You can make this Parmesan Mac and Cheese on the stove in 25 minutes! It also includes cheddar, plus a hint of garlic and fresh basil, for a nice Italian twist!
You can tell where people are on their cooking journies by their stovetop mac and cheese.
Are they making it homemade or using a boxed mix?
Over the years, I graduated from boxed versions to this homemade mac and cheese with Parmesan, cheddar, hints of garlic and basil. You know I had to put an Italian spin on it!
It's so delicious and ready in 25 minutes!
The only box you need is a pound of pasta. Speaking of which, don't miss my other pasta recipes!
Pasta: This is the macaroni part! The best pasta for mac and cheese is something that cooks up al dente and doesn’t get too soft when left over. It also provides crevices to hold the cheese sauce.
I like to make rotini mac and cheese, but you also could use orecchiette or penne. Some people even make spaghetti mac and cheese!
Of course, traditional American macaroni and cheese often features elbow pasta or small shells, but I find the leftovers are too mushy. Use what you prefer.
Cheese: We’re using a combination of sharp cheddar and Parmesan for delicious flavor. The Parmesan adds a salty kick that’s key here. Note that I don't recommend using extra sharp cheddar here, or it will be too strong.
Milk: This is mac and cheese without cream, so it’s not heavy. I always use 2% milk here, but whole milk would work well and bring a little richness.
Seasoning: You know I had to add garlic powder for an Italian mac and cheese flair. And paprika works wonderfully with macaroni and cheese. You have to try it!
Basil: Fresh basil leaves bring the X-factor to this dish, so don’t skip them! They add a wonderful pop of flavor that perfectly complements the Parmesan and garlic accents in the cheese sauce.
How to make Parmesan mac and cheese
See the card at the end of this post for the full recipe, but here's an overview.
Make the cheese sauce
- Melt butter in a pan and add flour to make a paste, or "roux" for the cheese sauce.
- Add milk and stir until thickened and glossy. Now you have what's called "béchamel sauce."
- Add grated Parmesan cheese and shredded cheddar.
- Stir to combine until you have a smooth, creamy cheese sauce and add the seasonings and basil.
Add cooked pasta
You can boil the pasta and let it drain in a colander (affiliate link) in the sink until your cheese sauce is ready. Then, add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until coated well!
- To prevent a grainy cheese sauce, use freshly grated Parmesan instead of the kind from a can. I use my Vitamix blender (affiliate link) to grate it.
- Shred the cheddar yourself, so it melts smoothly. If you buy shredded cheddar, it will contain an anti-caking agent that doesn’t melt well for a cheese sauce.
- The cheese sauce makes just enough to coat the pasta. If you like your mac and cheese extra cheesy, make 1.5 times the sauce.
What to serve with it
Serve this no-bake mac and cheese with The Best Italian Green Salad with Homemade Dressing on the side for a great, meatless meal.
Mac and cheese add-ins
For a more complete stovetop mac and cheese dinner, consider adding in protein such as ham, cooked sausage, canned tuna, shredded rotisserie chicken or crispy bacon.
Or how about stirring in some quartered cherry tomatoes or cooked veggies like peas, spinach, cauliflower or broccoli? Yum!
Frequently asked questions
A microwave is convenient for reheating a single serving of this Parmesan mac and cheese. You'll need to add one or two tablespoons of milk to it first, so it won't be dry. Once it's heated through, you can stir in a little butter so it'll be tastier.
The stovetop works better for reheating larger quantities of leftover macaroni and cheese. Just add the mac and cheese to a pan with a tablespoon of milk per serving.
Heat on medium and stir, using a spoon to break up the clumps of pasta. Add a bit more milk if it still seems dry, and finish with extra butter.
Technically, you can, but I don’t recommend it. The pasta would get too mushy. If you do freeze it, let it thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating it.
More pasta recipes to love
- Rotini Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Pasta al Forno with Smoked Mozzarella
- Creamy Walnut Sauce for Pasta
- Pasta e Piselli (Pasta with Peas)
If you try this recipe for Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Parmesan, please leave a comment and a rating!
Parmesan Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound pasta (rotini, elbows, or medium shells)
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups 2% milk (or use whole milk for a richer sauce)
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 large basil leaves
- paprika for serving
- Fill a large pasta pot ⅔ full with hot water. Place the pot over high heat on your stove. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and cover the pot to let the water come to a boil.
- While the pot is heating, shred the cheddar and grate the Parmesan, if needed, by placing a few chunks at a time in your blender. Set the cheese aside.
- When the pot is boiling, add the pasta and give the pot a stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook the pasta until it's al dente (check the time listed on the package.)
- Drain the cooked pasta in a colander in the sink and leave it there while you make the cheese sauce.
- In the same pot you used for the pasta, melt the butter over medium-high heat on your stove. Add in the flour and whisk to combine. Continue cooking and stirring the roux for about 90 seconds.
- Add the milk to the roux, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until the milk thickens and becomes glossy. This should take 3-4 minutes.
- Lower the heat and add in the cheeses gradually, stirring after each addition until combined.
- Add the salt, pepper and garlic powder, stirring to combine. Cut up the basil leaves with kitchen scissors and add them to the cheese sauce. Turn off the heat.
- Return the cooked pasta to your pot with the cheese sauce. Stir to combine.
- Serve immediately for best results. Top with paprika, if desired. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat leftovers in the microwave with a little milk added, so the mac and cheese isn't dry.
- Sharp cheddar works well, as opposed to extra sharp, which is too strong for this dish.
- Shredding/grating the cheeses yourself (instead of buying pre-shredded cheese or Parmesan in a can) ensures the cheeses will melt more smoothly and not make the cheese sauce grainy.
- The sauce makes just enough to coat the pasta. If you like your mac and cheese extra cheesy, make 1.5 times the sauce. The cheese sauce is great on veggies and ham.
(Recipe Source: Cooking with Mamma C. Originally published on April 19, 2017 and updated now with new photos and additional information. Photos by Kanyi Muraguri for Cooking with Mamma C.)