Smitten Kitchen's Mac and Cheese Is the Most Hands-Off Recipe I've Ever Made

Dump and bake. That's it!

<p>Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Wanda Abraham / Getty Images / Myo Quinn</p>

Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Wanda Abraham / Getty Images / Myo Quinn

My 9-year-old asks for mac and cheese every day. He never tires of it and even requests it on special occasions, like his birthday dinner. Though I try to limit his consumption to a reasonable level—maybe once a week—I'm happy to oblige because mac and cheese isn't hard to make and vital for a kid who needs dairy to grow but refuses to drink milk. (I make a version of this recipe without chicken.)

Recently Simply Recipes' general manager Emma Christensen flagged Smitten Kitchen's easy mac and cheese recipe for me on Instagram. The post came with this note from Deb Perelman, the blogger: "Uncooked pasta, milk, and cheddar bake into the easiest one-bowl, bronzed and luxurious mac-and-cheese. Go on, you know the weather demands it." I honed in on the bolded words and headed straight to the kitchen to try the recipe that promised ease.

"This is the hands-off one... I use it most often as a side dish or as part of a spread when having people over (ribs and other summer fare, or for Thanksgiving) when there are too many other things to make to make a fussier one," Deb says. I agree, and add that it's ideal for a busy mom who would rather play one more round of Uno with my kids (or do another load of laundry) while the mac and cheese makes itself in the oven.

<p>Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn</p>

Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn

How To Make Deb Perelman's Easiest Baked Mac and Cheese

Before jumping into Deb's recipe, which is as easy and hands-off as she promises, here are some things I did differently:

  1. I doubled Deb's recipe and baked it in a 9x13-inch deep casserole dish because I wanted leftovers for my kids' school lunches. The cooking time was the same.

  2. Instead of smaller, smooth elbow pasta, I used chunkier macaroni with ridges because that's what I had. This didn't affect the cooking time either.

  3. Deb calls for grated cheese. I shredded mine (yes, there's a difference) because I accidentally used the big holes on the box grater. Though more visible than it would have been with grated cheese, it melted nicely. I would not recommend pre-shredded cheese. It's coated with anti-caking agents that will cause the cheese sauce to break and feel grainy.

  4. Deb's prefers a smooth cheese sauce, so she blends the cottage cheese to get rid of the curdles. I don't mind it, so I simply mixed the cottage cheese in by hand and the curdles stayed solid even after baking. My kids didn't mind and neither did I.

<p>Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn</p>

Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn

To make the mac and cheese, combine grated cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, whole milk, dry mustard, cayenne, ground nutmeg (see my note about this below), salt, and black pepper in a large bowl.

Stir in the dry pasta and pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish. Cover it with foil and bake it in a 375°F oven for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350°F, remove the foil, give the mac and cheese a stir, sprinkle cheddar cheese on top, and bake for 30 more minutes uncovered.

At this point, the pasta will still look raw and the sauce too runny. It will thicken and cook through. And once it does, resist the urge to dive in—you may scald your mouth like I did. Let it rest until cool enough to enjoy with all your taste buds intact.

<p>Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn</p>

Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn

A Note About Nutmeg

Deb mentions in the recipe that she skips the nutmeg. I included it—a couple of scratches of fresh nutmeg over a Microplane—and I won't add it next time because the flavor was overpowering. If you're a fan of nutmeg, go forth. If you're ambivalent, I would leave it out like Deb did.

I typically think mac and cheese needs nutmeg, but there's a reason why it's overwhelming in this recipe. In most mac and cheese recipes, nutmeg goes into the roux—the butter and flour mixture that helps thicken the cheese sauce. The fat in the butter subdues the warm and peppery notes of nutmeg. Since this recipe doesn't use high-fat dairy like butter or heavy cream, the nutmeg hits harder.

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