Mac And Cheese, But Put Some Paprika On It
Macaroni and cheese with a Southern twist (the twist is paprika, sausage, and peppers).
This recipe makes enough food to feed 1 Skye and 1 Dan for 4 meals each. I’d recommend cutting it in half if you’re cooking for one.
This recipe contains dairy and gluten. It can be made gluten-free with the following substitutions:
- Use corn starch instead of flour (I have not tried this, but it’s the standard way to make roux without wheat flour)
- Use a non-wheat pasta (I have made this with chickpea pasta, and it tastes good)
- Skip the breadcrumbs, or substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs
- Do not use Field Roast vegetarian sausages – they are mostly gluten.
A dairy-free version is outside the scope of this page.
- 2 saucepans (one at least 6 cups, one at least 9 cups), with a lid for the smaller one
- A big pot to cook pasta in (with lid)
- A wooden spoon
- Chef’s knife
- Cutting board
- A big baking dish (I use a 9"x17"x4" glass dish; the total volume ought to be at least this much)
- A way to grate cheese (such as a cheese grater, a microplane, or a food processor)
Optional but Helpful
- A colander / pasta strainer
- A whisk
- A ladle
- 2 lbs pasta (macaroni, penne, rotini, and gemelli are all fine choices)
- 5 cups milk (lactose-free is OK)
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 tbsp butter
- 6 tbsp flour
- 3 cups cheddar - the sharper the better - either cut into small cubes or shredded/grated
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 spicy sausages, chopped into bite-size pieces
- I don’t eat meat so I use “Mexican Chipotle”-flavored Field Roast “sausages”. Andouille would probably work great.
- 2 cups peppers (or more!)
- I use pickled goat peppers. In the South, jalapeño is the usual choice.
- If you’re feeling bold - or you want more peppers in your pasta - you can probably put a whole quart of peppers in here.
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan (or Romano or Asiago or similar hard cheese)
- Olive oil (~1 tbsp)
- Salt and pepper
- Your favorite pan-greasing oil (butter and olive oil both work fine)
- Breadcrumbs (about a cup)
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- A pinch of nutmeg
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
Let’s Make Some Mac And Cheese
If you have help in the kitchen, you can feel free to do parts 1 and 2 simultaneously.
If you do not have help in the kitchen, do not do both parts simultaneously. I have done it, and it is not possible to do it well when you only have two hands.
Part 0: Heat Up Milk
Put the bay leaves and the milk in the smaller saucepan. Put it on a back burner, on the lowest setting your stove has, with the lid on.
Part 1: Let’s Make Some Pasta
- Put some water in your pasta pot, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a rolling boil.
- Put pasta in pot. Bring the water back to a boil.
- Check the cooking instructions for your pasta, and set a timer for two minutes before the box says the pasta will be done (or earlier if you really like your pasta al dente).
- Stir every 30 to 60 seconds.
- When the timer goes off, check your pasta. Your goal is pasta that feels like it needs another minute or two before it’s done.
- When the pasta “needs another minute or two”, drain the pasta, and run cold water over it to stop it from cooking further.
- Set the pasta aside. You can either put the pasta in a really big mixing/serving bowl, or you can cool off the stockpot you just used (say, by filling it with cold water, then pouring out the water) and put the pasta back in the now-cool stockpot.
- If your sauce is not ready (because you have not yet completed Part 2), pour some olive oil over the pasta and stir a little to mix it in. This will keep the pasta from becoming one giant stuck-together pasta blob.
Part 2: Let’s Make A Cheese Sauce
- Put the butter in your larger saucepan.
- Turn heat to medium, and melt the butter.
- Once the butter is melted, add the flour.
- Stir frequently (every 15 seconds or so) until the sauce turns golden-brown - this will take 5 to 10 minutes depending on your stove. My personal measure of whether I have browned it enough is whether I think “oh crap have I burned it?” (I have only actually burned a flour+butter mixture once. If you do not smell a truly awful smell, you have not burned it.)
- Take the bay leaves out of the milk and discard them (into your trash or compost).
- Add the milk to your flour+butter mixture. If you have a ladle, you can ladle the milk into the flour+butter, and stir after each ladle-ful. If not, pour very slowly and carefully, stirring after each quarter-cup or so. The last cup of milk can just get poured in all at once.
- Start preheating your oven now (400 degrees F).
- If you have a whisk, now is a great time to use it. Stir frequently (every 15 seconds) until the sauce thickens a bit (which will take about 10 minutes).
- Add the cheddar cheese. Stir frequently (every ~15 seconds) until it’s all melted and evenly mixed in.
- Add the paprika. If you are using the optional spices (cardamom, nutmeg, and cayenne), add those too. Stir for a minute.
Part 3: Mix It All Together
- If you haven’t yet preheated your oven (to 400 degrees F), do so now.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta.
- Mix in the sausage, peppers, and Parmesan-or-other-hard-cheese.
- Add a pinch of salt.
- Add pepper (anywhere between a pinch and a tablespoon is fine).
- Give the mixture some good, solid stirs to get everything mixed as evenly as possible.
- Grease your baking dish (coat the inside with a thin layer of oil).
- Pour the pasta/sausage/pepper/sauce mixture into the baking dish.
- If you’re using breadcrumbs, pour breadcrumbs over the top of the pasta. The goal is a thin layer of breadcrumbs over the dish.
Part 4: Bake It And Eat It
- Put the dish in the oven and bake for 15 or 20 minutes. The goal is to have the sauce thicken some, have the breadcrumbs (if present) brown a little, and have the pasta on the edges get a tiny bit drier, all of which will make the top a little bit crunchy. (Ultimately, you are the master of this macaroni dish, and you can make it as crunchy or non-crunchy as you want. I cannot stop you.)
- Take the dish out of the oven and leave it for 5 minutes.
- No, seriously, leave it there for 5 minutes. If you try to eat this straight out of the oven, you will burn your tongue.
- Once you have waited 5 minutes, it is now safe to eat the pasta.
Part 5: Leftovers
Leftovers can be refrigerated for several days, either in a covered container or in a dish with cling wrap over the top. (I usually put cling wrap over the top of the baking dish and put the entire baking dish in the fridge.) The microwave is an excellent way to reheat leftover mac-and-cheese, which tastes nearly as good as it does fresh out of the oven.
This recipe is based on Mark Bittman's recipe for baked macaroni and cheese