Quick Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Easy stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe with grated cheddar cheese, milk, butter, macaroni pasta, and cubed ham.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 3-4 adults or 4-6 kids

A few months ago I prepared macaroni and cheese this way for some young friends in a sly attempt to broaden their Mac-Cheese horizons away from Kraft.

At first the girls were tentative, but as there was no other lunch apparently forthcoming, they each tried a nibble on one piece of cheese-covered elbow macaroni.

Aldie, who can take 30 minutes to eat a slice of apple, wolfed hers down in 2 minutes flat and asked for seconds! The other girls devoured theirs as well.

How to make stovetop mac and cheese

I’m sure some of us who love macaroni and cheese have experimented with just dumping grated cheese and milk into some freshly made macaroni, right?

If your experience is like mine, when you do that, it doesn’t really result in the best outcome. The cheese is either stringy, clumpy, or both.

To prevent that from happening here are a few tips:

  • Toss the grated cheddar cheese with a little cornstarch. This will help prevent the cheese from getting too stringy.
  • Make a roux base for your cheese sauce with butter and flour. Heat equal portions of butter and flour to make a roux, then slowly add milk, whisking as you go to prevent clumps. Stir the grated cheese into the sauce. This will ensure that your sauce is smooth and creamy, and will have good coverage over the macaroni.
  • Add a little lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice will help keep the cheese from getting too stringy.

Cheddar cheese can be notoriously stringy when melted. To keep the cheese from getting too stringy, it helps to coat it lightly with some flour or cornstarch. Adding some water to the sauce helps, as well as some lemon juice. Stirring encourages stringiness so keep the stirring to a minimum.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups, packed)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 cup milk, heated until steamy, but not simmering
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup ham, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes
  • Freshly grated black pepper

Method

1 In a medium sized bowl, mix cornstarch with the grated cheese, so that the cheese is coated, set aside. The cornstarch will help the cheese from getting too stringy.

2 Cook the macaroni pasta in boiling water: Heat 2 quarts of water with a tablespoon of salt to a rolling boil in thick-bottomed saucepan. Add 2 cups of elbow macaroni and follow the cooking time instructions on the package, minus about 2 minutes. (If your macaroni doesn’t come with instructions, start checking at 7 minutes).

Cook until al dente—cooked through, but still slightly firm. Drain the pasta.

3 While the macaroni is cooking, prepare the sauce: Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Whisk in 2 Tbsp flour. Let cook for about a minute.

Slowly dribble in 1 1/4 cups milk, while whisking (to avoid clumping) until the sauce is smooth.

Slowly add the grated cheese, whisking until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice.

If the macaroni isn’t ready yet, lower the heat to a level just high enough to keep the sauce warm.

4 Add the cooked macaroni and ham to the cheese sauce. Stir to combine. Do not over-mix. Sprinkle with some freshly grated black pepper.

Serve immediately.