Easy Cheesy Pasta is a quick microwave cheese sauce tossed with your choice of noodles (and – or not – spinach).
Ever since I discovered J. Kenji López-Alt’s super cheese sauce made with evaporated milk, I hardly ever make a cheese sauce with a traditional roux. (A roux is a paste of flour and butter cooked together to thicken a sauce.)
There is some interesting chemistry happening with the cheese, evaporated milk and cornstarch in Kenji’s recipe, but I wondered if it would work with regular milk, too, for an easy pasta sauce that wasn’t so rich.
Turns out, regular milk works fine. The sauce won’t be as velvety, but it thickens up well and is smooth.
I make it in the microwave because I hate cleaning the dregs of cheese sauce out of saucepans. It also allows me to do other things for those few moments while the sauce is cooking.
I like to use a sharp cheese for this sauce (especially my new favorite – an old cheddar from Prince Edward Island’s Amalgamated Dairies Limited) with a touch of salt, pepper and dried mustard.
You can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat in the microwave at 50% power, or over medium-low heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly.
(The times indicated in the recipe are based on a 1100 watt microwave oven. If you are using an oven with a different wattage, you can adjust the times with the help of one of these Microwave Timing Conversion Charts.)
You can vary this recipe with different cheeses. The times given in the recipe are based on a 1100 watt microwave oven. If you are using a microwave with a different wattage, you can adjust the time with the help of a time conversion chart found here: https://www.microwavecookingforone.com/Charts/
- 12 oz / 340 g uncooked pasta (macaroni, cavatappi, or rotini)
- 1 cup / 250 ml shredded Cheddar (or other sharp cheese)
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml salt
- 1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml dry mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon / 1.25 ml ground pepper
- 2 cups / 500 ml milk (skim, low fat, or homogenized)
- 1 cup / 250 ml chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed to remove excess water (optional)
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water. Add 1 teaspoon / 5 ml salt to the cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. In a ceramic or glass bowl, stir together cheese, cornstarch, salt, mustard, and pepper until thoroughly mixed. Add the milk and stir. (The cheese will sink to the bottom of the bowl.)
Heat the mixture in microwave oven on full power for 5 minutes. Stir. The sauce will be thin and the cheese will not be fully melted. Return to microwave and heat for 1 more minute. Stir. Return to microwave and complete cooking at 50% power for two minutes.
Remove sauce from microwave. The sauce will thicken slightly as it sits. Drain the pasta and pour sauce over to coat noodles. If using spinach, sprinkle chopped spinach over and stir into pasta. Serve hot.