It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Instant Pot. But when I recently started seeing recipe after recipe online to cook pasta in it, I was skeptical. How could the machine that miraculously turns tough beef short ribs into tender delicacies in less than an hour also make perfectly al dente pasta in just minutes?
I thought the pressure cooker would turn the noodles into complete mush, but I am never one to shy away from experimentation, especially when it comes to my Instant Pot. And with the arrival of cold weather, there's nothing better than a big bowl of cheesy noodles, so why not give mac n' cheese in the pot a shot? I found a recipe from one of my favorite resources, Food52, and made some tweaks to it. You literally dump everything into the pot and turn it on. There's no roux, no stirring, no draining noodles - none of the many steps homemade mac n' cheese usually involves.
To my delight, not only were the noodles perfectly cooked al dente, but the entire dish came together in just about 20 minutes, including the time for the Instant Pot to come to pressure.
Here are just a few reasons to make pasta in your pressure cooker:
- This is truly a one pot dish. There's no need to strain the pasta once it's done because it absorbs the liquid as it cooks.
- Since you don't strain the pasta, the natural starch stays in the pot and serves as a natural thickener for the sauce so no roux is needed.
- You can turn it on and forget about it. No more monitoring that pot of boiling water to make sure it doesn't boil over onto your stovetop.
The Panko topping adds a crunchy bit of texture, which I've been using on my mac n' cheese dishes not made in the Instant Pot for many years. A very long time ago, one of our chefs at The Chopping Block, Mark Graham, introduced me to his "grown up" version of mac n' cheese with Panko topping and bacon. This dish is an homage to that original classic, but a lot easier to make.
This version is my favorite, but feel free to skip the pancetta and substitute vegetable stock if you would like to make it vegetarian. Swap out the cheeses for other medium-soft, grater-friendly cheeses. Add more cayenne if you want more of a kick.
Instant Pot Mac n' Cheese
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
1 tablespoon butter, plus 2 tablespoons
5 ounces pancetta, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 small or 2 medium shallots, finely minced (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
1 pound fusilli (or other short pasta), uncooked
1 large pinch powdered cayenne pepper
3/4 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
12 ounces ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Finely chopped scallions, for garnish
1. Turn the Instant Pot on to its sauté setting and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the pancetta, and sauté for a few minutes, until it crisps up on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove about a third of the crisped pancetta and set aside.
2. Add the shallots to the pot, and sauté in the rendered pancetta fat until they begin to turn translucent.
3. Add the milk, heavy cream, broth, salt, pepper and pasta, and stir to combine well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you mix. The noodles won’t be fully submerged, and that's okay. Put the lid on the cooker and turn to pressure cook mode on high for 6 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large skillet, and add the cayenne. Add the panko and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat, constantly moving the panko around, until it’s toasty and golden brown. Set aside.
5. Once the pressure cooking is completed, let the multi-cooker naturally release pressure for 1 minute before quick releasing. When the pressure has been fully released, open the lid, and immediately stir in the cheddar cheese, stirring until it fully melts.
6. Adjust seasoning to taste, then serve in bowls topped with toasted panko, the reserved pancetta crisps, and scallions.
A good rule of thumb for cooking pasta in a pressure cooker is to use 2 cups of liquid for every 8 ounces of pasta. And don't forget the salt! Cook pasta for half the lowest package time, minus 2 minutes, and always do a quick release of pressure after no more than 1-5 minutes of natural pressure release. I found this table from Inquiring Chef helpful because it does the math for you.
I can't wait to make more pasta dishes in my Instant Pot, and I hope if you have one, you give this recipe a try. If not, put an Instant Pot on your holiday shopping list!
Mac n' cheese is this week's challenge for our private Facebook group. Join, whip up a batch of mac n' cheese (Instant Pot or not) and share with other group members.