Barilla Test Kitchen
Orecchiette mac and cheese with mushrooms, asparagus and bacon

Greetings from the Barilla Test Kitchen! We get asked to do mac and cheese all the time for ideations and events; people everywhere and of all ages love this comfort food classic. There’s a reason it’s the #1 pasta dish in America, and still growing in popularity!

The challenge is making your version different from the restaurant down the street, and satisfying that guest demand for something new.

As a parent and a chef for Barilla, a company that takes great pride in focusing on foods that are good for people and the planet, I’ve been looking at ways to make mac and cheese that’s a little bit better – without losing that indulgent and satisfying appeal. Here are my top tips:

  1. Instead of heavy cream, make a béchamel base with low-fat milk, butter and flour. Even with the butter, you’ll start out ahead on fat calories.
  2. Use cooked vegetable purees blended into the sauce to cut the fat further and add flavor, color and richness. Think carrots, parsnips, cauliflower or sweet potatoes, and mix it up with the seasons.
  3. Especially for adult macs, use cheeses with added flavor punch, like smoked cheeses, pepper jack, or even blue. You can use less and get maximum impact.
  4. Mac and cheese is a great way to use animal proteins as a condiment — a bit of crispy prosciutto, crab or lobster, or braised lamb makes a Mac special even in small quantities. It’s better for food cost, and the environment too.
  5. Mac and cheese is an awesome veggie carrier! Everyone will eat their veggies if mac and cheese is part of every bite. Robust, flavorful and firm veggies are best, like broccoli, cauliflower and squash. Avoid watery veggies like zucchini and peppers.
  6. Don’t forget the crumbs! I love a breadcrumb topping on a mac. It’s easy to have a breadcrumb mix on hand, even a gluten-free one. With fresh herbs, garlic and spices, a little goes a long way, and really adds to the eye appeal.
Butternut squash mac and cheese with crunchy bread crumb topping and roasted butternut squash

Buon Appetito!

Yury Krasilovsky, Foodservice Executive Chef, Barilla America