Mac and Cheese

Plus a pasta primer!
Published March 24, 2017

Whether made on the stove top or baked in the oven, macaroni and cheese is a perfect example of Canadian comfort food. The earliest Canadian recipe for macaroni and cheese appeared in 1845 and since the recipe has since gone through many reinterpretations with the most essential components remaining the same. Macaroni and cheese begins with a béchamel sauce and can then be endlessly customized, from the type of cheese used in the recipe, to the type of pasta and any other add ins that make the perfect macaroni and cheese. 

Gruyere, cheddar, raclette and Emmenthal are all good cheeses to use for the sauce base. Blue cheeses as well as aged cheeses such as parmesan and Pecorino Romano should be added in smaller quantities so that they melt uniformly with the other cheese. In order to get the smoothest texture when melting the cheese add it to the the béchamel sauce just before tossing it with the pasta. Panko crumbs and parmesan cheese as well as crushed tortilla chips, crackers and pretzels all make great crunchy toppings to add some contrast to the creamy base.

5 alternative pasta shapes to try in your mac and cheese


Farfalle is Italian for “butterflies” although in North America this pasta is more commonly known as bowties. The ridges that form on the pasta are ideal for creamy sauces made with or without the addition of pureed vegetables.


Penne is a tubular pasta that is best suited for sauces that contain ground meat or other finely textured ingredients. Because of penne’s long hollow shape the meat gets trapped inside making it the perfect vehicle for chunkier sauces.


Italian for “little ears”, orecchiette is small and disk-shaped with a slight indent. Each orecchiette is essentially a tiny pasta bowl, perfect for using in recipes that result in extra creamy sauces.


Available in sizes that range from miniature to jumbo, shells are a classic pasta to choose when adding in roasted vegetables such as broccoli or when showcasing a tried and true recipe for amazing cheese sauce as the inside of the shells hold a generous amount of sauce as it bakes.


Shaped like a delicate horn, Campanelle means “bellflowers,” in Italian and is ideal for recipes with peas or any other small pieces of meat or vegetable that can rest in the hollowed-out bell shape of the pasta.

5 add ins to take your mac and cheese to the next level

Butternut squash

Steamed and pureed butternut squash gives macaroni and cheese a velvety texture and hint of sweetness. Replace half the milk in the recipe with pureed butternut squash and bake as usual, covering the macaroni and cheeses with a breadcrumb and parmesan topping. A great way to sneak in some extra veggies!

Green peas

Frozen green peas are a colourful add in and can elevate a white cheese sauce into something elegant and perfect for a spring dinner party. Don’t bother shelling fresh peas, as their delicate sweet flavour would immediately be overwhelmed by the rich sauce.

Greek yogourt

Once the cheese sauce is done cooking turn off the heat and stir in a generous half a cup of plain Greek yogourt. In addition to adding extra protein, Greek yogourt gives macaroni and cheese a subtle tanginess similar to the one produced by blue cheese.


Roast broccoli florets in a very small amount of olive oil before adding them to the cooked pasta, gently coating with cheese sauce before baking. Broccoli’s nutty flavour is enhanced when roasted, so try using Gruyere or raclette as an alternative to cheddar in the sauce.

Ground turkey or chicken

Add cooked ground turkey or chicken to boiled pasta and stir in a small can of seasoned diced tomatoes, finely diced fresh or pickled hot peppers and a package of taco seasoning mix. Stir in the sauce and bake as usual, topping with crushed tortilla chips in place of breadcrumbs.