I have a confession to make: when I was a kid, I HATED homemade mac and cheese. I had an aversion to cheesy things (and clearly some deep-seated issues) and would complain nonstop whenever Betsy announced we were having macaroni for dinner. She would make beautiful, super-cheesy baked mac and cheese, sometimes covered in breadcrumbs for that extra-crispy finish, and I’d turn my back on her like she killed my Tamagotchi.
Looking back on my younger self, I’m ashamed. Now, I spend long hours thinking of all the mac and cheese–eating opportunities I missed out on. I call my mom daily to console her heartache over the years of pain I inflicted on her from my homemade macaroni–hating ways. “Where did I go wrong?” she asks me, sobbing softly.
Through my own tears, I can only whisper, “That sh*t in the blue box.” ***
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still indulge in the blue box when the time is right, and I used to go crazy for it. Who wouldn’t love Scooby Doo–shaped pasta coated in a fluorescent sauce (particularly when you add a generous knob of butter to it, like I always did)? But that stuff ruined me for the real thing. I didn’t understand what good mac and cheese was, and didn’t appreciate it even when it was served to me at the dinner table.
Recently, I got it into my head that I should make reparations for my shameful, powdered cheese–ridden past by cooking homemade mac and cheese whenever possible. Since I’ve been cutting back on dairy lately, I decided to try a vegan version. Technically, the lack of cheese means it still doesn’t make up for the sins of my childhood, but this recipe is so damn good that I think Betsy will forgive me. I’m totally hooked.
This vegan mac and cheese has a few steps, but I wholeheartedly believe that it’s worth it. First, I make a vegetable sauce out of potato (for starchiness) and carrot (for color). Then, I make a roux (for richness) and mix it all together with lots of nutritional yeast and vegan parmesan (absolutely crucial!). Toss in the pasta, top it all with panko for a little ode to Betsy, and pop it in the oven until it’s all golden and crispy and delightful.
I’m not kidding, I’ve made this recipe multiple nights in a row and I still want more. I guess I’m just making up for lost time.
***Not an accurate depiction of any conversation I’ve had with my mother.
- 1 potato, peeled and quartered
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1/2 cup vegan parmesan
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 8 oz. (uncooked) short pasta, such as rigatoni or macaroni
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1¼ cup almond milk
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup panko
- 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 390° F / 200° C.
- Make the vegetable sauce: In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the potato and carrot to the boiling water and cook until fork-tender, about 12 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest.
- In a blender, combine the cooked carrot, potato, 1/2 cup of cooking water, vegan parmesan, and nutritional yeast. Blend on high for at least 1 minute, until a smooth, starchy sauce forms. Set aside.
- Make the pasta: Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Once the pasta is done cooking, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the roux: Heat the olive oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until the flour starts to smell nutty and turn golden in color (watch carefully, as it can burn).
- Slowly whisk in the almond milk and cook, continuing to stir, until thickened, about two minutes. Turn the heat to low.
- Add the vegetable sauce and the 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the roux and whisk combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook gently until a smooth, silky sauce forms. Remove from the heat.
- Add the pasta to the skillet and gently fold it into the sauce, making sure it is fully coated.
- Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the panko and nutritional yeast. Mix until evenly incorporated, then drizzle in the olive oil and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle the panko topping over the pasta. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. Serve with more black pepper and vegan parmesan, if desired.