This easy white sauce is ready in half an hour (and it's freezer-friendly!) Perfect on pasta, pizza, and more. No heavy cream required!
One thing every home cook needs in their back pocket: A quick white sauce recipe. This creamy, versatile sauce is made from scratch and excellent with your favorite pasta recipes or as a base for homemade pizza.
Scroll to the recipe card below for a full ingredients list with exact quantities.
Before you jump in, there are a few things we want to highlight:
- Use real parmesan, and shred it yourself. Look for true Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at the store, and shred it yourself if you can. Store bought shredded or grated cheese is often coated with preservatives that prevent it from melting smoothly, which can lead to a grainy or clumpy sauce. Learn more: How to tell if your Parmigiano Reggiano is the real thing.
- Goat cheese lends a bit of brightness and complexity to this white cheese sauce. (If you don't have goat cheese on hand, use cream cheese instead!)
- We used minced garlic here, which leaves some small pieces studded throughout our sauce. If you'd like less texture in your final sauce, you can lightly smash the garlic cloves and sauté them whole (instead of mincing the garlic), then remove the smashed garlic before adding the flour.
Variations and Substitutions
This recipe is fairly forgiving: It's easy to customize with whatever you have on hand! A few of our favorite riffs:
- Swap up to ⅔ cup of milk for chicken stock, parmesan broth, or white wine (a splash of dry chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or pinot grigio turns this into a lovely white wine sauce!)
- Add herbs, spices, or seasonings. Brighten up this sauce with fresh chopped chives or parsley, add a squeeze of lemon juice after the sauce thickens, or add a pinch of nutmeg or black pepper for extra depth.
- Replace the parmesan with shredded sharp cheddar cheese (perfect for mac and cheese!) or gruyere (great for pasta, eggs benedict, or a croque madame!)
- If you're serving this sauce with pasta, add a splash of reserved pasta water to loosen it up and help it cling to the noodles (like we do in our goat cheese pasta!)
Start by melting butter in a deep skillet or small saucepan over medium heat, then add garlic (Image 1, below) and sauté for just a minute or two, until garlic is soft and fragrant.
Add a bit of flour to the butter (Image 2) and stir everything together to form a roux (a thick paste that will thicken the sauce).
Let the roux cook for a minute or so until it's thick and foamy (Image 3), then slowly stream in the milk, stirring constantly to break up any lumps (Image 4).
Once all the milk has been added, bring the sauce to a low simmer and let it thicken.
Reduce the heat to low, add your cheeses (Image 5), and stir until all the cheese is completely melted and you have a smooth, silky sauce (Image 6).
Storage and Freezing
This basic white sauce is easy to make ahead of time, and it freezes very well! Let the finished sauce cool completely, then transfer it to an airtight container (we use these deli containers for just about everything).
Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Defrost frozen sauce overnight in the fridge, then reheat over low heat on the stovetop and use normally!
Ways to use White Sauce
- Pizza. This recipe makes an excellent white pizza sauce! Use it as the base for a chicken alfredo pizza (it's also great with our pesto chicken pizza or cilantro corn pizza!)
- Toss it with your favorite pasta! Use this anywhere you'd use a jar of alfredo sauce (it's great with linguine, our favorite corn fettuccine, and macaroni) or pair with your favorite stuffed shells or ravioli. Add vegetables (peas, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach) or protein (shrimp, sausage, crockpot shredded chicken, turkey meatballs) to make it a bit heartier.
- Pour this sauce over tortillas stuffed with your favorite fixings for easy white sauce enchiladas. (You can also stir some green chiles, smoked paprika, or sour cream into the sauce to give it an extra kick!)
- Use it in place of homemade béchamel sauce for a cozy lasagna.
Yes! You can use half and half instead of milk if you'd like, though the sauce will be a bit thicker. If you'd like to use heavy cream, omit the flour (the heavy cream will thicken up on its own!)
Yes! Traditional Italian Alfredo sauce is typically made with butter, grated parmesan cheese, and pasta water - it doesn't include garlic, milk (or cream), or a roux to thicken the sauce. Thick, cream-based fettuccine alfredo sauces are largely an American invention. This recipe is a cross between classic Mornay sauce (one of the French mother sauces: basically, a Mornay is a béchamel sauce that includes cheese) and an Americanized fettuccine alfredo sauce: It's creamy and garlicky, but still on the lighter side.
Yes! Omit the flour and use half and half or heavy cream instead of milk. The cream will thicken up quite a bit on its own - no flour necessary!
Reheat this sauce in a small saucepan or a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir it frequently until it comes up to temperature, then use normally! If the sauce separates at all (this can happen if it's been frozen for awhile, or if you use store-bought shredded cheese instead of shredding your own), whisk in a splash of cream or milk to smooth it out, or give it a few pulses with an immersion blender to bring it back together.
If your sauce is broken, curdled, or clumpy, pulse it a few times with an immersion blender to smooth it all out! When this sauce breaks, it's usually a result of the cheese that's used: Pre-shredded (or pre-crumbled) cheese from the store is often coated with preservatives that prevent it from melting smoothly, and some cheeses labeled "parmesan" aren't actually true Parmigiano Reggiano (different off-brands of parmesan often don't melt as well as the real thing).
More Simple Sauce recipes
We love a versatile, delicious sauce recipe! Here are a few of our favorites:
Did you make this recipe? Leave a comment and star rating below to let us know how it turned out!Print
This quick, simple white sauce is perfect on pasta or as a base for your favorite pizza!
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1 ounce goat cheese, crumbled (about 2 Tablespoons)
- kosher salt to taste
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan or a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, for one minute, until garlic is soft and fragrant.
- Add flour and stir to form a paste. Cook for another 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is thick and foamy.
- Stream milk in a little at a time, stirring constantly to work out any lumps. Add a pinch of salt.
- Bring mixture to a low simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 6-10 minutes, until sauce is thickened and easily coats the back of a spoon.
- Reduce heat to low. Add parmesan and goat cheese; stir until cheeses are completely melted and you're left with a smooth sauce. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve immediately or let sauce cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
A few notes on cheese. Look for true Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) cheese here for best results. Shred and crumble the cheeses for this recipe yourself: store-bought shredded parmesan and pre-crumbled goat cheese are often coated with preservatives and anti-caking agents that prevent them from melting smoothly into a sauce.
Additions and Substitutions. Replace up to half of the milk in this recipe with white wine, chicken stock, or parmesan broth. Use cream cheese instead of goat cheese if you like. For a more mac-and-cheese style sauce, swap the parmesan for shredded cheddar, white cheddar, or gruyere (or a mix of all three). Add herbs (chives, parsley, tarragon), a splash of lemon juice, or a pinch of nutmeg to this sauce for extra flavor.
For a smoother sauce, use whole, smashed garlic cloves instead of minced garlic. Cook the whole cloves in the butter as directed, but remove and discard them before adding the flour (this gives you plenty of garlic flavor without the added texture!) You can also blend this sauce with an immersion blender to make it ultra smooth.
How to use this sauce. Toss this white sauce with cooked pasta or gnocchi (it's excellent with fettuccine!), use it as the base for homemade pizza, serve it over grilled or roasted chicken, or stir it into your favorite casserole.
Storage and Freezing. Let sauce cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Defrost frozen white sauce in the fridge overnight, then reheat over low heat on the stovetop and use normally. If sauce separates in the fridge or freezer, add a splash of cream or milk, or blend it with an immersion blender to smooth it back out.
Strict vegetarians should look for cheeses made without rennet.
- Serving Size: ½ cup
- Calories: 169
- Sugar: 6.4 g
- Sodium: 409.8 mg
- Fat: 10.1 g
- Carbohydrates: 9.9 g
- Protein: 9.8 g
- Cholesterol: 28.2 mg
Keywords: sauce, pasta, alfredo