I am not a fan of labeling meals “easy” or “weeknight”. For me, those are two red-label words that can really start a hot-headed discussion about marketing and patriarchal society. Men rule the culinary world and women cook badly in the home kitchen because marketing tells them they don’t have the time or skill to do anything differently. Although, I know plenty of women who claim they can’t cook but are superiorly sufficient at getting really crafty and complicated about diet meals and meal prep because we live in a diet mentality society where women put tons of work into staying or becoming or getting back to skinny to fit into the super weird patriarchal-dominant views on health and beauty. I’m sorry. I’m done now. Except, that is to say, this from-scratch version of white cheddar mac & cheese is actually easy to make and only takes about 15-20 minutes of total time. So it’s perfect for a busy weeknight meal. It’s also extremely creamy and satisfyingly salty and just as good to share with family or company as it is to hoard all to yourself while binge-watching a good show on a Saturday afternoon. Don’t forget the blankets and a glass of good, dry white wine. Ah, actually, patriarchal society aside, this sounds like a perfect cold-weather at-home date and I don’t think many guys would disagree.
White cheddar mac & cheese is a grown-up twist on the ultimate comfort food. This recipe serves 4 for dinner or 8 as a side. I totally recommend trying it with stuffing stuffed huneynut squash (recipe coming soon). Most packages of pre-diced pancetta come in 4 oz sizes. If you use an ounce in the squash recipe feel free to just use up the rest in this recipe instead of using the full 4 oz. It will still render enough fat to give lots of flavor and help bloom the pepper. No recipe adjustments needed.
White cheddar macaroni & cheese
Creamy white cheddar mac and cheese with a sauce that really sticks to your pasta. 4 large servings or 8 moderate side servings.
- 16 oz spiral, macaroni, or small shell pasta
- salt for pasta water
- 3-4 oz pancetta diced
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 2.5 oz unsalted butter (5 Tbsp) cut into 5 tabs
- 8 oz sharp white cheddar shredded
- 8 oz whole milk (1 cup)
Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add about 3 large handfuls of salt to the water. Stir to dissolve. Add pasta and stir to make sure pasta doesn't stick.
While pasta is cooking heat pancetta and black pepper in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until the pancetta is crisp and brown.
Deglaze the Dutch oven with 2 tablespoons of butter. Slowly whisk in milk. The sauce should be steaming but not hot enough to bubble.
Whisk remaining butter into sauce 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each tablespoon of butter to fully melt before adding the next. Cover and turn the heat source off.
When pasta is just al dente, strain it, reserving about one cup of the cooking liquid.
Add pasta to the sauce and mix well using a wooden spoon. Add about ⅓ of the shredded cheese to the pasta mixing to melt and incorporate. The pasta should be hot enough to melt the cheese without needing an additional heat source.
Add a second ⅓ of the cheese and mix to melt and incorporate. Add about ½ cup reserved pasta water and the final ⅓ cheese. If the sauce is too thick and gloppy, add a bit more pasta water, just a splash at a time, until you have a thick shiny smooth sauce.