Note-worthy Noodles: Cook pasta noodles just short of al dente for a baked macaroni and cheese recipe. The noodles will continue to cook in the oven. Viviane from Food & Style blog shared her tip for perfectly cooked noodles on last year’s blog:
“Cook the pasta 2 minutes fewer than the package instructions. The pasta should still have a little white ring in the center, indicating that it’s not cooked all the way through.”
Great Grating: Semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses, like Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Mozzarella, should be very cold for easy grating. Hard cheeses, like Parmesan, should be at room temperature and shred best with the smaller holes on a cheese grater.
Cheese, Cheese and More Cheese: Use a lot of cheese. No really, a lot. Amy, from the blog Cooking with Amy, recommends using at least as much cheese as macaroni. More is even better. Read more of Amy’s tips at Epicurious.
Keep Whisking: If you are making a béchamel sauce (butter + flour + milk) for the macaroni, add the milk very slowly, whisking constantly, for the perfect consistency. Use caution when adding cheese to the sauce–add over low heat or off-heat. Too high a heat can cause separation and toughness.
Secret Sauce: If you have trouble mastering a smooth and creamy cheese sauce using the béchamel method and feel comfortable playing around with your recipe, consider simplifying things with evaporated milk. Pour a can of this old-fashioned pantry staple into a saucepan and heat, mixing in your seasonings and cheese, and your sauce is done. You may never go back.
Perfect Portions: For an elegant presentation, leave your casserole dish on the shelf and make individual serving sizes with ramekins. Added bonus? No more fighting over the crunchy topping—everyone gets just the right amount.
Measuring by weight (in ounces or pounds) is the most precise method, but in some situations, measuring by cups is easiest. Luckily, most mac and cheese recipes are quite forgiving in this way. Of course, when unsure of weight measurements, we tend to err on the side of more cheese and less pasta.
The weight will almost always be printed on a package of pasta or a piece of cheese. When necessary, use these conversions as a guide, but keep in mind that results can vary.
Pasta: Uncooked Measurements
Different pasta shapes will have different volumes. One cup will hold more small pasta shapes (like elbow macaroni) than larger ones (like rotini or penne). For that reason, a cup of macaroni will weigh more than a cup of rotini.
1 pound uncooked pasta = 4 cups
Pasta: Uncooked to Cooked Measurements
As noted, different pasta shapes have different volumes, but generally speaking, you can follow these equivalencies:
4 cups uncooked macaroni = 8 cups cooked
4 cups (1 pound) uncooked spaghetti = 7 to 8 cups cooked
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Cheese measurements differ, and not all experts agree. The denser and moister the cheese, the more weight it will have by volume. Shred size is also a factor. A cup of large shreds will weigh more than a cup of feathery small shreds.
4 ounces Cheddar and Gruyere = 1 cup shredded
2 ounces Feta and Blue = 1/3 cup crumbled