin), pepper, and mustard powder together.
3. After the pasta is done and drained, I return it to the pot and butter it up. Keep the heat on low.
4. Then I stir in the sauce mix, and gradually add the cheese.

Ta da! Spicy and delicious, and so damn fattening that the roomie won't touch it.
posted by carsonb at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2009

The Grit cookbook, recipes from the famous Athens, GA, vegetarian eatery, has a magnificent baked mac-and-cheese recipe. It also has a ton of other incredibly delicious recipes. The restaurant is wonderful and the recipes in the cookbook are the the next best thing to being there. I love this cookbook so much. I made the mac-and-cheese once and it was to die for.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran what it says is The Grit's mac-and-cheese recipe in the paper (and online) a few years ago. It looks like the same recipe that's in the book.

(I may also have to try waitangi's Cook's Illustrated recipe. That looks amazing!)
posted by isogloss at 1:03 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ooo, does evaporated milk count as canned soup? If so, sorry.
posted by carsonb at 1:05 PM on January 29, 2009

I know nothing about making mac and cheese, but I nth the suggestion of sriracha sauce, which transforms even Kraft Dinner into a miraculous substance. Bring a bottle with your dish of mac.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:07 PM on January 29, 2009

I don't have an actual recipe, but I really love either smoked Gouda or Gruyere in mine.
posted by cestmoi15 at 1:09 PM on January 29, 2009

I love the America’s Test Kitchen mac & cheese. It starts with a bechamel sauce flavored with garlic, mustard powder, and cayenne and uses a blend of something like 3 parts creamy colby for texture and 1 part super-sharp cheddar for flavor. It calls for a mix of milk and chicken broth, but you could easily use vegetable broth (the key, the ATK notes say, is not to use too much milk in the sauce). It’s not a drastic departure from classic mac & cheese, definitely still creamy comfort food with buttered crumbs on top, but the subtle amount of garlic and mustard powder make it just a little more interesting than other recipes I’ve tried.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Martha Stewart's Macaroni & Cheese is perfectly wonderful. Gets raves every time.
posted by oh really at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2009

My recipe's pretty close to Alton's, actually (and you can't beat a bechamel sauce as a basis for good cheese sauce, IMO) but I add a couple of things that make the recipe pop:

1. Fresh (ideal) or very fresh dried rosemary in the bechamel
2. Instead of "white sandwich bread", make some fresh breadcrumbs in your food processor from a loaf of Rosemary Focaccia
3. Add bit of freshly grated parmesan (maybe 1/4 cup, maybe less, YMMV) to the bread crumbs and butter

Rosemary really cuts through so it doesn't taste as full-on overpoweringly rich, and the bite in the focaccia and parmesan make it really rock to the next level.

Also, nthing cestmoi15's suggestion of using a smoked cheese. Not for ALL of it, but a small portion of grated smoked cheddar, gouda or gruyere to the rest of the cheese you're using makes for great flavor.
posted by twiki at 1:19 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you associate "bechamel" with custard (my guess as to what you meant), I don't think you have much reason to worry about it. Just keep an eye on it and follow what the recipe says. Count on it being a bit faster because of the higher altitude, but so long as you don't cook it to the point of it burning, you can't go too wrong. I think it can make the cheese sauce grainy in some cases, but even then it still tastes great. Really, it's the difference between great and awesome mac and cheese.

I'm a bit confused as to why this would need a vegetarian variation, to be honest. Most recipes I've made don't call for meat, and those that do add some cooked meat in at the last second as a mix in, such as ham chunks. I guess there is broth, but vegetable broth, water, or really any savory fluids can stand in. Stick to low sodium broths, too, since you can't take salt out of a dish as easily as you can add salt to an undersalted dish.

And I think every mac and cheese recipe benefits from a bit of spice. Cayenne pepper, paprika, hot sauce (I like tabasco, but I grew up with it. Substitute what you like) and even Dijon or brown mustard in small amounts (say a teaspoon to a tablespoon for the whole batch) are great.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:25 PM on January 29, 2009

Echo chamber -- Martha's recipe really is fantastic. The best baked mac and cheese I've ever had. I found it by way of Smitten Kitchen.

I'd never made a roux before and was really worried about screwing it up (was bringing it to a potluck), but it was absolutely fantastic, made roughly a bajillion servings and reheated really well.

My oh-so-fabulous partner made a half batch and we've been eating it all this week. Amazing.
posted by giraffe at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2009

Oops. Twiki's right. Mix in the deliciousness, but needs to be toned down with a more mellow cheese.
posted by cestmoi15 at 1:37 PM on January 29, 2009

I use the Martha Stewart recipe too. My favorite variation is to substitute smoked gouda for half of the cheddar. Another awesome addition (in season) is tomato confit.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:38 PM on January 29, 2009

Nothing wrong with a bechamel base, but that style's never really been my favorite. I usually leave out the bechamel (if that's what you mean by custard) in the mac and cheese equation and make baked mac and cheese the way my dad from Mississippi made them: using a mixture of eggs and milk as the binder.

Cheese/topping/additions can vary and not measurements not exact because I just throw it together, but always the basic format is

1) Cook pasta, drain and pour it into the baking dish intended for the baking
2) while still hot, throw some pads of butter into the noodles and stir around until the noodles are coated fairly well with melty butter (no need to be TOO thorough, just enough so you know it's all in there)
3) add the cheese(s) and again stir a bit to make sure cheese is pretty evenly distributed, 4) beat an egg or two (depending on amount) with milk (I've used a mixture of milk and half-and-half before too when I was low on milk, but just milk will get the job done)
5) pour egg and milk mixture over the pasta with salt and fresh cracked pepper (the latter is my preference, since my dad used to just use black pepper from the can) and again stir a little to make sure everyone's getting a little bit of the action. It'll seem oddly soupy, though NOT to cover the pasta, more like coming around a third or half of the baking dish depending on size and shape. You just want the eggs and milk to sort of wet everything.
6) If you got toppings (I usually don't, besides extra cheese. Dad never used breadcrumbs or anything), sprinkle them now and toss into 350 degree oven and bake for about 30-45 minutes (again, it'll vary with how much you're making probably, but at least 30 minutes usually works for me)

The result isn't a "sauce-y" mac and cheese but a "drier" more "solid" form that you can cut or spoon out.

If the above homespun, no measurements list makes you nervous for making baked mac for the first time, the NYTimes did a piece about mac and cheese a while back talking about different cheese and methods with links to recipes for both creamy and crusty versions. You could probably take it from there as to what cheeses or toppings you'd like to use.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2009

I'm surprised that I'm the only one who grew up with nutmeg being the primary spice in mac and cheese. I'll post that recipe when I get home and have access to the cards (we're a vegetarian household, so it'll be fine on that tip).

In the meantime, let me hip you to the wonders of the stoner gourmet: I made nachoroni and cheese once when I was very high, and it worked out amazingly (also I was very high).

Basically, you'll have two things going: Mac and Cheese and nachos. The nachos, you want 1 part beans, 1 part red peppers, 1/2 part green peppers, 1/2 part onions, 1/4 part jalapeños. Maybe some tomatoes too, but I prefer to toss them on at the end and keep them fresh (as it's winter, though, you may want to skip that and go with a salsa or something). You lay that on a thin bed of chips on your glass… uh… quiche pan. I dunno. The one that's about two and a half inches deep and square. The beans should ideally be leftovers, so that they have a fair amount of seasoning in them (chili, cilantro, cumin, little salt). The macaroni, boil 'em just shy of normal (on the al dente side) and drain 'em. Depending on the size of the meal, you may not want to make as many as normal.

Make a goopy bechamel sauce and supersaturate it with cheese. Feel free to add some more chili powder to the cheese. Once that's about done, toss your macaroni onto the chips on top of the veggies. I like to lay the sauce down in a fat layer, then (if so inclined) toss some more veggies on top of it, mixing in more macaroni. Or some fake sausage or whatever else you have around.

Then you bake that at 350 until it's just a little bit past golden brown (the top layer of cheese should be a bit crunchy). Maybe 15 minutes?

Take it out, toss your fresh tomatoes or salsa on it, and viola—you've solved the basic problems of mac and cheese, that it's not crunchy enough and that you can't eat it with your hands.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was going to come and post this recipe, but I was beaten to it by the first post. It's hard to beat The Grit, but the Cook's Illustrated 4-cheese is truly the suzerain of mac and cheeses.
posted by The Michael The at 2:04 PM on January 29, 2009

I think starting with a roux is key. I use Mark Bittman's basic recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which can be either stovetop or baked, and I like a little goat cheese for extra smooth deliciousness.

sriracha? omg what a good idea. *salivates*
posted by clavicle at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: Clarification: by "custard" I am referring of course to egg based sauces... isn't that what custard means? Not only do they slightly ick me out, but I have had nothing but EPIC FAIL with them at altitude... no matter what I try, they break/curdle. I don't need that stress on a day when I've already got a dozen people underfoot. Bèchamel doesn't bother me as much because I think I can avoid scalding the cream/milk.

I specified NO MEAT specifically because the last mac-n-cheese Ask was loaded with tuna and bacon recommendations. I kinda didn't want to have to weed, cos im dealing with a primarily veggie crowd, but thanks for the tip.

Thanks - keep 'em coming, and I'll mark the one(s) I decide to use once I've figured that out.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:22 PM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: The mac and cheese recipe from martha stewart is the one I use and it really is amazing. I use pecorino romano instead of Gruyere and I use ground mustard instead of nutmeg (because I hate nutmeg). I make it whenever I have an excuse and it gets rave rave reviews. Seriously - I've tried a bajillion baked mac'n'cheese recipes and it is by far the best.
If you're having a party, make the full recipe - but my latest hack is to make a half recipe for just my husband and I and bake it in a full size pan to increase the macaroni and cheese to yummy yummy crunchy topping ratio.
posted by Wolfie at 2:34 PM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: This is comfort food. Don't fuck with it. Just do a really good job with a traditional recipe. The reaction you want is "Man, I'd forgotten how much I loved mac and cheese," not "Oh how clever of you!" (or, more likely, "Dude, what kind of asshole puts sun dried fucking tomatoes in the macaroni?")

Don't mess around with funny cheeses. (Gorgonzola? Seriously?) You want sharp cheddar, maybe cut with something else for a creamier texture.

Mustard, black pepper, maybe nutmeg, maybe a little horseradish. You don't want any of the spices to stand out as a flavor — they're there to brighten the taste of the cheese, not to be noticed. If you want spicy, bring a bottle of hot sauce and put it next to the macaroni.

Shells are better than macaroni noodles. You get a big gooey gob of cheese in the middle of each shell — and since the whole point of the dish is to eat big gooey gobs of cheese, that's the best possible outcome.

Oh, and if you use onions, you really need to mince 'em up tiny. You want the overall texture to be gooey, remember, with maybe a teensy little onion-y crunch every now and again.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:12 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mark Bittman's Bitten blog at the NY Times just posted a mac & cheese recipe this afternoon! I think it's the Martha Stewart one.
posted by min at 3:21 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: nebulawindphone: I definitely agree with that principle. There are scads of good tips here an I'll likely use a combo of the best- the things I needed to know were mainly bèchamel, roux, and don't overdo the x-sharp tillamook. Now I just need to sit down and determine quantities / ratios (i.e. how to make a metric shitload and still have it turn out) and what, if any, modifiers I'll use.

despite that we love spicy / texmex / southwestern style stuff, I think for "company" I'll keep it fairly simple first go.

tho klang, I'm definitely feeling your nacho mac dude- I can guarantee this will get made at some point in the near future!!
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:10 PM on January 29, 2009

tho klang, I'm definitely feeling your nacho mac dude- I can guarantee this will get made at some point in the near future!!

Get really high! It helps!

posted by klangklangston at 4:23 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: man how I do love AskMeta!! Y'all are awesome! After some review and analysis, I think Martha's recipe does exactly what I want, in terms of simplicity, technique, and quantity. I would never in a million years have gone looking for a comfort-food recipe from THAT source, lemme tell ya...

I also really do appreciate everyone's tips. The ones I marked "best" are simply the ones that look to be getting me closest to goal -- however I definitely have the rest filed away in my special secret "oh man gotta try that!" space (um, the back of my old Joy of Cooking actually... which Mom bitches about cos it breaks the spine, but oh, well)

I'll come back post-party and report on the outcome.

"Get really high! It helps!" Hee! klang you DO realise this is *Boulder fucking Colorado* we're talking about, right? Shouldn't be a problem. :)
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:23 AM on January 30, 2009

I'm probably too late, and this might be the straggly end of the thread. However, this recipe is both simple and deeply satisfying, and maybe somebody would like to cook some on a snowy day and know this too.

Cooked macaroni (medium shells are good, for the cheese glob reason)
Shredded old cheddar
Fresh ground pepper
Medium cream (10% mf)

Layer macaroni and cheddar in bakable pan, peppering each set.

When the pan is full, pour in cream until you can see it peeking through the noodles (i.e. halfway to 3/4 up the pan).

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. When it is set and the top is browned, it is done.

I serve it with hot and spicy Maggi liquid seasoning, and it is even better warmed up the next day.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:39 PM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: Updated/Resolved: Martha Stewart FTW!!!! I followed her recipe pretty much to a T. I used shells, not elbows (good call!) and I set a little ramekin of drained capers, a shaker of chili powder, and a bottle of sriracha alongside the finished product for folks to choose from. BY FAR the most popular choice was... the capers! Who knew everyone else was as weird as me?

The casserole came out of the oven at halftime, and was gone in less than fifteen minutes. They even scraped all the bits out of the pan!

Observations: the most labour-intensive part was grating all that cheese, but the mister happily obliged, so no big deal there. The fiddliest part was, of course, adding the hot milk to the tempered roux, and naturally this coincided with the arrival of several guests, their various dogs, and about twelve layers of chaos. Fortunately the mister stepped in and saved the day by helping pour as I whisked. I *strongly* recommend getting someone to help with this step. Mainly because six cups of milk is freaking heavy and difficult to control one-handed.

Summary: A++++++!!! Would definitely make again! Next time I'll get more adventuresome, even!

Nah, who'm I kidding... I'll just make some of klangklangston's "nachoroni"
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:13 PM on February 3, 2009

« Older Where will the idiots be?   |   what do you wish you would have known when you... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.