RECIPE: Embrace your inner kid with stovetop mac and cheese

Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas. Contributed by Henri Hollis.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, back-to-school season is fully underway — no matter how or where it’s happening. Whether or not you’ve got school-aged children at home, it’s a time for simple, comforting, kid-friendly fare. This time of year always has me wanting quick and easy stovetop mac and cheese, inspired by the boxed varieties I ate growing up.

Stovetop mac and cheese recipes abound online; their key feature is to combine some kind of reduced dairy mixture (usually cream or evaporated milk) and a high-moisture, easy-to-melt mild cheddar to form a thick cheese sauce that doesn’t break. To make the dish a somewhat balanced meal, I throw in frozen peas and cubed ham at the end of cooking.

The recipe below takes the heavy cream approach; while the pasta cooks, simmer the cream until it has reduced by about half and has turned thick and velvety. Once the pasta is done and the cream reduced, pull it all together in the pasta pot: In goes the cream over low heat, followed by the cheese in large handfuls. Let it melt gradually, then whisk in my homage to the blue box — a knob of butter — followed by the pasta, peas and ham. The sauce will be quite thick, so you’ll need to give the whole thing several serious stirs to make sure each piece of pasta is evenly coated with cheese. Serve immediately — stovetop mac is best served as hot as possible.

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Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas. Contributed by Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 ounces dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1 (8-ounce) block mild cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces ham steak
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional), cut into small cubes
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook until just shy of al dente, about 5 minutes, then add the peas. Cook until the pasta has just turned al dente, about 1 more minute. Drain well and reserve the empty pot.
  • While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, grate the cheese and place in a medium bowl. Cut the ham into bite-sized cubes and place in a second bowl.
  • Pour the cream into a small saucepan or skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil, stirring frequently, until the cream has reduced to about 1/3 cup and is very thick, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • When the pasta has been drained, pour the reduced cream into the now empty pasta pot. Place over low heat, then add the cheese, one handful at a time, and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat, then stir in the butter, if using, followed by the cooked pasta, peas and cubed ham. Stir aggressively to combine, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves: 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 875 calories (percent of calories from fat, 47), 41 grams protein, 77 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 45 grams total fat (25 grams saturated), 154 milligrams cholesterol, 1,780 milligrams sodium.

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