This creamy homemade mac and cheese recipe uses under 10 ingredients, so it's super easy to make. I add dollops of pesto and peas to brighten it up.
As I was planning what to post this fall, I realized that I’d never shared an easy, homemade mac and cheese recipe. Growing up, my sister and I devoured mac and cheese out of the box. And though that too-yellow, powdered variety of mac and cheese is now a thing of the past for me, I still enjoy a good homemade mac and cheese on occasion. It was high time I shared a recipe here.
Luckily for me, the Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook just came out. I’ve been friends with Maria of Two Peas and Their Pod for years so I couldn’t be more excited for her book to arrive! It’s full of nourishing, easy-to-make recipes that are all family-friendly, plus tips for meal prepping, grocery shopping, and cooking with kids. Though the book isn’t vegetarian, it includes an entire section of vegetarian main dishes, as well as veggie side dishes, salads, and soups. And last (but definitely not least) you’re going to want to get this one for Maria’s amazing array of cookie and dessert recipes (think Key Lime Bars, Peanut Butter Pie with Cookie Crust, Deep Dish Brownie Cookies, and more!).
When I got the book, I already had mac and cheese on my mind, and this Pesto Havarti Homemade Mac and Cheese recipe looked so creamy and delicious that I couldn’t resist giving it a try.
How to Make Mac and Cheese
Maria’s homemade mac and cheese recipe is SUPER easy to make, taking about 20 minutes from start to finish. To make it especially quick to assemble, blend up a batch of pesto ahead of time, or use store bought pesto in a pinch. With the pesto prepped, it comes together in a flash:
- Start by cooking your pasta. You want it to be just al dente; my elbow macaroni took only 5 minutes!
- Then, make the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a pan and add flour to make a roux. Whisk to create a smooth paste, and then stir in the milk. Continuing whisking until the milk thickens, about 2 minutes, and then add the cheese, stirring until it melts completely.
- Add the pasta! Mix in the pasta until it’s warmed through, as well as any veggies you’re using (I added peas!).
- Serve. Transfer the creamy pasta to plates and dot with pesto, basil, and red pepper flakes. Yum!
One tip before you cook: steer clear of pre-shredded cheese here, which is often coated in starchy anti-caking agents. Grating the cheese yourself will yield the best oozy, creamy texture.
Easy Mac and Cheese Variations
- Change up the cheese. Maria’s recipe calls for all havarti cheese, but I like to make mine with 1/2 havarti and 1/2 sharp white cheddar cheese for a stronger flavor. Gouda would also be delicious here.
- Add veggies. In the book, Maria talks about how this mac and cheese recipe is a great template for all sorts of veggies. I added steamed peas to mine, but steamed broccoli or asparagus or sautéed spinach would also be great mix-ins.
- Play with the pesto. I made my mac and cheese with a super-green spinach pepita pesto, and it was delicious. Of course, a classic basil pesto would be excellent, as would kale pesto, or any variety of pesto you like! See this post for some of my favorite variations. You could also skip the pesto entirely!
- Make it tangier. Stir 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder or 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard into the cheese sauce.
- Use your favorite pasta shape. I used classic elbow pasta, but cavatappi, orecchiette, farfalle, or little shells would all be good too.
- Make baked mac and cheese. Transfer the finished stovetop mac to a baking dish, and top it with panko bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Broil for 3 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown.
What to Serve with Macaroni and Cheese
This homemade macaroni and cheese recipe can double as a main and a side dish. Pair it with your favorite protein, or serve it with a simple veggie side dish like lemon green beans, roasted beets, roasted cauliflower, roasted tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus. It’d also be great with a cup of tomato soup and some crusty bread. Enjoy!
If you love this macaroni and cheese recipe…
Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 3 cups (12 ounces) elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk, at room temperature (I used almond milk)
- 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- ½ teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- generous scoops of Pesto
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- ½ cup fresh basil
- pinches of red pepper flakes
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook just until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and set aside.
- In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the flour to create a paste. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and continue whisking until the sauce starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Stir in the shredded cheese and ½ teaspoon sea salt, and continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.
- Add the pasta, stirring to combine, and cook just until the pasta is warmed through. Season to taste. Stir in the peas, if using, and serve with generous dollops of pesto, fresh basil, and pinches of red pepper flakes.