Ideas in Food's Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Image: Clarkson Potter

Yet another favorite of ours, this appears on our table in various guises every few weeks. The evaporated milk may seem like an odd choice but it serves a purpose, helping to stabilize the sauce. Evaporated milk is manufactured by exposing fresh milk to high heat in order to evaporate up to 60 percent of its water content. The resulting milk is concentrated in both flavor and nutrients. It usually has added stabilizers in the form of disodium phosphate and carrageenan. Although it is marketed as a substitute for fresh milk, it has a noticeably caramelized flavor that works nicely in sauces and soups. It produces an incredibly creamy sauce without the use of heavy cream or eggs. I' d like to say that we pair this mac and cheese with a salad or a vegetable, but truthfully, we tend to just savor the pasta with a glass of rich red wine or deep red berry juice depending on our age at the table.

Recipe and headnote courtesy H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, from Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work.

Recipe Details

Ideas in Food's Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Prep 5 mins
Cook 25 mins
Soaking Time 60 mins
Total 90 mins
Serves 4 servings


  • 1 pound (453 grams) dried elbow macaroni
  • 8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 (12-ounce, 340 grams) can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon (4.5 grams) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.5 grams) cayenne pepper
  • 10 ounces (285 grams) Cheddar cheese (we like extra sharp), grated
  • 10 ounces (285 grams) Pepper Jack cheese, grated
  • 2/3 cup (60 grams) coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • ½ cup (50 grams) grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted


  1. Put the macaroni in a large bowl and cover with the water. Let the pasta soak for an hour, stirring occasionally; then drain it and use as follows. It will finish cooking in the sauce.

  2. Turn the broiler on low. Butter a 3-quart baking dish.

  3. Put the butter, evaporated milk, salt, and cayenne in a 3-quart pot over medium heat. When the butter is melted and the milk is just steaming, slowly stir in the Cheddar and Jack cheeses, handful by handful, until they are both incorporated and evenly melted. When the sauce is made, stir in the soaked macaroni and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

    The pasta will absorb some sauce and the mixture will thicken slightly.

  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it out evenly. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano cheese; sprinkle them over the pasta. Drizzle with the melted butter. Put the pan on the middle oven rack, centered under the broiler, and broil the pasta for 5 minutes. When the topping is golden brown, remove the pasta from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.