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Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to make mac and cheese healthy? I’d love that for myself but think about what a huge win that would be for kids too. Don’t get me wrong, you can always try to sneak in some healthy veggie mix-ins or protein but inherently, the pasta and the cheese sauce will always be what they are. That doesn’t mean we can’t try though right? 

This dutch oven mac and cheese is a simple classic recipe. It begins with a butter and flour roux but then the sauce consists of 85% chicken broth and only 15% milk. I even use 1% milk, since that’s what we drink, and the sauce is perfectly rich and creamy still. Then add a few seasonings (garlic and onion) and top it all off with some bread crumbs and parmesan. Voila! A fresher, lighter take on mac and cheese that the kids, and grown-ups, will still love. 

About the Ingredients

Pasta -I like little noodles for mac and cheese such as small shells or orecchiette. The pasta I used here is made by Love Italia. I don’t see it in the market near me but I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Homegoods has the BEST specialty pasta. That’s where I found these beauties. 

The roux – equal parts melted butter and all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons each. Then one can of chicken broth topped off with a little milk for a total of 2 cups of liquid.

Shredded cheddar cheese  

Seasonings – garlic powder, dehydrated onion, salt and pepper.

Topping – seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese and cooking spray.

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

How to Make Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

Being by cooking the pasta according to the package directions and then draining it in a colander.  

While the pasta boils use a separate dutch oven to make the roux. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour until it just starts to brown. Be careful here to not let it burn. Once it begins to darken, slowly pour in the chicken broth and milk while still whisking. Simmer your sauce while whisking until it begins to thicken, 3-5 minutes. 

Now you can add the seasonings and then remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the shredded cheese until completely melted and then fold in the pasta. 

5 color macaroni being added to the cheese sauce to make cast iron Mac and cheese.

Top your mac and cheese with a sprinkle of seasoned breadcrumbs, then a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and spray the top with cooking spray. If you’re using a dutch oven, transfer it to the oven under the broiler to toast the topping (this should only take about 90 seconds so don’t walk away!) 

*If you use a pot, transfer your mac and cheese to an oven-safe casserole before topping it off with breadcrumbs and parmesan. Then top it, spray it and broil it. 

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

Recipe Substitutions & Variations

In this recipe I used cheddar cheese for a classic Mac and Cheese flavor. You can easily swap that out for your favorite cheese or cheese combination though. Try one of these substitutions:

  • Pepperjack and Colby cheese
  • Fontina
  • White cheddar and Gorgonzola

Cast Iron Mac and Cheese is a hearty enough dish to almost be a meal of its own – if only it weren’t missing protein and veggies. Try adding some mix-ins to make it a one pot dinner that will surely be kid approved. Chopped chicken or turkey breast and some steamed broccoli would pair great with this dish. Just fold in the mix-ins when you add the pasta and then finish off the recipe.

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

FAQ’s and Recipe Tips

Can I make Cast Iron Mac and Cheese in advance?

Yes. Let the Mac and cheese cool on the  stovetop until it comes to room temperature then move it to the refrigerator. When you’re ready to warm it, add the toppings and bake it covered for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, uncover the dish and bake it for another 15 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.

What if I don’t have a Dutch Oven?

It won’t be “cast iron” Mac and Cheese anymore but it will still be delicious. If you use a regular pot, transfer your mac and cheese to an oven-safe casserole before topping it off with breadcrumbs and parmesan. Then top it, spray it and broil it.

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

The Recipe for Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

The recipe is attached below for easy downloading and printing.  If you test it out be sure to leave a note in the comments below. I’d love to hear if you added any mix-ins and what you thought. Enjoy!

Cast iron Mac and cheese with multi-color pasta and a crunchy topping.

Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

Creamy and classic with a little bit of crunch on top.
Cook Time 5 minutes
Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Equipment

  • 1 Dutch Oven (or oven safe dish)

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups pasta preferably small shells or similar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 14 oz chicken broth
  • 2 oz milk
  • cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dehydrated onion
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • cooking spray

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven on broil.
  • Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain it.
    3 cups pasta
  • In a dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour and continue to whisk until it begins to brown. This should take about a minute and a half.
    2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp flour
  • Slowly pour in the chicken broth and milk while still whisking. Simmer your sauce while whisking until it begins to thicken, 3-5 minutes. 
    14 oz chicken broth, 2 oz milk
  • Add the garlic powder, onion, salt and pepper.
    ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp dehydrated onion, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper
  • Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the shredded cheese until completely melted and then fold in the pasta.
    1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on top and spray with cooking spray. Transfer it to the oven under the broiler to toast the topping (this should only take about 90 seconds so don’t walk away!) 
    ½ cup bread crumbs, 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese, cooking spray

Notes

If you use a regular pot rather than a dutch oven, transfer the mac and cheese to an oven-safe casserole before topping it off with breadcrumbs and parmesan. Then top it, spray it and broil it. 
Keyword pasta

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