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Arugula mac and cheese in a large silver pot with a black spoon.

White Cheddar Arugula Pesto Mac and Cheese

  • Author: Jessie
  • Prep Time: 8 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian


This easy mac and cheese gets a pop of flavor and color from fresh arugula pesto!


  • 3/4 pound pasta (we used large shell pasta)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup arugula pesto (or basil pesto)
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook pasta in very salty water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Whisk flour into the butter to form a roux and cook, whisking frequently, for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant.
  3. Whisk milk into the roux a little at a time, working out the lumps as you go so you have a smooth sauce. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, for 6-8 minutes until the sauce has thickened and come to a low simmer.
  4. Stir arugula pesto into the sauce and cook another 1-2 minutes to thicken.
  5. Turn off the heat and add shredded white cheddar cheese to the sauce. Stir for a minute or so, until cheese is fully melted and sauce is smooth.
  6. Add cooked pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Give it a taste, then add salt and pepper as necessary.


How to make arugula pesto. For full instructions and notes, see our Arugula Pesto recipe post, but in a nutshell: Add 4 cups fresh arugula, 1/2 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 2 cloves garlic, and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice to a food processor with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Pulse a few times to combine, then stream in 1/2 cup good olive oil a few Tablespoons at a time while the food processor runs until you have a smooth pesto (you may not need all the olive oil).

Shred your own cheese for best results. Store-bought shredded cheese is often coated with preservatives that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly. Buy a block of white cheddar and shred it yourself for best results! If your cheese sauce does separate, zap it a few times with an immersion blender to smooth it back out.

Additions and Substitutions. Use basil pesto or cilantro pesto in place of arugula pesto if you like. Swap some or all of the white cheddar cheese for goat cheese, havarti, or fontina. Use our Magic Cauliflower Cream in place of some or all of the milk (if you replace all of the milk with cauli cream à la our cauliflower mac and cheese, you can also omit the flour and butter). Swap up to 1/2 cup of the milk for white wine or chicken stock.

Keywords: pasta, macaroni and cheese, side dish