Now we're talking. Because there are all sorts of simple ways to doctor an already awesome pan of basic mac and cheese to take our love of this dish to a whole new level. But let's start with the basics — our classic take on macaroni and cheese. Since everyone is pressed for time, we kept it simple with a stovetop version that will have you ready to eat in about 20 minutes.
But we didn't sacrifice flavour to get that speed. Four cups of cheese — a blend of cheddar and Gruyere — keep this dish rich and gooey. Want to push it even further? Add some grated Parmesan cheese and maybe even aged gouda. Now you've got yourself a four-cheese mac and cheese.
You could enjoy it as is, but we'll also walk you through three ways to up the ante. Want to keep it simple? How about a crunchy-salty topping of crushed potato chips? Or maybe you're looking for a little spice in your life. Our Midwestern take combines jalapenos and smoked paprika for kick. And no one would think less of you for combining both those ideas — perhaps a Midwestern mac and cheese topped with barbecue chips.
Or if you're trying to be virtuous, our green goddess version adds asparagus and a whole mess of fresh herbs. You can pretend all that greenery cancels out all the cheese.
CLASSIC MACARONI AND CHEESE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Gruyere or comte cheese
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound small pasta, such as shells or elbows, cooked according to package directions
In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisking continuously, pour in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mustard and both cheeses, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta. Serve immediately or follow one of the variations below.
Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 240 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 26 g fat (16 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 51 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 26 g protein; 580 mg sodium.
POTATO CHIP BAKED
Spoon the macaroni and cheese into individual gratin dishes or a large casserole dish. Crush a bag of potato chips, then sprinkle them over the mac and cheese. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. For added punch, use flavoured potato chips, such as salt and vinegar, ranch or barbecue.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute 1 diced yellow onion, 1 diced red bell pepper and 1 cup chopped ham in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until the onion is translucent. Add 2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 2 tablespoons chopped jarred jalapenos. Stir into the macaroni and cheese, then serve.
Cut 1 bunch of asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook in a skillet over medium-high in 1 tablespoon butter until just tender. Add to the macaroni and cheese along with 1/4 cup each chopped fresh chives, tarragon and basil, the zest of 1 lemon, and an additional tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Mix well, then serve.