Macaroni and cheese has rightly earned a place in the American canon of classic recipes. Much like so many comfort foods, like potato salad and chicken soup, the recipes themselves have become a battleground of devotees who insist their family recipe is the one and only best.
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Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
I grew up eating two kinds: the creamy stovetop variety in that signature blue and yellow box, and my grandmother Shirley’s homemade baked macaroni and cheese recipe. Both of them invoke instant sense memories of childhood happiness.
Slurping up spoonfuls of those tender, slender tubes in their orange bath will always remind of playdates at my childhood husband Will’s house. Even now I can feel the satisfying sting of the just- dissolved cheese powder on my tongue. I never developed my own recipe for creamy macaroni and cheese because Kraft and the generic brands we had at home simply could not be replicated. This one, from Divas Can Cook, comes close.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Baked or creamy macaroni and cheese one of America’s great debates. Do you start your cheese sauce in a pan and stir it into the noodles, or do you combine all ingredients and bake it to a buttery crisp in a skillet or casserole-style?
As delightful as those Kraft macaroni memories are, my most nostalgic notion of macaroni and cheese, the one that had me sneaking to the kitchen at night in socks so as not to wake my grandmother, is the crispy baked version she would make every time we came to visit.
More accurately, she would take one she had made months ago and frozen, because this recipe is so good, it can withstand months of freezer frostbite and bake up to something utterly magical.
This recipe is responsible for my being a borderline-obese adolescent.
While I fully advocate for a healthy lifestyle and everything in moderation, I do not and will not ever regret a single mouthful of this macaroni and cheese.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
It’s incredibly simple, and plays on our basest instincts: a combination of salt and fat served atop and within both pillowy both crispy carbs. The choice of pasta is no coincidence. Shells, perhaps better even than rigatoni, capture and encase whatever condiments adorn them. In my grandmother’s recipe: sharp cheddar cheese, butter, and milk. When baked, the edges harden slightly so that each bite combines a textural trifecta starting with the crackle and crunch of singed cheese and hardened pasta, the chewy underside, and that delightful splash of succulent heart and creamy cheese. For my recipe I use De Decco No. 50 Shells.
- 1 package / 1 LB / 450 G medium-large shell pasta, for reference, the shells should be about 1-inch long.
- 4 cups / 1 LB/ 16 oz shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 cup milk (add more to preference)
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 3 tablespoons “Italian” breadcrumbs.
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to Turn on oven to 350° F/ 177° C. Prepare pasta as directed for al dente with very minimal salt in the water. Drain until dry. Cube butter.
Combine pasta shells with cheese and butter cubes in a 9 x 11 in. pan lined in parchment paper, or a smaller and deeper pan, as per your preference.
Add milk slowly to avoid pooling on top. More milk yields a creamier consistency. Depending on the width and depth of your pan, add up to a pint.
Sprinkle cheese and herbed breadcrumbs on the top.
Cover macaroni and cheese with tin foil and bake 20-30 minutes . Uncover and bake for an additional 20 minute or to your desired brown and crispiness. Allow to cool and solidify for optimal enjoyment. Slice and serve! Salt and pepper to taste.
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Macaroni and Cheese Wine Pairing
There is no easy answer to this one.
Instead, there are questions to be asked, such as: what kind of cheese did you use? Mild cheddar or sharper blue cheese or Gruyere? What style did you make? Creamy or Crispy? Are there any extra flavors to take into consideration, like lobster or truffle?
Watch a video about Food and Wine Pairing 101.
Food and Wine Pairing Theory
Food and wine pairing theory varies, but one thing the experts agree on is balance. The key is to identify elements like flavor, aroma, and texture in both your food and wine, evaluate them, and match accordingly. Even temperature is a factor. Cold inhibits the release of flavors and can dull your palate, but a flute of ice-cold vintage Champagne, when served with a piping hot plate of macaroni and cheese really comes to life in all its toasty, floral glory on the palate, while simultaneously slicing through the fattiness to release deeper cheese flavors as well.
Read more about Sparkling Wine and Food Pairing
Other white wines that pair with macaroni and cheese include sparklers like Franciacorta and Crémant, crisp, mineral-rich, and dry white wines like Pinot Grigio, Chablis (Chardonnay), and Friulano. Think of it like those refreshing slices of apple and pear on your cheese plate. If your recipe includes full-flavored cheeses like gorgonzola or aged gruyere, consider a slightly off-dry Riesling or a demi sec sparking wine.
Read more about food and wine pairing.
Red Wine With Macaroni and Cheese
As always, the food and wine pairing begins with the elements of the food and wine itself. A fruit-forward Merlot or Pinot Noir pairs beautifully with sharp cheddar cheese, aged gouda, and younger Gruyere. The acidity in the wines helps to cut some of the creaminess, bringing out the earthy, nutty flavors of the cheese. The cheese plate simile works here too. Luscious, jammy wines work like fruit preserves and dried fruit alongside stronger cheeses.
Mac and Cheese Wine Pairing Ideas
Remember that food and wine pairing is as much about the process and texture as it is about the main ingredients, so there is not one right answer.
To save you some time or get you inspired, we put together a list of macaroni and cheese variations and paired them with wines that shouldn’t be too hard to locate online or at your local wine store.
Lobster Mac and Cheese Wine Pairing
Lobster and crab macaroni and cheese has been a luxury brunch staple for quite some time with a price tag to match. The addition of shellfish adds a layer of complexity, elegance, and also a slightly bitter finish. Look for a white wine, still or sparkling, with a balance of bright, cleaning agents like bubbles and minerality, as well as a bit of gloss and possibly even a touch of juicy sweetness like this sparking rosé from Veneto, Italy. Alternatively: Prosecco. Slightly off-dry Riesling. Dry sparkling Moscato.
Browse Prosecco on Wine.com
Bacon Mac and Cheese Wine Pairing
This variation brings an element of smoke and salt to the classic. Look for a wine to play up the smoky notes while keeping salt in check. Avoid wines with rush of salty minerality at the finish. Champagne might be too much, but Lambrusco would do the trick. The musky and animalic elements also compliment the bacon. A dry but fruity rich rosé also works well.
Truffle Mac and Cheese
This variation can go many ways. It all depends how you make it. Truffle oil ranges in quality. It can be very overwhelming but also bitter or worse, rancid at the finish. If you’re lucky enough to have access to real truffles, pair your wines regionally. Try white wines like Orvieto with black truffle, and Gavi, or Arneis with white.
You might be tempted to go big and bold, but take care not to cover up those precious aromas and flavors. If you’re drinking Barolo or Barbaresco, get one with some age on it, at least 5-10 years, so that the tannins will have softened up a bit.