I got a request from Nelson (a BB reader) last week to make some homemade mac n’ cheese and what a fantastic idea it was. I really need some mac n’ cheese in my life right about now.
Of course, there is the issue of guilt surrounding eating large quantities of cheese so I added some good ol’ broccoli to rationalize it all. ha. right. If you don’t want broccoli, just leave it out, make everything else as directed and you’ll have a good classic mac n’ cheese.
Making a cheese sauce can be a little bit intimidating at first but give it a shot. Once you get the hang of it, it’s super easy. The thickening action of the roux is kinda like magic, very mysterious but you gotta learn to trust it. It will thicken.
I like to use medium to sharp cheddar for my mac and cheese because I feel like cheese sauce needs that extra punch of flavor. I also ended up adding a little parmesan (another strong cheese) because after tasting the sauce I wanted it even cheesier! I despise a bland macaroni and cheese.
Then there is the hot sauce. I add just a little to add flavor but not really any heat. The hot sauce is completely optional. Many people add dry mustard which has a similar effect on the flavor. It just gives it a little zing. In the end, the cheese sauce is all about tasting and adjusting. And really, who’s complaining about repeatedly tasting cheese sauce? No one.
Broccoli Shells n’ Cheese
- 8 oz. pasta $0.55
- 1 lg. crown broccoli $1.69
- ½ med onion $0.18
- 3 Tbsp butter $0.12
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour $0.03
- 2.5 cups milk $0.65
- 8 oz. (2 cups) sharp cheddar, shredded $2.49
- ¼ cup grated parmesan $0.24
- 1 tsp hot sauce (optional) $0.05
- to taste salt and pepper $0.05
- Get a large pot of salted water on to boil. Rinse the broccoli well and cut it into small florets.
- The pasta and broccoli will be cooked in the same pot to save on dishes and time. When the water comes to a full boil, add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes then add the broccoli. Cook the pasta and broccoli for two minutes more and then pour everything into a colander to drain. Set them aside until ready to add to the cheese sauce.
- While the pasta and broccoli are doing their thing, you can begin the cheese sauce. Finely dice the onion and cook with butter over medium heat until softened (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add the flour to the butter and onion. The flour and butter will form a paste like mixture (roux). Using a whisk, stir and cook the roux for 1-2 minutes more taking care not to let it scorch. This slightly cooks the flour preventing the cheese sauce from having an overly flour or paste like flavor.
- Add the milk and whisk well to dissolve all of the flour clumps. Add freshly cracked black pepper at this point. Bring the mixture up to a simmer (you may need to raise the heat just slightly). When the sauce reaches a simmer, it will begin to thicken. When it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it’s time to add the cheese.
- Turn the burner off and whisk in the shredded cheese (and parmesan if using) until it is fully melted in. Give the cheese sauce a taste and add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.
- Once you have the cheese sauce seasoned to your liking, stir in the cooked and drained pasta and broccoli. Serve hot and gooey!
Step By Step Photos
I used one large broccoli crown… It was about the size a half bunch of broccoli.
Chop the broccoli into small, bite sized pieces. Do this before you begin anything else so that you can just toss it into the pasta water when it’s ready.
I cooked the pasta and broccoli in the same pot to make things easier. The pasta takes 10 minutes (according to the box) and the broccoli takes 2 minutes or less. So, I cooked the pasta for 8, added the broccoli and cooked both for two minutes more. I also salted the cooking water because, again, I HATE bland mac n’ cheese.
While you’re waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, you can get the cheese sauce going. It starts with cooking down some diced onion in butter. Cook them over medium heat until the onions have softened.
Once the onions are soft, add the flour.
The butter and flour will create a paste, or roux, which will thicken the sauce. Cook the roux while stirring for 1-2 minutes more to “cook out” the floury taste.
Next add the milk. Whisk the milk in good to dissolve any clumps of roux. Bring the mixture up to a simmer. The sauce will not begin to thicken until it begins to simmer. I also add the pepper at this point so that it simmers with the liquid and releases some flavor.
When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it is time to add the cheese. The cheese needs to be shredded to properly melt in. Turn the burner off and whisk in the cheese(es) until everything is melted and mixed.
It’s now time to taste and season. I added a few dashes of hot sauce and just a little salt.
Give it all a good stir and then serve it up!
This really was the perfect side dish to the raspberry chipotle BBQ chicken. PERFECT.
Hello, comfort food!