Macaroni and Cheese is perhaps the Dean of comfort food; super tasty, with a familiar, comforting feeling. This is an original recipe for New Orleans-style Baked Macaroni and Cheese from Sweet Daddy D and checks all the boxes. A creamy sauce with lots of cheddar cheese is mixed with long macaroni and infiltrated with even more cheddar cheese before being baked to perfection. Its simple, no-angst style is patterned from the famous and unique New Orleans area eatery, Rocky and Carlo's, and is sure to become a popular request at your house!
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Publisher's Note: This article originally appeared in January 2020. I am republishing it now with an improved structure and web-friendly images.
To truly enjoy New Orleans and South Louisiana cuisine, don’t get distracted by all the five-star restaurants and Michelin Award-winning up-and-coming chefs. They’re all truly great, but locals know that the best places to dine in New Orleans are the neighborhood joints. Parkway Bakery, Parasols, Domileses, Mandina’s, Liuzza’s, and Clancy’s just to name a few. Literally, the list goes on and on and on, I’m not kidding. Just east of the city in St. Bernard Parish (or The Parish as referred to by locals), five Sicilian immigrant brothers-in-law opened Rocky and Carlo’s Restaurant and Bar in 1965 on St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette. Having worked together at a bar down the street, they wanted to offer more food items than a bar usually did. Unlike some of the existing establishments, they opened the doors to men and women with the proud declaration and their everlasting motto...“Ladies Invited”.
Typical of New Orleans area Creole restaurants, the influence of Sicilian and Italian immigrants is apparent on the menu. Lots of pasta and red gravy among the po-boys, seafood, and Creole classics commonly available in South Louisiana...jambalaya alongside lasagna, gumbos and shrimp creole alongside meatballs and spaghetti, eggplant dressing, veal parmesan, and po-boys to die for. This mosaic menu is pretty typical in New Orleans area restaurants, but the menu at Rocky and Carlo’s also includes their signature Macaroni and Cheese. Although this is NOT Rocky and Carlos’s recipe, it's a style of New Orleans Macaroni and Cheese using long macaroni and copious amounts of cheese that I patterned after their masterpiece. This New Orleans Baked Macaroni and Cheese is a comfort food from The Parish, which is a good place to be!
Here's What You Need
Here are some of the key ingredients for this recipe:
Notes on the pasta: Long macaroni has a hole running through it, much like Perciatelli and Bucatini. The hole helps this thicker pasta cook completely and faster. This adds some density without making the dish too heavy. You could substitute just about any pasta you'd like, but I think the long macaroni noodles make this recipe very special.
Notes on the cheese: This recipe is developed using Sharp Cheddar cheese. I think that is the perfect partner for the cream sauce and the bite of pasta. You could substitute any type of cheese you like, or combine your favorite with the sharp cheddar.
Here is some of the equipment I used in making this recipe:
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Note on the baking pan: I used an approximate 12" X 10" X 3" aluminum pan. The exact dimensions are not critical, it just needs to be big enough to hold all the noodles and deep enough so you can make 2 or 3 layers. Using an aluminum pan seems to be convenient for holiday gatherings, particularly if you are bringing the dish to someone else's house.
Here's What You Do
First...you have a beer. If you are getting ready to make macaroni and cheese, you are probably already in the right frame of mind, maybe even giddy, but pop off the top of a beer, relax, and read through the recipe from top to bottom. Make sure you have all your ingredients and know what you are going to do with them. The mise en place for this is simple, the hardest part is grating the cheese.
Mise en place
Measure the ingredients for a bechamel sauce (milk, butter, and AP flour). Set aside. Warm the milk in the microwave just prior to starting the sauce.
Grate the cheese, and set it aside.
Note on grating the cheese: I always recommend grating your own cheese. You can use store-bought grated cheese and it will save a little time, but many times the pre-grated cheese starts to dry out quickly and you do not get the quality of freshly grated cheese. I even wait until the last minute to grate it, so that it doesn't sit around drying out.
Smear softened butter generously on the inside of your baking pan and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cook the noodles
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Basically, you’ll bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, then add a generous amount of kosher salt and the noodles. Once they soften just a little, give the pot a good stir and cook until the noodles are al dente, which will take around 8 to 9 minutes.
Make a cheesy sauce
What happens in this step? While the noodles are cooking, you’ll prepare the cheese sauce which it’s basically a bechamel sauce with a bunch of grated cheddar cheese added. This cheese sauce is the glue that holds the pasta together in gooey, cheesy perfection.
To make the bechamel, start by warming the milk in the microwave or on the stovetop. Don’t boil the milk, just warm it thoroughly.
Tip on making a bechamel sauce: If you want to read more about making a bechamel sauce, check out this article.
Melt 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
When the butter is bubbly, add 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Whisk constantly to make a blond roux.
After about 3 minutes (which helps the flour taste cook away) remove the pan from the heat and start adding the warmed milk a little at a time.
Start with about ¼ cup of milk, whisking the milk into the roux until a smooth paste develops before adding another ¼ cup of milk.
Continue this process until about half the milk has been added, then add the remaining milk.
Once all the milk is whisked into a smooth sauce, return the saucepan to the heat. Maintain a steady simmer, whisking almost constantly for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the sauce can coat the back of a spoon.
Next, add about ⅓ of the grated cheese to the sauce and stir until it’s a smooth cheese sauce. Add some salt and pepper to taste and set it aside until the noodles are ready.
Mix the sauce into the noodles.
Dip out about ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta noodles and return them to the pot they cooked in. Mix in the cheese sauce thoroughly and add the ¼ cup of reserved pasta water.
Build the casserole
What happens in this step? It's all about layers. At no time do you want to take a bite and think "I wish there was more cheese here"! Building the casserole in layers will avoid this unpleasant situation!
Next, in your prepared baking pan add about ⅓ of the sauced noodles and smooth out.
Sprinkle on about a third of the remaining grated cheese, making sure to cover the entire surface.
Repeat this step at least for one more layer, but two more layers are better. Make sure the top layer has LOTS of cheese. Place about 4 tabs (about ½ tablespoon each) of butter on top.
Notes on layers: This is why you should use a relatively deep pan (12" X 10" X 3"). A layer of sauced noodles covered in grated cheese on top of another layer on top of another layer. Maybe even extra cheese for the top layer? Good idea.
Bake and serve
What happens in this step? This will bake covered so that all the internal cheese will melt and blend into the sauced pasta. Lastly, we'll remove the cover to let the top brown a little.
Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated 350-degree Fahrenheit oven.
Remove the foil and increase the heat to about 400 to 425-degree Fahrenheit. Return the uncovered baking pan to the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes or until it starts to brown on top.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then, serve it up.
That’s it, all there is to it.
Hints and Tips (FAQs)
Any kind of melty cheese works well in macaroni and cheese, but for Rocky and Carlo's style, sharp cheddar cheese is what you need. However, if you want to change things up, try some gruyere or even some smoked gouda or a mixture of two or three of your favorites.
Yes, you can buy the sharp cheddar cheese already grated, but pre-grated cheese has the tendency to be a little dryer than freshly grated but works just the same. One thing about pre-grated cheese...it certainly saves time!
Use a long macaroni noodle. This will be a little thicker than thick spaghetti and have a hole running down the middle which apparently helps the thick pasta cook consistently all the way through. It’s basically perciatelli or bucatini pasta. Luxury Brand offers a long macaroni, which is what I use (I have no affiliation with Luxury) but if that’s not available where you live, perciatelli and bucatini are available through Amazon (which I do have an affiliation with!).
Leftover macaroni and cheese can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days. Don’t leave it out on the counter too long before refrigeration, about 2 hours after cooking is the max, and make sure to cover it airtight with plastic wrap or an airtight lid. Let the Macaroni and Cheese cool down before refrigerating or freezing.
Leftover macaroni and cheese can be kept in the freezer for up to 60 days for the best quality. Make sure to store it in an airtight container or freezer bag. It’s a good idea to separate the leftovers into portion sizes so that you can defrost only what you plan to eat.
Before reheating, defrost the mac and cheese in the refrigerator overnight or you could use your defrost setting on the microwave. Macaroni and cheese can be reheated in a microwave. Place the portion you plan to eat in a microwavable bowl and add a little milk (or water) if needed and mix it together. Cover and microwave it slowly, stopping to stir after a short while until heated through. The time it will take will depend upon your microwave, but don’t get in a rush. The cheese and butter have a tendency to separate, which is why you are adding milk and stirring it up.
Lots of other great side dishes from Sweet Daddy D:
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Yeah You Right!
Macaroni and Cheese
Here's What You Need
- 1 pound long macaroni See Notes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons A/P flour
- 32 ounces sharp cheddar cheese Grated-See Notes
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 4 tablespoons softened butter for pan For pan and topping-See Notes
Here's What You Do
- Cook noodles according to the package directions, while you make the cheese sauce.
- Prepare a baking pan by coating the inside with softened butter.
To make the cheese sauce
- Warm the milk in the microwave.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add the A/P flour and whisk constantly until it forms a white roux, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the warmed milk. Starting with about ¼ cup of milk at a time, thoroughly whisk it to a thick cream sauce before adding another ¼ cup of milk.
- Repeat this process until about half the milk has been whisked into the roux, then add the remaining milk.
- Whisk thoroughly and return the saucepan to a medium heat. Bring this to a simmer and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes.
- Add kosher salt and pepper to taste, then add about ⅓ of the grated cheddar cheese.
- Blend this together completely and set aside until the pasta is cooked.
- Once the noodles are cooked, reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta water, drain the noodles and return them to the pot.
- Add the cheese sauce and the reserved pasta water to the noodles and mix well.
- Add one (of 3) layers of noodles to the pan and smooth out.
- Add a thick layer of grated cheese evenly over the noodles.
- Repeat 2 more layers. See Notes
- Place tabs of butter on top of finished pan
- Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.
- Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F, remove the aluminum foil and finish baking for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown on top.
- Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.
- You can use sharp cheddar cheese already grated, but pre-grated cheese has the tendency to be a little dryer than freshly grated but works just the same. One thing about pre-grated cheese...it certainly saves time!
- Use a long macaroni noodle. This will be a little thicker than thick spaghetti and have a hole running down the middle which apparently helps the thick pasta cook consistently all the way through. Luxury Brand offers a long macaroni, which is what I use (I have no affiliation with Luxury) but if that’s not available where you live, perciatelli and bucatini are available through Amazon (which I do have an affiliation with!).
- Leftover macaroni and cheese can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days. Don’t leave it out on the counter too long before refrigeration, about 2 hours after cooking is the max, and make sure to cover it airtight with plastic wrap or an airtight lid.
- Leftover macaroni and cheese can be kept in the freezer for up to 60 days for best quality. Make sure to store it in an airtight container or freezer bag. It’s a good idea to separate the leftovers into portion sizes so that you can defrost only what you plan to eat.
- Before reheating, defrost the mac and cheese in the refrigerator overnight or you could use your defrost setting on the microwave. Macaroni and cheese can be reheated in a microwave. Place the portion you plan to eat in a microwavable bowl and add a little milk (or water) and mix it together. Cover and microwave it slowly, stopping to stir after a short while until heated through. The time it will take will depend upon your microwave, but don’t get in a rush. The cheese and butter have a tendency to separate, which is why you are adding milk and stirring it up.