Homemade macaroni and cheese is one of the staples of my childhood. With four kids, things were hectic for my mother, and on nights when cooking fell to the bottom of the priority list (which to her credit was rare), we ate homemade macaroni and cheese alongside hot dogs. I don’t think me or my siblings ever once minded.
My mom’s mac ‘n cheese has always been one of my favorite things. It’s a simple bowl of gooey, cheesy comfort food. Unpretentious and 100% satisfying. This recipe is modeled after hers, but with one fun twist: Harissa. Harissa has risen in popularity recently, so you may have heard of it. Luckily, it is easy to find at Trader Joe’s if you are fortunate to live near one. If not, you can check the ethnic aisle of your grocery store or simply order it. What is it? A paste of roasted red chile peppers, garlic, oil and a couple of spices. It is a very concentrated, intense flavor; spicy and fire-roasted— not smoky like chili powder, but vibrant and fresh.
Adding just a tablespoon of harissa to this pot of mac and cheese does the trick. You get a totally new zesty bite with just the right amount of kick. Sharp white cheddar cheese keeps this rich and creamy, and a sprinkle of chives adds a hint of fresh, mild onion flavor.
You’ll love this twist on a comfort food classic. It’s ready in about 20 minutes, so it’s the perfect weeknight dinner, or an impressive side dish for Sunday lunch. Would this work just as well with penne or farfalle pasta? Sure. But there is nostalgia in that classic, simplistic elbow macaroni— it’s just like mom’s.
Harissa Macaroni & Cheese
- 16 oz elbow macaroni
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups 2% or whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 Tablespoon harissa
- 3 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil (I add about 1 Tablespoon of salt). Meanwhile, grate the cheese.
Add the macaroni to the water when it has come to a rolling boil. Cook for one minute less than the package instructions.
While the noodles are boiling, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until it is smooth. Cook the flour and butter for a minute (it will start to smell toasty).
Slowly whisk in the milk, salt and pepper and increase the heat to medium high. Continue whisking and cook until it thickens slightly (about 4 minutes). Once it has thickened slightly, turn the heat OFF.
Add the shredded cheese and whisk until smooth and fully melted. Stir in the harissa. Taste and add additional seasoning if needed.
Add the thoroughly drained macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Sprinkle with chives and devour!
Macaroni has a bad reputation as leftovers. It tends to lose its creaminess overnight because the noodles absorb more of the moisture. A simple solution is to stir in a little bit of milk (2 Tablespoons or so) when you reheat it—that replenishes the moisture!