Holiday meals in my family are always potlucks. I have a big family, so there are always at least seven versions of macaroni and cheese. When I was a kid, my mom would stand at the potluck table and say, “You can’t eat just one thing. Try a little of everything.” So I took a small spoonful of each variety of macaroni and cheese. My love of mac and cheese was forged at a very young age. I came to like the crunchy topping of the baked version but the creamy sauce of the stovetop version. This recipe combines the two. When I first started making mac and cheese, I made a béchamel with flour and milk, then added cheese. But it never tasted right. The cheese sauce was too grainy. I knew you couldn’t just melt the cheese straight because it would separate. The flour stabilizes it and keeps it from separating. Then one day, I was rolling down the aisle of a grocery store and saw Velveeta. I did a double take. “Shouldn’t that be refrigerated in the cheese section?” I wondered. I picked up the package and read the ingredient list. It had a stabilizer in it. Perfect! I know Velveeta is not a staple ingredient for professional chefs, but I thought, “I don’t give a damn. I’m going to make the same sauce I was making before and use Velveeta instead of flour.” It worked like a charm. Velveeta makes the creamiest, cheesiest mac and cheese you’ve ever tasted. I add sautéed andouille sausage and top the whole thing with crumbled potato chips, because that’s just badass.
Feeds about 8 hungry folks
Butter – about 1 tablespoon
Salt – about 2 tablespoons
Dried cavatappi – 1 pound
Andouille sausage – 8 ounces diced, about 1 cup
Heavy cream – 4 cups
Velveeta – 1 pound, cut into 1-inch cubes
Smoked cheddar cheese – 2 cups grated, about 8 ounces
Parrano cheese – 1 cup grated, about 4 ounces
Utz potato chips – 4 ounces unsalted, crumbled
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart baking dish and set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and cook just until tender yet still quite chewy in the center (a little under the al dente stage). Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
3. While the pasta cooks, line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Squeeze the sausage from the casing, then quarter it lengthwise and cut it crosswise into ¼-inch pieces. Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage pieces, and cook until browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the paper towels to drain.
4. In a Dutch oven, heat the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cut the heat down to low, add the Velveeta, and stir until it melts. Add the sausage, cheddar, and Parrano, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Pull the pot from the heat and fold in the cooked pasta. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and top with the crumbled potato chips.
5. Bake until bubbly and browned around the edges, about 20 minutes. Pull the dish from the oven and let the sauce set up for at least 5 minutes before serving.
The Fine Print: If you can’t get Parrano cheese, replace it with 2 ounces aged Gouda and 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano.