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You can hardly claim any Southern heritage unless you can make a decent mac n' cheese. It's practically required before your mother births you! That said, I've always struggled with making a good one because I don't prefer the roux method (flour and milk mixture) of making the cheese sauce with macaroni. So when I learned about this method of simply mixing buttermilk with cheeses and uncooked macaroni, I knew I had found my go-to recipe: Baked Buttermilk Mac N' Cheese.
Where did Mac 'n Cheese come from?
This seems to be a loaded question with no definitive answer as it has probably gotten lost, or at least convoluted, over the years.
- Some say that it has to have been the Italians who brought it to the world since pasta is their thing. But is it? Some would say that pasta came from the Chinese.
- Some say that American's earliest settlers brought it from the Old Country, but personally, I doubt that pasta was a thing that early Americans had in the days of settling!
- Some say, with some degree of authenticity, that James Hemmings, chef to Thomas Jefferson, brought it back to America after spending time in French culinary school while serving Jefferson in Paris. Mary Rudolph, who took over hostess duties at the White House when Mrs. Jefferson passed away, included a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese in her cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, in 1824.
What kind of cheese do I use in Baked Buttermilk Mac n' Cheese?
Use your favorite cheeses and feel free to mix them up. I love Gouda because it melts so well and I also use white cheddar. Mac n' Cheese must have some cheddar, in my opinion. Sometimes I also use Fontina and or Gruyere. I also use ricotta cheese for the tang and creaminess.
Using buttermilk, ricotta, and these cheeses are the reason you can make Baked Buttermilk Mac n' Cheese without making a roux. They all melt together so beautifully with no need for a roux.
What is a roux and why I don't prefer it for Mac 'n Cheese?
A roux is an equal mixture of flour and butter, whisked with a liquid to create a thickener for a sauce. I use roux often in other applications, but I've always thought it made the sauce for Mac 'n Cheese too grainy. Perhaps my technique is flawed, but
How to season Baked Buttermilk Mac 'n Cheese
You could make mac n' cheese without any spices, but why would you? Crush some mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle with some salt, paprika, and a bit of grated nutmeg. Don't be stingy with the salt ... there's lots of pasta in here that needs salt!
Mix the spices with the ricotta, grated cheeses, and buttermilk.
Then mix uncooked macaroni with the cheese mixture and put it in a butter baking dish.
What kind of baking dish should I use?
Any dish that can go in the oven is great. I like to use a shallow baking dish or one of my Le Creuset braisers.
About half way through the bake time, layer on some bread crumbs so they can get nice and toasty brown.
How to serve Baked Buttermilk Mac 'n Cheese
Mac 'n Cheese is wonderful for any meal to accompany meat and vegetables. It's particularly a good option to take to a potluck or holiday meal. It can be made ahead of time and rewarmed gently in the oven.
Consider add-ins, too! Add some cubed ham or bacon, or some broccoli florets. Spice it up with some jalapenos. You could make it extra by putting crispy onions on top. Get the ideas flowing and they are endless.
Other recipes you might like:
Baked Buttermilk Mac n' Cheese
- 1 cup ricotta cheese See the post for a link to my homemade version
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 pound cheese Use one variety or a combination. See notes.
- 8 ounces macaroni You can also use shells, fusilli, or penne. Any smaller pasta shape will work just fine.
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1-2 cups bread crumbs See notes
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 2-quart baking dish or skillet with butter.
- Put the mustard seeds, paprika, nutmeg, and salt in mortar and pestle (or small processor) and crush together.
- Put the ricotta cheese and buttermilk in a large bowl and mix till blended. Add the spices and grated cheeses. Mix well.
- Add the pasta to the cheese mixture and stir to combine. Pour it all in the prepared baking dish, cover with foil or the lid to the dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil or lid and gently stir to be sure all is cooking evenly. Top with the grated parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.