Stupid Simple Instant Pot Mac n' Cheese

I think it's safe to say that if it involves cheese, I'm into it. What is "it"? Anything, so long as "it" involves cheese, of course.

I also am a big fan of pasta, and lately you may have noticed I am into experimenting with my Instant Pot. So a marriage of cheese, pasta, and my IP is pretty much heaven-sent. And all I can say is RUN, don't walk, to get the ingredients to try your very own version, stat. Because it is STUPID simple and STUPID fast. How does prepped and cooked in under 15 minutes grab you? Yes, that includes mis en place, coming to pressure, cooking, releasing, and plating. Bonus: truly only one-pot will be dirty when you're done (well, and your plates and utensils... stop being so picky).

I have included lots of suggested variations, which in some cases would lengthen your cook time, but many are ingredients you can finish prepping while the IP is doing it's thing so it adds no additional time. Even then, it's gonna be fast and it's gonna be delicious. For me, the pasta was perfectly al dente--to the tooth! Unlike the box mac n' cheese that often comes out mushy/too soft for my taste, this had the mild chew of a perfectly done pasta. Prefer it softer? You can easily let the pasta sit for a minute before releasing pressure to add a little extra cook time, or simply sauté a minute, lid off, until you get the texture you prefer.

Some bloggers make big claims about this being a "blue box but better" experience. First of all, why would I want that? I don't think anything compares to the powdered neon yellow-orange of the mac n' cheese so many of us grew up with, and if that is what I am craving, that is what I am making. But if that's what you're going for, stick to American cheese in your version, as nothing else will really compare otherwise. For me? I wanted home made mac n' cheese with ingredients I can stand by, and fast as fast can be. Done! Now I'm kinda obsessed with all the different ways I can riff on this recipe, the sum of this mental roller coaster is outlined below:

1 lb bag of elbow macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
4 cups water
2 tsp ground mustard
salt and pepper

1 cup heavy cream, evaporated milk, or even 3/4 cup whole milk and 1/4 cup half-and-half (consistency will vary, but any will work)
16oz shredded cheese of choice
      - I used pre-shredded cheese for speed: 8oz of sharp cheddar and 8 oz of a mixed Mexican blend we had on hand with Monterey Jack, Oaxaca and Asadero
OPTIONAL: 1 cup cream cheese

  1. Dump macaroni, butter, water, mustard, salt and pepper into the IP and stir together. Close, set to high for 4 minutes. 
  2. Quick release and stir to make sure noodles are cooked to your liking. If not, you can sauté a minute to boil it a little longer, but mine was perfect.
  3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, AKA TEH NOMS. All the creamy goodness and cheeses melt together.
  4. That's it. Really. All done. Serve it and eat it. Voila. Finis.
Okay, so if you want to take this a step further, you could casserole it. Spray a 9X11 pan with Pam, load in your mac n' cheese. Sprinkle some more cheese and some breadcrumbs over the top and broil in the oven until melty and browned on top.

The variations are simply endless. I can't stop spinning on ideas!
  • Stir in spinach or broccoli, peas, artichokes, or other veggies of choice
  • Cube and oven-roast seasonal veggies (squash, peppers, etc) to add in final step.
  • Stir in bacon, sausage, ham, or shredded or chopped chicken from a previous meal or a pre-cooked store-bought bird
  • Hit with some garlic powder or garlic salt, cayenne, Italian blend, or any other seasoning of choice for a punch of flavor
  • Use chicken broth instead of water to cook the pasta for a little more flavor
  • Use mozzarella, gruyere, fontina, gouda, havarti, parmesan, and/or other mixed cheeses for different flavors. Smoked gouda mac n' cheese?! Yes! Blue cheese? Yes yes! Brie and camembert? Hell yes. And don't be mad, but American cheese/Velveeta is of course right up there as well.
  • Swap out the pasta for kicks. Bowties (farfalle)? Penne? Gemelli? Shells? Just about anything should work. One of my faves is orecchiette, so I want to try that next.
  • Seafood! Crab or lobster mac with chives and Old Bay? White cheddar and gruyere, asparagus, and smoked salmon, anyone?
  • Stir in pre-made pesto, top with pine nuts and parmesan, maybe even dollops of goat cheese
  • Use the Mexican blend cheese from the store, maybe add some Pepper Jack. Add black beans, corn, and chiles for a Mexican flavor. Top with avocado, cilantro, and green salsa.
I love this recipe for adding sweet potato and making them into cupcake-sized mac n' cheese bites. I bet pumpkin or butternut squash would work well here, too. They can even be made ahead and frozen for later enjoyment.

This one has peaches and prosciutto! Over orecchiette, even. Now I'm thinking butternut squash and blue cheese with sage...Mmmmm

This genius over here gave me another leftover option, namely mac n' cheese quesadilla. Makes me want to make the Mexican variation I was thinking about above to start with. Should I do this, I am not ashamed to say I will devour this in a spectacularly messy fashion.

And this fancy-pants appetizer made with mac n' cheese in little prosciutto cups is up my alley.

I have to stop now. All this is making me hungry. I think I'll go have some cold leftovers to start my day...

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On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

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