Easy parmesan spinach mac and cheese with a creamy white sauce.
- 3/4 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
- 1/4 cup cream cheese (about 2 ounces)
- 1 1/2 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