Stovetop Mac and Cheese
with ham / broccoli / bell peppers
We gave this classic comfort food a boost with ham for added protein and colorful vegetables for flavor and nutrition. Feel free to skip the panko topping if you're short on time, but it does give the top of this super creamy mac and cheese a nice crunchy texture. A version of this meal was last featured in 2020.
Smarts #1: Be careful not to overcook the pasta since it will continue to cook a bit more as it's tossed with the other warm ingredients. Also, don't forget to add the broccoli to the pasta in the last minute of cooking.
Smarts #2: The keys to avoiding gritty mac and cheese are 1) to grate the cheese yourself, avoiding pre-grated cheese and 2) to add the cheese in small increments, whisking well after each addition.
- Bell peppers, red - 1 , diced
- Broccoli - 12 oz , finely chopped
- Garlic - 2 cloves , chopped
- Ham - 4 oz , chopped
- Cheese, extra-sharp cheddar - 6 oz , grated (we used white cheddar; don't buy pre-shredded cheese as it can make the finished dish grainy)
- Pasta, elbow macaroni - 8 oz (sub any pasta shape)
- Butter - 2 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp
- Panko breadcrumbs - 1/4 cup
- Flour, all-purpose - 2 Tbsp
- Salt - 1/2 tsp
- Red pepper flakes (opt) - 1/4 tsp
- Milk - 1 1/2 cups
Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil.
When water is boiling, add pasta. Cook until al dente, tender but not soggy. About 1 minute before finishing, add in broccoli. Drain.
While water is boiling / pasta is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add first part of butter until melted. Add panko with a pinch of salt. Saute until panko is lightly toasted and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Set panko aside and wipe out pan.
Return pan to heat and add second part of butter. Add bell peppers to melted butter and saute until peppers are soft, ~5 minutes.
Add flour, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes (if using). Stir until no dry spots of flour remain.
Slowly pour milk into the pan while whisking. Continue whisking vigorously until everything is evenly combined. Heat milk until it begins to simmer (increase heat if needed to speed this process along). Simmer milk, stirring frequently until sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove pan from heat. Add grated cheese a bit at a time, whisking the sauce well between each addition.
Stir ham, pasta, and broccoli into sauce.
Serve pasta with panko breadcrumbs sprinkled over top for some crunch. Enjoy!