This creamy stovetop parmesan spinach mac and cheese is a perfect cozy dinner! Ready in under an hour with a quick white sauce. A perfect blank canvas for extra veggies!
This easy, cheesy spinach pasta is the stuff dinnertime dreams are made of.
Rich, creamy parmesan sauce? Twirly pasta noodles? Heaps of fresh spinach? SIGN. ME. UP.
What you need for this pasta
We kept the ingredients list short here: this savory mac and cheese leans on pantry and fridge staples to keep things simple!
- Your favorite noodles (we used cavatappi here!)
- Cream Cheese
- Shredded Parmesan
- plenty of salt and fresh cracked pepper
How to make it
We're talking four basic steps to spinach mac and cheese weeknight world domination (be sure to read the full recipe below!)
- Cook the pasta in very salty water, then drain the noodles and return the pot to the stove. (15 minutes)
- Whisk the sauce together, let it thicken, then stir in the spinach and cheeses. (15 minutes)
- Toss your cooked pasta in the spinach cheese sauce. Taste and season as needed (don't skip the salt in this recipe! Seasoning is extra important with so few ingredients!)
- Stuff the pasta in your face (very important step).
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 and Substitutions
Like most mac and cheese, this is a great blank-canvas food! Some of our favorite swaps and additions:
- Add extra veggies. This pasta is great with broccoli or cauliflower - roast them up ahead of time, or add florets to the sauce when you add the milk (they'll cook and soften while the sauce thickens). You can also add peas, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms,
- Amp up the flavor. This is a very simple white sauce - if you want something more complex and flavorful, try adding some garlic, onion, or shallot (sauté them in the butter for a minute or two before adding the flour!) You can also add your favorite herbs and spices - we like to add a pinch of paprika, nutmeg, or red pepper flakes.
- Add some protein. Toss in some chopped rotisserie chicken or leftover shredded chicken, your favorite sausage (hot Italian sausage is good here if you want it a bit spicy!), or a bit of crispy bacon.
- Turn this pasta into a baked mac and cheese. Transfer pasta to a baking dish, top with buttery bread crumbs, and bake until golden for a casserole-style mac and cheese. We have full instructions for baked mac and cheese in our Mac and Cheese 101 article!
VIDEO: How to make parmesan spinach mac and cheese
Easy parmesan spinach mac and cheese with a creamy white sauce.
- ¾ pound cavatappi pasta
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 3 heaping cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup cream cheese (about 2 ounces)
- 1 ½ cups shredded parmesan cheese
- Cook the pasta in very salty water until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.
- Return empty pasta pot to stove and turn the heat to medium.
- Add butter to pot and heat until just melted.
- Whisk flour into butter and let cook for 30 seconds.
- Slowly stream milk into pot, whisking constantly to break up any lumps of flour. Cook, whisking occasionally, until sauce has thickened and just begun to simmer, about 7-10 minutes.
- Stir chopped spinach, salt, and pepper into sauce and cook 1-2 minutes more until spinach has wilted.
- Remove sauce from heat.
- Add cream cheese and shredded parmesan cheese to sauce and stir until cheese has melted.
- Return cooked pasta to sauce and stir to coat. Serve immediately.
Buy good parmesan cheese and shred it yourself - pre-shredded cheese is sometimes coated with preservatives that will prevent it from melting smoothly. If you're not sure whether your cheese will melt smoothly, add the cheeses before you add the spinach (this way, if the cheese clumps instead of melting, you can smooth it out with an immersion blender before you add the greens).
Additions and substitutions. Use frozen spinach instead of fresh (substitute 1 cup frozen spinach for every 2 cups fresh spinach called for). Add your favorite veggies (kale, artichoke hearts, peas, broccoli, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion) or protein (chicken, sausage, bacon) to make this heartier. Skip the cream cheese if you don't have any; swap white cheddar, goat cheese, havarti, asiago, fontina, or gruyere for some or all of the cheese called for here.
Don't skip the salt! Because we're working with so few ingredients here, seasoning is especially important. Add plenty of fresh cracked black pepper to this pasta, and if the flavors don't "pop" yet, add salt.
Amp up the flavor. This is a very simple white sauce: it's delicious, but mellow. If you want more in-your-face flavor, add some chopped garlic, onion, or shallot (sauté this in the melted butter before you add the flour) or stir in a pinch of your favorite spices (smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, or red pepper flakes are all good here). Stir in a scoop of pesto if you like.
Strict vegetarians should look for parmesan cheese made without rennet.
For a lightened-up twist, swap our favorite Magic Cauliflower Cream for the flour and milk in this recipe! You can also skip the pasta and serve this sauce over grilled or roasted chicken, cauliflower, or zucchini noodles.
Keywords: comfort food, winter