This easy spinach and havarti mac and cheese is ready in just 30 minutes! Made entirely on the stovetop with an ultra-creamy havarti cheese sauce.
We take macaroni and cheese very, very seriously here at Life As A Strawberry.
So trust us when we tell you that this spinach and havarti mac and cheese? It is WORTH. YOUR. TIME.
We're using havarti cheese here for an ultra-creamy, surprisingly luxurious cheese sauce, and adding plenty of fresh spinach for a pop of color (and, y'know, vitamins or whatever).
The steps here are fairly simple:
- Cook some pasta (we opted for elbow macaroni here!) in very salty water until it's al dente.
- Whisk some flour and melted butter together to form a roux, then whisk in some milk and let it thicken.
- Stir in plenty of fresh spinach and havarti cheese, then toss with your cooked pasta and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
We're keeping things quick and easy by making this mac and cheese entirely on the stovetop, but this creamy sauce also holds up well in the oven if you want to turn it into a baked version!
A quick mac and cheese primer
There are two main styles of macaroni and cheese: The French-leaning version builds a creamy sauce using a basic stovetop béchamel sauce (a flour-and-butter base - called a roux - with lots of milk). Southern mac and cheese is typically baked and sometimes features eggs or evaporated milk in addition to a blend of cheeses and seasonings.
The "right" way to make mac and cheese is different for everyone. Our mac and cheese recipes have plenty of riffs and mix-ins, and they lean towards the French style: excellent right off the stovetop or baked with breadcrumbs or extra cheese on top.
Riffs & Substitutions
This mac and cheese is a great blank canvas recipe: dress it up with whatever you have on hand! A few of our favorite additions and substitutions:
- Add your favorite protein. This pasta is great with bacon, chicken, chorizo, andouille, or Italian Sausage!
- Add extra veggies and greens. Stretch this mac a bit by adding broccoli or cauliflower (steamed or roasted!), roasted butternut squash, pumpkin, or brussels sprouts, peas, grilled corn, cherry tomatoes, or leafy greens like fresh kale (or extra spinach!)
- Mix up the cheeses. We love how beautifully the havarti melts here (it makes the creeeeeeamiest, most buttery, melt-in-your-mouth sauce!) but you can use any cheeses you have on hand! White cheddar, goat cheese, parmesan, and gruyere are all good here in place of some or all of the havarti.
- Lighten up the sauce. If you're not a fan of dairy-heavy sauces, swap chicken or vegetable stock for up to 1 cup of the milk in this recipe! We also love substituting our favorite (vegan!) Magic Cauliflower Cream Sauce for the milk, butter, and flour in this recipe to pack in some extra veggies and save a bit of time.
This easy, creamy havarti mac and cheese has plenty of fresh spinach and is ready in half an hour!
- ¾ pound pasta (we used elbow macaroni)
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded havarti cheese
- 2 heaping cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook pasta in very salty water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Return empty pot to stovetop. Add butter and melt over medium heat.
- When butter is melted, add flour. Whisk to combine. Cook, whisking occasionally, for about 1 minute until roux is fragrant and sizzling,
- Add milk a bit at a time, whisking constantly to break up any lumps of flour.
- Cook sauce, whisking occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until it has thickened and reached a low simmer.
- Turn off the heat. Add cheese and spinach to sauce. Stir until cheese has melted.
- Add cooked pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately and garnish with some fresh cracked black pepper if you like.
Shred your own cheese for best results. Store-bought shredded cheese is often coated with preservatives that prevent it from melting smoothly, resulting in a grainy sauce. Shred your own cheese to ensure it melts smoothly!
Don't skimp on the salt and pepper here! With so few ingredients, seasoning is especially important in this recipe. While the flavors here are on the mellow side, we recommend using plenty of fresh cracked black pepper and a generous pinch of salt in this recipe to help the flavors pop.
Additions and Substitutions. Use any pasta shape you like here - we prefer shorter pastas with plenty of pockets (like shells, cavatappi, or rigatoni) to help catch all the sauce. Add extra veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, roasted squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, peas, kale, extra spinach) or your favorite protein (chicken, chorizo, andouille, bacon) to this recipe to stretch it a bit and make it heartier. Use white cheddar, goat cheese, gruyere, or parmesan in place of some or all of the havarti if you like.
To lighten up the cheese sauce, substitute 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock for 1 cup of the milk. You can also swap the milk, butter, and flour here for our favorite (vegan) Magic Cauliflower Cream Sauce!
Keywords: cheese sauce, macaroni, comfort food