Homemade Mac and Cheese

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.

Homemade mac and cheese

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.

Mac and cheese recipe ingredients

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.

Mac and cheese

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.

If you want to try more macaroni and cheese variations, check out my vegan mac and cheese or my cauliflower baked macaroni and cheese!

Homemade macaroni and cheese

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, broccoli, or asparagus. It’d also be great with a cup of tomato soup and some crusty bread. Enjoy!

Mac and cheese recipe

If you love this macaroni and cheese recipe…

Check out this post for more easy dinner ideas or try one of these delicious pasta recipes next!

Homemade Mac and Cheese

rate this recipe:
5 from 16 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 20 mins
Serves 6
Everyone's favorite comfort food! This Pesto Havarti Macaroni and Cheese Recipe is adapted from the Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook by Maria Lichty.


  • 3 cups (12 ounces) elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, at room temp (I used almond milk)
  • 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • generous scoops of Pesto

optional mix-ins:

  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 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 1/2 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.


And a fun variation is to turn the mac and cheese into a crunchy-topped baked casserole: Just pour the finished mac and cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese over the top, and broil for 3 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown.



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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. Serena

    5 stars
    BEST MAC AND CHEESE EVER!!!! It’s very creamy, which I just ADOREE! The cheese taste is not too strong, but subtle which to me, makes a perfect max and cheese. Delish!

    NOTE: for the sauce, I just make the paste then then add milk and cheese, boil that for a while (it never thickens) then I add some flour and boil it for 6. Works out well and is delicious.

  2. Ashley

    Hello! The recipe calls for “3 cups 12 ounces” of macaroni elbows. I’m confused about this measurement. Can you please clarify how many cups or how many ounces total does it require?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Ashley, 12 ounces should be about 3 cups. Thanks for pointing this out – there are supposed to be parenthesis around the (12 ounces), so it reads more clearly.

      • Ashley

        Thank you! I bought the ingredients and am looking forward to trying this recipe!

  3. Piper

    I don’t have whole milk will just regular low-fat milk work

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Piper, yep, it will!

  4. Maria from twopeasandtheirpod.com

    I am so happy you enjoyed the mac and cheese! Thanks for sharing my cookbook! I really appreciate it! xo

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      We really had fun making it! xoxo

  5. vivian

    5 stars
    Excellent mac and cheese. I used gouda instead of Havarti and swirled the pesto into the dish so every bite has pesto. Thanks for posting this great recipe!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Vivian, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Sara

    Is there anything other than Mac we can try in this recipe?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Sara, you can use small shells or orecchiette pasta if you’d like.

  7. Anna

    I want to try your Mac and Cheese…I love sweet peas. I will be the only one eating it (Hubby does not like Mac and Cheese). Can I freeze this recipe?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Anna, I wouldn’t freeze it – the pasta will be mushy and the sauce won’t be as creamy. You could make a half batch and just save the 2nd portion to reheat the next day? I hope you enjoy!

  8. Emily from carvingajourney.com

    Thank you for posting such a yummy looking recipe! I have now found a new blogger through you as well!

    Quick question: Have you every made a roux with something other than flour. I am gluten free but would love to try this recipe. Is the roux necessary? THANKS!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Emily, I think an all-purpose gluten free flour might work, but I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure. Maybe someone else will comment on this thread with a GF roux idea!

      • sherry

        too much flour too thick

      • Andrea McGrath

        Arrowroot powder!!! Works like a charm 🙂

    • Jennifer Dygert

      5 stars
      Gluten Free flour works. I am gluten free as well. I use gluten free krusteaz all purpose flour

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.