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Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese

by . Featured in SIMPLY NIGELLA
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Introduction

I’m just going to say it: this is the best macaroni cheese I’ve ever eaten. I don’t feel it’s boastful to say as much, as the greatness lies not in any brilliance on my part, but in the simple tastes of the ingredients as they fuse in the heat. That’s home cooking for you.

I do rather love the way these little macaroni cheeses, with their pixie-penne, look like they’ve been made with artificially coloured, cheap squeezy cheese or out of a box, when in fact their exotic glow comes courtesy of the earthy goodness of a sweet potato.

I’m just going to say it: this is the best macaroni cheese I’ve ever eaten. I don’t feel it’s boastful to say as much, as the greatness lies not in any brilliance on my part, but in the simple tastes of the ingredients as they fuse in the heat. That’s home cooking for you.

I do rather love the way these little macaroni cheeses, with their pixie-penne, look like they’ve been made with artificially coloured, cheap squeezy cheese or out of a box, when in fact their exotic glow comes courtesy of the earthy goodness of a sweet potato.

Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese
Photo by Keiko Oikawa

Ingredients

Serves: 4

Metric Cups
  • 500 grams sweet potatoes
  • 300 grams pennette (or other small, short pasta)
  • 4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 500 millilitres full fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon english mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika (plus another quarter teaspoon to sprinkle on top)
  • 75 grams feta cheese
  • 125 grams mature cheddar (plus 25g/quarter cup to sprinkle on top)
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes
  • 10 ounces pennette (or other small, short pasta)
  • 4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon english mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika (plus another quarter teaspoon to sprinkle on top)
  • 3 ounces feta cheese
  • 1¼ cups mature cheddar (plus 25g/quarter cup to sprinkle on top)
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/gas mark 6/400°F. Put on a large-ish pan of water to boil, with the lid on to make it come to the boil faster.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them roughly into 2–3cm/1inch pieces. When the water’s boiling, add salt to taste, and then the sweet potato pieces, and cook them for about 10 minutes or until they are soft. Scoop them out of the water into a bowl – using a ”spider” or slotted spoon – and lightly mash with a fork, without turning them into a purée. Don’t get rid of this water, as you will need it to cook your pasta in later.
  3. In another saucepan, gently melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux, then take the pan off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk and, when it’s all combined and smooth, put back on the heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add the mustard and the ¼ teaspoon of paprika. Season to taste, but do remember that you will be adding Cheddar and salty feta later, so underdo it for now.
  4. Cook the pennette in the sweet-potato water, starting to check 2 minutes earlier than packet instructions dictate, as you want to make sure it doesn’t lose its bite entirely. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add the pennette to the mashed sweet potato, and fold in to combine; the heat of the pasta will make the mash easier to mix in.
  5. Add the feta cheese to the sweet potato and pasta mixture, crumbling it in so that it is easier to disperse evenly, then fold in the white sauce, adding the 125g/1¼ cups grated Cheddar as you go. Add some of the pasta cooking water, should you feel it needs loosening up at all.
  6. Check for seasoning again, then, when you’re happy, spoon the brightly sauced macaroni cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes of approx. 375–425ml/1½-1¾ cup capacity (or 1 large rectangular dish measuring approx. 30 x 20 x 5cm/12 x 8 x 2 inches deep and 1.6 litre/6½-cup capacity). Sprinkle the remaining Cheddar over each one, dust with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of paprika, then shred the sage leaves and scatter the skinny green ribbons over the top, too.
  7. Put the pots on a baking tray, pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re making this in a larger dish, bake for 30–35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling, and begging you to eat them.
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/gas mark 6/400°F. Put on a large-ish pan of water to boil, with the lid on to make it come to the boil faster.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them roughly into 2–3cm/1inch pieces. When the water’s boiling, add salt to taste, and then the sweet potato pieces, and cook them for about 10 minutes or until they are soft. Scoop them out of the water into a bowl – using a ”spider” or slotted spoon – and lightly mash with a fork, without turning them into a purée. Don’t get rid of this water, as you will need it to cook your pasta in later.
  3. In another saucepan, gently melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux, then take the pan off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk and, when it’s all combined and smooth, put back on the heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add the mustard and the ¼ teaspoon of paprika. Season to taste, but do remember that you will be adding Cheddar and salty feta later, so underdo it for now.
  4. Cook the pennette in the sweet-potato water, starting to check 2 minutes earlier than packet instructions dictate, as you want to make sure it doesn’t lose its bite entirely. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add the pennette to the mashed sweet potato, and fold in to combine; the heat of the pasta will make the mash easier to mix in.
  5. Add the feta cheese to the sweet potato and pasta mixture, crumbling it in so that it is easier to disperse evenly, then fold in the white sauce, adding the 125g/1¼ cups grated Cheddar as you go. Add some of the pasta cooking water, should you feel it needs loosening up at all.
  6. Check for seasoning again, then, when you’re happy, spoon the brightly sauced macaroni cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes of approx. 375–425ml/1½-1¾ cup capacity (or 1 large rectangular dish measuring approx. 30 x 20 x 5cm/12 x 8 x 2 inches deep and 1.6 litre/6½-cup capacity). Sprinkle the remaining Cheddar over each one, dust with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of paprika, then shred the sage leaves and scatter the skinny green ribbons over the top, too.
  7. Put the pots on a baking tray, pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re making this in a larger dish, bake for 30–35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling, and begging you to eat them.

Additional Information

MAKE AHEAD NOTE: The macaroni cheese can be made 1 day ahead. When the pasta has cooked, reserve 100ml/7 tablespoons of the cooking water and add this to the white sauce (it may look a little thin but the pasta absorbs the sauce as it cools). Transfer to the ovenproof dishes (without the sage topping). Once cool, cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Sprinkle with the Cheddar, paprika and sage just before baking and cook for an extra 5–10 minutes, checking that the macaroni cheese is piping hot in the centre before serving.

MAKE AHEAD NOTE: The macaroni cheese can be made 1 day ahead. When the pasta has cooked, reserve 100ml/7 tablespoons of the cooking water and add this to the white sauce (it may look a little thin but the pasta absorbs the sauce as it cools). Transfer to the ovenproof dishes (without the sage topping). Once cool, cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Sprinkle with the Cheddar, paprika and sage just before baking and cook for an extra 5–10 minutes, checking that the macaroni cheese is piping hot in the centre before serving.

Tell us what you think

What 15 Others have said

  • This is Simply the best Mac n' Cheese! Made it into a top 10 dish in our house and is made as often as we can. Like some others I baked my sweet potato rather than boiled and cayenne instead of mustard as my other half cannot do mustard.

    Posted by IainJ on 15th August 2019
  • This is definitely my new favourite mac and cheese. I forgot to get feta, so just used a mixture of cheddar and parmesan, using just parmesan to sprinkle on top. I also cheated by using a tub of ready made cheese sauce. My excuse is that my arthritis makes it necessary to minimize prep time because standing is so painful! I live alone so halved the recipe for two portions (one to reheat for lunch tomorrow) but there was still plenty for two greedy adults! One thing is that it needs plenty of seasoning. I always add some grated nutmeg to anything with a cheese sauce. It still needed a good grind of black pepper at the table.

    Posted by jennysue on 9th April 2019
  • I've made this dish for tonight's dinner. The smell coming through from the kitchen is just amazing. It looks like a bubbling mass of amber loveliness. I cannot wait to have this on my plate. The only difference I've made is that I used a garlic and herb roulé instead of the feta.

    Posted by Owen_65 on 8th April 2019
  • Delicious- thank you again Nigella! To make it utter perfection though, top it with fried panko breadcrumbs at the very end to provide a crunchy contrast to the velvety smoothness. Also, serve with a zesty pickled cucumber to contrast with the rich, deep flavour. Just some ideas to enhance this heavenly dish...

    Posted by verborgenheit on 29th January 2019
  • Loved it! Rich, luscious, creamy. Having said that, I thought the sweet potato overpowered the cheeses. Next time (and there will be a next time) I think I’ll cut the sweet potato to .5–.75 lbs, and use a sharper cheddar. Might also add a bit of fresh sage to the white sauce before mixing everything together.

    Posted by Linda92103 on 7th January 2019
  • I find this recipe totally lives up to the description. The sweet potato gives provides fantastic texture and flavor, but doesn't taste overwhelmingly of sweet potatoes at all. Also, I find the touch of sage to be a must.

    Posted by Bahboo on 27th August 2018
  • You'll never want to make regular mac & cheese again. It's tremendous and more nutritious.

    Posted by Mikael on 22nd August 2018
  • I love this recipe although I use pumpkin instead of sweet potato. Family favourite

    Posted by LizaJ on 18th April 2018
  • This is an incredible mac and cheese recipe! The addition of sweet potato is utter brilliance!

    Posted by RobyH on 22nd January 2018
  • Thanks, Nigella! Absolutely delicious recipe and one I'll definitely make again. Saw it this in the afternoon on Instagram, and made it for supper that evening. Creamy, rich and the added sweet potato also makes it a healthier dish, too!

    Posted by Seraphimm on 23rd January 2018
  • Definitely in my top 5 Mac Cheese recipes - and I love a good Mac Cheese! The sweet potato adds a gooey gorgeous lusciousness and colour to the dish, gently tempered by the white salty feta. This is going to be a regular!

    Posted by peteg on 9th August 2017
  • I love the combination of the savoury mac & cheese and the sweetness of the sweet potato. Everyone really enjoyed this meal!

    Posted by ElisabethF on 1st May 2017
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