This easy one pot mac and cheese is loaded with spicy ‘nduja paste to make a supercharged, gooey, saucy mac and cheese with no need to make a roux, no butter and no flour. Just add everything into a pot and let the magical pasta starch do all the heavy lifting.
This technique for mac and cheese is truly a game-changer. Usually, you need to make a cheesy bechamel, cook the pasta separately, and then add everything together. This way, all you have to do is add everything into one pot and stir. 20 minutes max, and you’re done.
The secret? Starch. As the pasta cooks, the starch releases into the cooking liquid, naturally thickening the sauce without having to add anything else. Starch is why you should always add a little pasta cooking water to your finished pasta dishes to thicken the sauce up and make it nice and glossy. And we’re using it to its full potential here. It also means fewer dishes which is always a win in my mind!
‘Nduja paste is the magic ingredient that takes this mac and cheese to another level. This funky, umami-packed spreadable salami from Calabria just delivers so much flavour. It’s spicy, meaty and truly delicious.
The only speciality ingredient here is ‘nduja paste, but it’s becoming easier to find. I’ll give you a couple of easy alternatives below.
- Pasta. I’m using cavatelli, but you can use any small shape like fusilli or macaroni.
- Milk. You’ll ideally want to use whole milk for the ultra-creamy factor, but semi-skimmed will also work.
- Cheese. I’m using a mix of strong cheddar, gruyere and parmesan. You can mix this up – I’d recommend good strong-flavoured cheeses just so you can really taste them. Adding in a little blue cheese is also lovely.
- ‘Nduja paste. This is the real magical ingredient. ‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria in Italy and it’s a flavour powerhouse. It’s becoming much more readily available – larger supermarkets are starting to stock it, or you can pick it up from Italian delis, or even Amazon. It will either come in a jar on the shelf, or as a slab in the fridge section. If you can’t find it, you could use harissa paste, sriracha or finely chopped chorizo.
- Parsley and lemon. We’re going to make a quick, herby zesty gremolata (parsley, lemon zest and garlic) to top the mac and cheese with. This is a wonderful way to cut through the richness of the pasta, so I really recommend making it. You’ll just need flat-leaf parsley, the zest of 1 lemon and 1 crushed garlic clove. You could swap out the parsley for coriander or basil if you like.
How to make it
Add a little olive oil and the ‘nduja paste into a large, high-sided pan over medium heat and cook for a couple of minutes until the ‘nduja melts into the oil. At this point, add the pasta, crushed garlic, milk and water. Give everything a good stir, then bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, then simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened a bit (it will still be a bit saucy – the cheese will help thicken it more) and the pasta is al dente.
PRO TIP: You can also add the ‘nduja paste at the end when you melt in the cheese – I’ve tested both ways and the result is the same.
While the mac and cheese is simmering, make the gremolata. That’s as simple as mixing the chopped flat-leaf parsley with the zest of a lemon and crushed garlic clove.
Once the pasta is al dente (cooked, but still with a little bite to it), add the cheese and mix to combine it into the sauce. It’ll melt in and smell gorgeous. Remove from the heat, top with the gremolata and serve right away, while hot, gooey and ultra cheesy.
PRO TIP: If you’re using an ovenproof skillet, you can pop the mac and cheese under the grill (broiler) for 5 minutes before serving if you like. If you do this, keep about 1/4 cup of cheese aside to scatter on top before you put the pan under the grill. Top with the gremolata once it’s out of the oven.
Got a question?
You can – but be aware that the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid as it sits. It keeps well for 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container. When you come to reheat it, add a little water (a couple of tablespoons) just to help the sauce loosen up again. You can either reheat on the stovetop for a couple of minutes over medium heat or in the microwave at 1-minute intervals. Store the gremolata separately, then top once the mac and cheese is reheated.
You can replace the ‘nduja with harissa paste for a vegetarian version. Harissa has a similar spicy profile (make sure to taste your harissa first as they vary widely in spice levels). You may need to reduce the quantity if you use harissa – start with 2 tablespoons). You could also use sriracha, or use finely chopped chorizo or another spicy sausage.
‘Nduja is a spicy ingredient, so this pasta is spicy. It’s not SUPER spicy, but it definitely has some heat. If you’re worried, cut 1 tablespoon of ‘nduja out of the recipe.
You want something that’s strong-flavoured and that melts well into your sauce. This recipe uses a mix of cheddar, gruyere and parmesan, but you can play around based on what you have and what you like. Havarti, gouda, fontina, Monterey jack, camembert or brie without their rinds or creamy blue cheese all work really well too.
I like to use whole milk for maximum creaminess, but low-fat milk works really well too!
If you like this recipe, here are some more pasta ideas you might enjoy
If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave me a comment below.Print