This simple no-boil macaroni and cheese delivers creamy, cheesy, saucy comfort food in one pan.
The traditional way of making macaroni and cheese uses up a lot of time and a lot of pots and pans. I’m not crazy about either of those ideas when I need a quick and easy comfort food dinner.
My No-Boil Mac and Cheese is made in the oven, in a single casserole dish, leaving you with a giant pan of cheesy comfort food, and not a lot of clean-up afterwards.
Can I Boil Pasta In The Oven?
Yes! Small pasta shapes, like elbow, shells, and bowties can easily be “boiled” in the oven by submerging the noodles in enough liquid in a deep baking dish that’s been covered tightly with aluminum foil. The process takes about 30 to 40 minutes, but it doesn’t need to be watched like a boiling pot of water on the stove would need to be. It will never boil over in the oven, and the technique results in the same al dente pasta texture (unless you bake it longer for a softer texture) as the stovetop version.
A 9×13-inch casserole dish, or something close to this size, is important for the success of the recipe. This particular size is large enough to spread the elbow macaroni into a thin layer, and deep enough for the four cups of liquid needed to “boil” the macaroni.
As mentioned, other pasta shapes can be used, but should be similar in size and shape of the elbow macaroni. Orecchiette, small shells, mini penne, or bowtie shapes all work just as well as the traditional elbow shaped macaroni.
Preheat the oven, then add the pasta, four cups of the chicken stock, and salt to the casserole dish. Cover the dish as tightly as possible with aluminum foil by crimping it closed around the edges of the casserole dish. It’s important for the steam and heat to be trapped inside the covered dish while in the oven, which will help keep the liquid in a state of boiling once it reaches the proper temperature. If the aluminum foil isn’t cooperating and it feels loose, wrap another large sheet of it all around the top and bottom of the casserole dish, which should secure everything in place.
Set the oven timer for 40 minutes, and the noodles will be perfectly cooked.
What Kind Of Cheese Should I Use For Mac and Cheese?
While the macaroni is cooking in the oven, prep the ingredients for the next steps.
The cheese, of course, is the star of the show here, so using a Cheddar cheese that you love the flavor of is important. I’m partial to the sharp Cheddar cheese I grew up with, but any grocery store brand, like Cracker Barrel, Kerry Gold, Cabot, and Tillamook all work well in this recipe.
No matter the brand, however, Cheddar can easily separate into a puddle of oil if not heated properly. This recipe uses Parmesan, too, which can also separate, so the cheese is added at the last second. Doing this ensures it always stays melty and creamy, without breaking and becoming oily.
Grate both the Cheddar and Parmesan into a large bowl using a standard cheese grater or a food processor attachment. Store-bought shredded cheese can be used in a pinch, but doesn’t melt as smoothly as a block of cheese you’ve grated yourself. The pre-shredded contains non-caking agents to prevent it from sticking in the package. This can produce a plastic-like feel to the cheese when melted, or it can be less “gooey” when melted.
We still need a “non-caking agent” though, so we’ll be adding in our own, but a natural one that won’t affect the integrity of the cheese: cornstarch.
Sprinkle one tablespoon of the cornstarch over the cheese and toss until all of the grated pieces are coated. The cornstarch will keep the cheese from clumping when it first hits the hot pasta. Then it melts away and becomes part of the sauce.
Set this aside until the pasta comes out of the oven.
How To Make The Perfect Cheese Sauce
A traditional cheese sauce, called a mornay, is thickened with a roux base made with flour and butter. Liquid is added to the roux, it’s brought to boiling, cheese is added off the heat, and you have a cheese sauce. It’s a fairly quick process, and makes a velvety smooth, very stable sauce.
A flour-based roux doesn’t work well for this oven technique though because we can’t control how the flour is cooking in the oven, and it may or may not reach its full thickening power. The base of this cheese sauce is instead made with a cornstarch slurry, which thickens faster and stays that way.
When the macaroni is done cooking, remove the casserole dish from the oven and remove the foil. Stir the pasta, which has doubled in size at this point. Some of the pasta will have stuck together but easily separates when stirred. Set this aside and make the slurry base for the sauce.
In a large, four-cup glass measuring cup, add the remaining chicken stock, remaining cornstarch, the cream, melted butter, and garlic powder. Whisk these ingredients like crazy until the cornstarch is smooth and no visible lumps remain. Microwave the mixture for two to three minutes, stirring halfway between, until it boils.
Stir one more time after the mixture comes out of the microwave – you’ll notice it’s much thicker than when you started – and pour it over the macaroni. Working quickly, stir until all of the macaroni is well coated, and then add the grated cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese has melted and everything is creamy and saucy.
What Toppings Can I Add For No-Boil Macaroni And Cheese?
To help keep the cheese sauce from separating, it’s not recommended that this goes back into the oven to broil or to brown any toppings. However, this mac and cheese makes the perfect backdrop for things like toasted bread crumbs that you’ve made on the stovetop.
For the toasted breadcrumbs: Stir together one tablespoon of olive oil and one half cup of plain bread crumbs until the crumbs are moist. Add the moistened crumbs to a dry non-stick skillet over medium heat, and cook, tossing frequently, until toasted.
Everyone can sprinkle the exact amount of toasted breadcrumbs they’d like on their macaroni and cheese. Cooked and crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, and even crushed potato chips make a great mac n’ cheese topping as well.
For more great variations, check out our entire Macaroni and Cheese series!Print
- 5 cups chicken stock, divided
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- 1 tsp. salt
- 8 oz. freshly grated Cheddar cheese
- 8 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch, divided
- 1 and ½ cups heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- In a 9×13-inch casserole dish, add 4 cups of the chicken stock, elbow macaroni, and salt. Stir to combine; submerge pasta in liquid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Place casserole dish in oven. Bake 40 minutes.
- In a medium bowl toss together Cheddar, Parmesan, and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Set aside.
- Remove baking dish from oven, remove foil. Stir pasta to separate and redistribute.
- In a 4-cup glass measuring cup or medium microwave-safe bowl whisk together remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, remaining 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, the cream, butter, and garlic powder until smooth. Microwave on high 2 to 3 minutes, or until boiling. Stir until smooth.
- Pour cream mixture over pasta. Add cheese, stir until melted and smooth.
- Let stand 5 minutes before serving, sauce will thicken.