This simple but so delicious recipe for baked mac and cheese is sure to become a family favorite! Trading traditional macaroni for cavatappi pasta, this recipe combines sharp cheddar and gruyere cheese for an al dente bite full of luscious cheesy goodness.
I am human and therefore I love macaroni and cheese.
And while I recognize this recipe should tecccchhhhnically be called cavatappi and cheese. I think y'all know where I'm coming from.
This is baked mac and cheese at its simplest and finest. While you can add different topping and mix-ins, I love the classic combination of well cooked pasta with so much melty cheese.
I hope you enjoy!
Why use cavatappi pasta?
Guys, I have to tell y'all something. Over the years and many different mac and cheeses later I have found that I am not actually sold on the macaroni past shape. Particularly when baked!
For me it's simply too easy for macaroni pasta to get soggy so my solution.... Cavatappi!
Cavatappi is a bit larger and thicker and thus is remains firm even after soaking up all that ooey gooey cheesy sauce.
Perfectly al dente pasta in mac and cheese? Yes please!
Check out other Side Dish Recipes from The Jam Jar Kitchen!
- Dutch oven or other pot for making the cheese sauce: I love my Le Creuset Dutch Oven and use it more than any other kitchen item.
- Large pot for boiling pasta (optional): When I feel like doing less dishes I just pre boil the pasta in the dutch oven, then drain and make the cheese sauce.
- Colandar: For draining the pasta.
- Cheese grater: I love this Oxo Box Grater. Highly recommend grating your cheese fresh for this recipe.
- 9x12 inch casserole dish (or dish of a comparable size): I love this Le Creuset 4 qt casserole dish with lid.
- Sharp cheddar and Gruyere cheese: I love using a mix of sharp cheddar and gruyere for mac and cheese. I typically do abot 8 oz sharp cheddar to 5 oz gruyere, simply because those are the most common cheese block sizes. I HIGHLY recommend grating your own cheese. Pre-shredded cheeses have different powders on them to prevent them from clumping or melting in the bag. Because of this they do not melt well in a cheese sauce.
- Cavatappi pasta: As mentioned I just love cavatappi pasta in "mac" and cheese. It holds up so much better than macaroni. Be sure to cook very al dente.
- Butter: I'm a huge fan of Kerry Gold butter.
- Milk: I recommend using whole milk.
- Salt & pepper
- Pinch of cayenne (optional)
- Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Step by Step Instructions
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook and drain the pasta.
Make sure you cook it a little firmer than al dente, usually a minute or two less than the instructions. It will continue to soften when it bakes.
- While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese.
You need about 2 cups of freshly grated cheese.
- Make the roux.
Don't skip the step of cooking the flour and butter for at least a minute before moving on and adding the milk.
- Make the cheese sauce.
Wait to add the cheese until the sauce has thickened.
- Add cooked pasta and mix to combine.
- Pour ½ of the pasta into the casserole dish and sprinkle with ⅓rd cup cheese.
- Add the remaining pasta to the dish and sprinkle with the rest of the shredded cheese.
- Bake at 375 for 15-17 minutes until bubbly.
- Rest for 5 minutes and enjoy!
I could eat a whole pan of this on it's own! But it's also great as a side dish, especially for BBQ.
Serve it with my Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Coleslaw for a fabulous summer meal that can feed a crowd!
Frequently Asked Questions
I would NOT recommend it. Store bought shredded cheeses are treated so that they don't clump or melt in the bag which prevents them from melting correctly in a cheese sauce.
I know it seems like a pain to grate your own cheese but it really is worth the deliciousness!
You can! I love a combo of sharp cheddar and gruyere. If you'd prefer to just use cheddar or add in Monterey jack feel free. Just make sure the cheese melts well.
You can! I kind of love the classic straight melted cheese on top. But for a crisp topping you can mix Panko with a little melted butter and add that before baking.
You can! Simply follow the recipe up until baking then cover with foil and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Then bake according to instructions, adding another 5-10 minutes.
Storing this Baked Mac and Cheese
You can store this mac and cheese in the fridge for around 4 days.
Enjoyed this recipe? Let me know in the comments!
Baked Mac and Cheese
- Large pot
- Cheese grater
- 9x12 casserole dish
- 1 lb Cavatappi pasta
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
- 5 oz gruyere cheese, freshly shredded
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 3 cups milk I recommend whole milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- pinch of cayenne optional
- pinch of ground nutmeg optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta about 1-2 minutes less than package instructions. Very al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese. Mix the cheddar and gruyere, then divide out approximately 2 cups for the sauce and 1 cup for the topping. Set aside.
- Make the roux by melting 3 tbsp of butter over medium high heat in a dutch oven or other pot. Add 3 tbsp of flour and cook over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly. While continuing to whisk, stream in 3 cups of whole milk. Whisk until smooth and there are no more lumps. Bring the sauce to a low boil over medium high heat while whisking frequently so the it does not scorch. This will take about 5 minutes. Once a boil has been reached turn the heat down to low and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and add salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Add two cups of grated cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and is fully incorporated. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until it is evenly coated.
- Pour ½ of the pasta and cheese sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Sprinkle about ⅓rd cup of cheese evenly on the top. Add the remaining pasta and cheese sauce and top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake the mac and cheese uncovered at 375 degrees F for about 15-17 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to rest at least 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!