I prepped my Mother’s Day brunch months in advance, I prepped my birthday cake months in advance (coming next week!), so obviously I also prepped my birthday dinner months in advance. I promise this isn’t a statement about my faith in Eggboy’s cooking skills so much as it is an example of my obsession with meal prep. I don’t know if it was obvious but I started planning my baby meal prep the moment the little pee stick flashed the word “pregnant” on it. Sorry, I’ll never talk about pee in a recipe post again. So back in like August when I was planning all of this, I thought what will I want to eat on my birthday in May? It was so far in the future but macaroni and cheese always has and always will be my number one favorite food, so I figured that was the most reliable choice.
So here is a version of mac and cheese that I have been really loving these days. It’s not as cheesy as the casseroles that I grew up eating on every special occasion, it’s more saucy and milky, and pretty mild, flavor-wise. I knew I’d be prepping giant batches of it to have on hand for my whole maternity leave, so I went with something that was on the lighter end of the spectrum, at least for mac and cheese. It’s got a pretty green dollop of springy pesto (I used store-bought but would have used homemade if I had basil back in March!), and these individual servings make it really easy to heat quickly. They’re perfect to pair with salad or, my go-to sides as a 7-year-old, apple slices and cold baby carrots.
If you’ve never made mac and cheese before or are looking to create your own version of mac and cheese with all of your favorite cheeses and mix-ins, this is a great basic recipe to start with. It’s pretty barebones, which means that it lends itself nicely to switching up or adding more cheeses (any cheese should work! less melty ones, like feta, won’t yield a smooth sauce but they’ll still be tasty), adding different flavors (paprika, nutmeg, sriracha, harissa, a little mustard, etc.), veggies (peas! onions! broccoli!) or meats (hot dogsssss!!!!). You can really go wild here.
And of course, you don’t have to make individual servings or make this to freeze ahead. Bake this in a big casserole dish! Immediately! Or do what I do and just stand over the pot and take a million test bites, just to make sure it’s good, before it gets dumped in the casserole and browned in the oven for other people to eat since you’ve just filled up on “test bites.”
I’ve used Our Family cheese and noodles here, which I always have on hand in case of mac and cheese emergencies!
Mozzarella Pesto Mac and Cheese (Freezer Friendly)
makes 10 servings
1 lb (16oz) Our Family mini shells or macaroni noodles
1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter
1/2 c (65g) all-purpose flour
6 c (1.44kg) 2% or whole milk
1 1/2 c (6oz) shredded Our Family mozzarella
1 c (4oz) shredded Our Family swiss
3/4 c (3oz) shredded Our Family parmesan, divided
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
5 tb prepared pesto
10 tb (32g) panko breadcrumbs
If baking immediately, preheat the oven to 375ºf. If prepping for the freezer, see directions below.
Cook the noodles to al dente per the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute. Add the milk, one cup at a time, whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon after each until thickened. Add the mozzarella, swiss, and 1/2 cup of the parmesan and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add this point if you want to add fun mix-ins like cut up hot dogs or crispy bacon or peas or hot sauce, now’s the time to do so. Stir in the noodles. It may seem overly saucy at this point but once it bakes up, it’ll be perfect!
To bake immediately, pour into a 9” x 13” casserole dish, dollop all over with the pesto and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and bake for 25 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. Enjoy!
To prepare for the freezer, divide into 10 individual containers (I like these because they are safe for the oven, microwave, and freezer). Add a heaping teaspoon of pesto to the tops of each and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan. Let cool slightly, wrap well in plastic wrap, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat in the oven at 375º for 25 minutes covered with foil plus 20 minutes uncovered, or until browned and heated through. Or reheat in the microwave by heating for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Enjoy!