I have a friend I've known since I was six years old, who before a few weeks ago, had only eaten one of my home-cooked meals. Nonetheless, that single meal, macaroni and cheese, was enough to get her testimony that she thinks I'm a great cook. Unfortunately, it's not often anymore that we are both in the same area, and when that overlapped earlier this month, we decided to have another macaroni and cheese date.
The first time I had cooked for her, several years ago, I used a mac n cheese recipe from Campbell's Creative Cooking with Soup, which used cheddar cheese soup as the base for the sauce. Since then I've made many variations of macaroni and cheese totally from scratch, but I wanted to do something that met a bit in the middle for my friend, as to not totally stray from the original dish, but to step up the taste and texture a little. Thus, I'll call this my shortcut, weekday, they'll-never-know-if-you-don't-tell-them macaroni and easy cheesy: quick to pull together with a few shortcuts, but satisfying, creamy, and of course cheesy.
1/2 lb elbow macaroni or other shaped pasta
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 onion, diced fine
16oz Alfredo sauce
1/2 c milk
2c shredded sharp cheddar (about 1/2 lb)
1 tbsp butter, divided
salt, only if needed to taste
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup bread crumbs, plain or seasoned
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook 6 oz elbow macaroni just past al dente, according to instructions on box. Drain and set aside.
Rub 1/2 Tbsp of softened butter on the bottom and sides of 1 1/2 quart casserole. Set aside
Sweat the onion in olive oil over low heat until translucent. Add Alfredo sauce, 1c of cheese, and milk. Heat until cheese is just melted and combined. Stir in pepper and paprika. Toss sauce with pasta and 1/2 cup of cheese.* Transfer into buttered casserole, and bake 20 minutes or until hot.
*If you prefer stovetop macaroni or don't have time to bake it, don't add any milk, and finish here, serving hot.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter over low heat, and stir in 1/4 cup bread crumbs, tossing until golden and toasted. Remove from heat until needed (for next step).
Stir macaroni, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese, and toasted bread crumbs. Bake 5 more minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let sit 5 minutes before serving (it'll be hard, but it will stave off visits to the emergency room for tongue burns).
Serves 4-6 (but I won't judge ya if it's 1-2)
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