I'm always incredibly impressed by the Serious Eats staffers (and readers) who participate in Vegan Month each year, but personally, I just don't know if I could do it. It's not that I'd pine away over the meat, or that I couldn't handle skipping butter on my bread or dairy milk in my coffee. No, what I'd really miss is cheese, and, in particular, dishes that prominently feature cheese in thick melted layers. That category encompasses a number of my favorites: loaded nachos, a late-night slice of New York pizza, a warm bowl of gooey mac and cheese...well, I could easily go on. But all I'll add is that if you, too, couldn't bear the thought of giving up the cheese-heavy treats above—especially when autumn chills start to sweep through the air and staying inside near a hot stove or oven sounds better and better—you'll need this list of recipes handy. We've rounded up some of our top cheesy recipes into six categories: pizza, pasta, Parmesans, nachos and dips, sandwiches and quesadillas, and poppers. And you don't have to wait until it gets cold to start testing these out.
Foolproof Pan Pizza
Neapolitan is still the trendy choice for pizza—though Detroit-style is giving it a run for its money these days. But there are those times when you prefer a nostalgic comfort to the latest craze, and if you truly want to relive the taste of childhood classroom parties, it doesn't get any better than soft, puffy, and gooey pan pizza. Luckily, it's also one of the easiest kinds of pizza to make—all you'll do is flatten a batch of no-knead dough into the pan; layer it with pizza sauce, dry (i.e., aged) mozzarella cheese, and any other toppings you desire; and push it into a blistering-hot oven.
New York-Style Pizza
Thin and foldable yet sturdy, heavy on lightly crisp crust, New York–style pizza is ideal for home cooks because it doesn't require the kind of intense heat necessary for Neapolitan—you'll do just fine with a typical consumer oven, albeit a very hot one. For an authentic New York pie, top it with a well-seasoned, extra-tomatoey sauce and freshly grated dry mozzarella.
Pizza With Hot Soppressata, Mozzarella, Chilies, and Honey
Ready to try your hand at making serious Neapolitan pizza at home? This style is a bit trickier, since it requires a blazing heat not supplied by most home ovens. If you, like most of us, don't have $7,000 to spend on a gourmet pizza oven, your best bet is using a charcoal grill with a KettlePizza and Baking Steel insert. Here, we top our pie with fresh mozzarella, plus a combination of spicy and sweet flavors in the form of soppressata, sliced chilies, and a drizzle of honey.
The Best Pumpkin Pizza
Even though we're right in the midst of squash season, it feels like you're more likely to see pumpkin spice on menus these days than actual pumpkin. That's a shame, because the mildly sweet flavor of the gourd itself can be effectively put to use in many dishes, including this fall-themed pizza. We highlight the pumpkin's flavor by incorporating it both mashed and sautéed, and complement those fall flavors with apple and sage. And we add plenty of cheese to make it comforting and rich—Gruyère, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti With Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano)
Cacio e pepe, the Roman dish of pasta sauced with cheese and black pepper, may be simple and straightforward, but there are pitfalls: The sauce can easily break, or the cheese can refuse to melt evenly. Our solution is to use pecorino (or Parmesan, if you'd prefer) that's finely grated to ensure smooth incorporation. Adding it to a not-too-hot pan protects against clumping, and a few tablespoons of pasta water help the sauce emulsify. Be sure to check out Kenji's cacio e pepe video for a step-by-step visual guide.
Spaghetti With Carbonara Sauce
The trouble with carbonara, a rich sauce of eggs, cheese, and pork, lies primarily in the risk of accidentally scrambling the eggs. The solution lies in regulating the heat well: If you're making the sauce in a skillet, take it on and off the burner as needed to keep it from overheating. Alternatively, finish the dish in a double boiler, which allows the sauce to cook gently until it's creamy and silky.
Ultra-Gooey Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Making macaroni and cheese from scratch can sound like too much effort, especially considering that the Kraft stuff is pretty delicious. But the truth is, homemade mac and cheese doesn't take all that much longer, and it tastes a heck of a lot better. For ours, we prefer a mix of cheddar and American cheese—cheddar has better flavor, but nothing will give you that creamy and gooey texture like pasteurized process cheese.
Homemade Ricotta Ravioli
If you have a pasta machine, you could be sitting down to your very own homemade ravioli—pillowy but firm, stuffed with light and creamy ricotta—in about an hour. And if you don't, you can still roll out the dough of flour, water, and egg by hand, though it will require some extra labor. We keep these ravioli simple, but perk them up with a bit of Parmesan, lemon, and nutmeg.
Easy Skillet Baked Ziti With Sausage and Ricotta
When you've got a lot of hungry mouths to feed, baked ziti is the ideal solution—but, frankly, you don't even need to do any baking to make a great version. This quick skillet variation uses a sauce of Italian sausage, tomatoes, aromatics, and cream, plus ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, for maximum flavor and those crucial pockets of melty cheese. Soak the pasta in hot water while you prepare the sauce to cut down on the cooking time significantly.
Italian-Style Eggplant Parmesan (Melanzane alla Parmigiana)
Traditional Italian eggplant Parmesan is a far cry from the Italian-American version you're likely to find at the local pizzeria. Here, the eggplant is shallow-fried with no breading, then layered with shredded mozzarella, a simple tomato sauce, and oregano, for a dish that's lighter and fresher-tasting than its American counterpart. Despite the name, the dish isn't generally made with Parmigiano-Reggiano, though sprinkling on a bit wouldn't hurt.
All-American Eggplant Parmesan
The version of eggplant parm you're probably most familiar with is quite a bit different from the Italian original, with sliced medallions of eggplant coated in bread crumbs and fried until crisp and golden. The tomato sauce here is made more robust and complex with the addition of onion, garlic, herbs, and red pepper flakes, and layers of fresh mozzarella provide all the stretchy, gooey mouthfuls of cheese you can handle.
The Best Chicken Parmesan
For superior chicken parm, borrow some cues from superior Southern fried chicken: Add buttermilk to a coating of homemade bread crumbs, and work in grated Parmesan for additional flavor. A rich, slow-cooked red sauce is your most flavorful option, but this recipe will be delicious with a fast and easy red sauce, or even a good-quality store-bought variety.
Party-Sized Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches
With the best chicken Parmesan in hand, it's only natural to start looking for the best chicken parm sandwich. Using a full recipe's worth of our chicken parm, this one not only tastes terrific but is big enough to feed a crowd, too. Though hoagie rolls are a traditional choice, we find them too soft to stand up to our juicy, crisp-coated chicken, so we replace them with a whole loaf of crusty toasted ciabatta.
Nachos and Dips
Real Texas Nachos
Classic Texas nachos are an exercise in restraint; each chip is individually topped with nothing more than a pinch of Longhorn cheese and a single pickled jalapeño slice. It's not the messy, drippy, over-the-top experience you get from a plate of loaded nachos, but it does wonders for making each bite equal in flavor and texture. Willing to break with tradition? Refried beans and sour cream aren't standard ingredients in Texas nachos, but we think they make fine additions here.
The Ultimate Fully Loaded Nachos
I respect the simplicity of Texas nachos, but in all honesty, if I'm going to eat nachos, I want them to be excessive. These nachos are exactly that, piled with too many toppings to list, including homemade cheese sauce, refried beans, black beans, Cotija, pico de gallo, guacamole, and radish slices (try them, you'll like them!). Still, there's order in the chaos: Baking the nachos in a casserole or on an aluminum sheet allows you to spread out the chips, which translates to more even coverage; dolloping the sour cream and guac in the center of the dish allows access to both, without smothering the chips and leaving them soggy.
As a Yankee, I wasn't exposed to pimento cheese until pretty late in life, and it's not something that necessarily inspires confidence when you first hear the ingredient list—it's essentially grated cheddar cheese and mayo, flecked with diced red peppers. But just try a bite of this stuff and you'll suddenly want it on everything: crackers, sandwiches, burgers, crudités. Our recipe incorporates a little hot sauce and cayenne pepper to give the dip a slight kick after the sharpness of the cheddar.
Foolproof Cheese Fondue
True, we usually try to improve on the standard recipe for a beloved dish. In this case, though, we found that you pretty much can't beat the old-school combination of cheese and white wine. But we do add cornstarch to the cheese to help it melt, and a squeeze of lemon juice to help stabilize the emulsion and add brightness. Fondue made entirely with Gruyère is tasty but expensive, so we cut it with an equal amount of Emmentaler.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Cordon Bleu Dip
Just like the traditional chicken dish, this dip is made with chicken, Swiss cheese, and ham, with a few ounces of wine and chicken stock for more flavor. Incorporating cream cheese gives it a smoother, more dippable consistency. We'd generally never slow-cook lean chicken breast, but considering the richness of all the cheese, breast is a better choice than thigh meat here.
Sandwiches and Quesadillas
Rich and Creamy Croques Madames
To do a cheesy croque monsieur the right way (meaning the slightly-ridiculously-rich way), we toast thin-sliced bread on both sides, then layer on good-quality ham, Mornay sauce, and shredded Gruyère, Comté, or Swiss cheese. After it's topped with extra Mornay, the sandwich is baked until it's good and gooey. To turn a monsieur into a madame, just top each sandwich with a softly fried egg.
Chorizo Quesadillas With Radish and Fennel Salsa
Attempt to stuff a quesadilla with too many ingredients and it starts to become unmanageable, both to cook and to eat. We've found that limiting ourselves to just two or three fillings tends to work best. For these meaty, spicy quesadillas, we use a mixture of cheddar, pepper Jack, and cured Spanish chorizo, plus sliced scallions. A refreshing salsa on the side, made with crunchy, peppery radishes and anise-scented fennel, perfectly contrasts the quesadillas' cheesy richness.
Pizzadilla (Quesadilla Pizza)
If you've ever wanted to pile even more cheese onto our extra-crisp bar-style tortilla pizza, you're in luck. The pizzadilla improves on what is arguably already one of our best late-night tipsy snacks by replacing the single tortilla crust with a quesadilla stuffed with pizza sauce and mozzarella. The hardest part of the recipe is flipping the quesadilla—do it quickly to minimize the potential for cheese loss.
Crispy Deep-Fried Jalapeño Poppers
The typical method of making these tasty bar treats involves stuffing halved peppers with cheese, which inevitably produces poppers that are too big to, well, pop. A better approach is to cut the peppers into rings before filling, breading, and deep-frying. A filling of seasoned cream cheese won't blow out during frying, as other cheeses often do.
Crispy and Gooey Baked Jalapeño Poppers
Besides allowing you to avoid the mess of deep-frying, baked jalapeño poppers also give you more freedom with the cheese, since there's less risk of a blowout. The cheese sauce we use here, made with Monterey Jack, cheddar, and evaporated milk, works wonderfully. Brush on a little oil or bacon fat before baking to give the poppers that fried flavor.
Pulled Pork Jalapeño Poppers With Raspberry Sauce
The classic boat shape is about all that's classic about these unconventional poppers, stuffed with sharp cheddar, cream cheese, and pulled pork coated in barbecue sauce. And, just in case that's not, you know, meaty enough, we wrap the poppers with bacon, too. A smoky, tangy raspberry and chipotle sauce adds a final unexpected but delicious touch.