In all honesty, I thought this recipe was going to turn out awful.
I have been wanting to make a good homemade mac and cheese for a while now but there always seems to be a milk issue. We tried to make it at my boyfriends house a while back but since I don’t drink regular milk we couldn’t do the usual bechamel sauce so we pretty much threw a bunch of cheese on top of pasta and hoped it would melt. It was not good.
Fast forward to now, I’ve been craving mac and cheese lately. I tried one recipe that I found to make in a mug in the microwave but it was thoroughly disappointing, not that I was surprised. But that left me really wanting good mac and cheese, like baked with breadcrumbs and extra goodies and everything, only I only had enough almond milk left to get me through breakfast this week so once again I was stuck.
But I was determined to find a way to make it without milk, it just had to happen. I found one post somewhere where someone said they had replaced the milk in the bachamel sauce with broth but it was kinda ehh. I thought there had to be a way for me to make that work.
So I looked in the fridge and found half a can of black beans and half a can of corn that were leftover from some southwest potato skins I had made the day before and that’s when I got the idea for Southwest Mac and Cheese Bake.
It’s got all the elements of good mac and cheese – breadcrumbs, bachamel sauce, yummy add-ins – but with a twist. The bachamel sauce is made without milk, the add-ins are corn and beans in lieu of the more common veggies, and the cheese is mostly mozzarella (I ran out of cheddar…). I went into it with little expectations and it came out amazing! Trust me, it sounds weird but it’s sooo good!
Start by gathering your ingredients. I like to measure mine out ahead of time for recipes like this so I can just dump them in when needed, it makes everything so much easier. For this I’ve got macaroni, breadcrumbs, flour and cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) for the cheese sauce, cayenne, cumin, and some corn and black beans. You’ll also need butter and some variation of vegetable broth.
Start by putting some water on to boil to cook the pasta, and also preheat the oven to 375. While that’s heating up start on the cheese sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat until it’s nice and runny and then mix in the flour. Notice how it makes kind of a clumpy mess in the pan. Don’t worry, it’ll get better I promise.
Once the flour and butter are all mixed up and messy, pour in the vegetable broth. Get your whisk out to break up the flour clumps and mix it all together. Once it’s smooth let it heat through until it’s nearly boiling. Somewhere in this time the pasta water will come to a boil so go ahead and dump in the macaroni and set the timer according to the box.
At this point you can dump the cheese into the broth mix. I put half a cup of each kind in, leaving out half a cup of the mozzarella to add in later. This is going to be an even worse clumpy mess than the flour was but just be patient. Get that whisk out again and give it a good stir every now and then to keep the cheese from melting in the bottom. If you find it’s really not melting you can turn the heat up a bit. Just keep stirring and eventually you’ll get a nice creamy cheese sauce without any big stringy guys. It probably won’t get perfectly smooth but that’s okay, it’ll melt down in the oven anyways!
Once you’re cheese sauce is melted and the pasta is done cooking, you can mix everything in together. Drain and rinse the pasta and put it back in the pot. Pour in the cheese sauce along with the corn, beans and spices and give it a good stir.
Pro tip – you’ll probably want to stick the pot from the cheese sauce in the sink and fill it with soapy water like the second the sauce is poured out. Trust me, doing this now will save you a LOT of scrubbing later on, that cheese sauce can stick like crazy. And same goes for the big pot once everything’s in the oven.
Spray a 3×9 pan and dump half of the pasta in. Top this with half of the remaining cheese. I also like to put a very thin layer of breadcrumbs here but they don’t get as crispy inside so if you like you can just put them all on top. Add in the rest of the pasta and cheese and top it off with the remaining breadcrumbs. It seems like a lot of breadcrumbs but trust me, it’s amazing.
Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs start to brown up and you can see the cheese bubbling underneath, then pull it out and serve as soon as it cools enough to eat. Nothing beats steamy hot homemade mac and cheese. Enjoy!