As the cooler weather rolls in, we're craving comfort food. A hearty dish of mac and cheese – whether an old family staple or a new addition to your table – is always a hit. But this winter, why not give this classic a special twist?
Start with a basic recipe or your favourite store-bought mac and cheese. Then, mix it up with these clever combinations – and you may never go back!
Top tip: Starting with good-quality cheese will elevate your mac and cheese. And of course you can use any leftovers for the perfect cheese platter.
Spicy bacon and avocado
The salty snap of bacon and creaminess of avocado take weeknight mac and cheese to a new level. Just fold cooked and crumbled bacon or prosciutto through prepared mac and cheese, then top with diced ripe avocado and a drizzle of spicy chilli sauce.
The addition of beef increases the protein factor, and this combination is just fun. Sauté lean beef mince, a generous spoonful of tomato paste and some chopped onion until browned. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir through prepared mac and cheese. Top with panko breadcrumbs and bake at 180ºC until crisp. For an extra treat, serve with pickle slices and a dollop of tomato sauce.
There are two angles you can take with this one: visible veggies or invisible ones – it all depends on your audience! For a hidden burst of healthy goodness, add finely grated cauliflower and pumpkin to your mac and cheese sauce as it cooks. For a more visual and colourful feast, include chopped broccoli or zucchini and even some red capsicum.
Mac muffin cups
Perfect on the go or simply for keeping little hands busy at home, individual servings make for an easy treat. For each 2 cups of prepared mac and cheese, stir through 1 beaten egg, ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup milk. Spoon into lined muffin cups and sprinkle with a mixture of breadcrumbs and parmesan. Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.
Why use just one cheese when five will do the job even better? Replace the cheese in your sauce with a combination of gruyere and fontina, then stir through a generous helping of cream cheese. Top with crumbled blue cheese and parmesan before cooking under the grill until golden.
Spanish paella inspired – olé!
Add a pinch of saffron threads to your cheese sauce while it cooks. Top prepared mac and cheese with chopped roasted red capsicum, cooked prawns, blanched frozen peas and crisp chorizo. Before serving, dust with a pinch of sweet or smoked paprika and chopped parsley.
Top tip: Don't be afraid to play with pasta shapes. Tubes, elbows and spirals are perfect for holding sauce; bow ties and orecchiette can add a festive touch.
For a slightly more refined twist on mac and cheese, start by sautéing thinly sliced mushrooms in olive oil with crushed garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir mushroom mixture through prepared mac and cheese, then sprinkle with grated gruyere. Cook under the grill until bubbly. For a decadent adult twist, top with shaved truffle or a drizzle of truffle oil.
Top tip: To make cleaning easier – particularly to remove tough baked-on cheese – try using new Finish Quantum Power & Pure. With a gel chamber that delivers intense cleaning action, it has the same great results as Finish Quantum, but with less chemicals.