This Pesto Spinach Macaroni and Cheese is an easy, gourmet mac and cheese that’s ready in twenty minutes start to finish!
Guys, I have a confession. Some days, I just don’t care how easy a 15 minute meal is– my brain hurts, and I don’t want to cook. Does this happen to you too? On those nights, my first instinct is to have the husband cook dinner. (The cat, of course, still refuses to help either of us cook.) If that doesn’t work– there’s Indian take-out. If take-out falls through– I reach back into the deep, dark recesses of my kitchen pantry– and pull out a box of mac and cheese. Not just any mac and cheese, mind you– I like the fancy stuff. The organic, ‘let’s pretend this powdered cheese came from a cow’ stuff.
However, even the fanciest boxed mac and cheese always leaves me full of doubt. I’m left wondering, ‘What exactly did I just eat?’ and ‘Would homemade mac and cheese really have been harder to make??’ The answer, of course, is NO– homemade mac and cheese is NOT difficult to make, and doesn’t take much longer to prepare than the boxed kind. Plus, with homemade mac and cheese– there’s no suspicious powdered cheese packet! This Pesto Spinach Macaroni and Cheese takes about 20 minutes, start to finish, and is bursting with cheesy goodness.
To make this Pesto Spinach Macaroni and Cheese, you’re going to need (this is shocking)– pesto, spinach, macaroni, and cheese. When you’re shopping for pesto, look for basil pesto that has more basil than oil. (In other words, basil will come BEFORE oil on the ingredients list). It will taste better, and your pasta will be less greasy.
It might be obvious from the photos– but I didn’t use ‘macaroni’– I used pipe rigate. (‘Pipe rigate and cheese’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the classic ‘Mac and cheese,’ though!) Use whichever pasta you prefer. (I like the pipe rigate because it holds onto the sauce better than tiny little macaroni noodles would.) As for cheese– gather up some white cheddar, gouda, and parmesan. Whatever you do– when you’re buying the cheese– DO NOT buy pre-shredded. It won’t melt as quickly, and your sauce won’t turn out as well. (And the cheese sauce is important here, right?!)
Making Pesto Spinach Macaroni + Cheese
To make this Pesto Spinach Mac and Cheese, start heating up a large pot of salted water. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta. You’re going to cook the pasta about 1-2 minutes LESS than the package directions say to– so set your timer accordingly. The spinach should go into the water with the pasta about 3-4 minutes before the pasta timer dings.
While the pasta cooks, melt butter in another large pot, and whisk flour into it to make a roux. Next, add milk to the roux, and heat it until it begins to simmer. Once it begins to simmer, slowly start stirring in the shredded cheese until it’s all melted into the sauce. Turn down the heat to low. Then, add the rosemary and pesto, and stir some more.
When the pasta is al dente, stop any urge you have to dump the pasta into a colander and rinse it. Instead, pull the pasta and spinach straight out of the water with tongs or a pasta serving spoon, shake off the excess water, and put it directly into the pasta sauce. Stir up the pasta into the cheese sauce. If your sauce is thicker than you prefer, add a little of the pasta water to your mac and cheese. If it’s thinner than you like, stir it over medium-low heat for a few minutes to let it thicken up. Serve this extra cheesy pasta as a main course, as a side dish, or even a midnight snack! However you serve it, you can be confident that it’s full of real cheese, from a real cow, with no powdery cheese-flavored packets in sight!
Pesto Spinach Macaroni and Cheese
Note: Do NOT use pre-shredded cheese. It won't melt into the milk as easily.
- 3 cups dry macaroni or pipe rigate pasta
- 4 oz fresh spinach
- 1 cup milk (2% or whole) OR sub heavy cream
- 1 TB butter
- 1 tsp flour
- 2 oz white cheddar, freshly shredded
- 2 oz gouda, freshly shredded
- 2 oz Parmesan, freshly grated
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 TB basil pesto
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook al dente (you're going to remove pasta from the water about 1-2 minutes BEFORE the package directions tell you to).
About 3 minutes before pasta is al dente, add spinach to pasta water.
In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat. Once butter begins to melt, add flour and whisk it into the butter to create a roux. Add milk to roux, and whisk to combine butter and flour mixture.
When milk begins to simmer, slowly begin stirring the cheese into the milk. Cheese should melt into milk mixture. Reduce heat to low.
Add pesto and rosemary to milk and cheese sauce.
Once pasta is al dente, move it off the heat. DO NOT DUMP THE PASTA WATER. Instead, use tongs or a pasta serving spoon to pull pasta and spinach straight out of the water, shake off excess water, and place straight into the cheese sauce.
Stir pasta and spinach into cheese sauce. If sauce is too thick to incorporate, add a little more pasta water. If sauce seems thin, continue to stir pasta into sauce over medium-low heat for another 2-3 minutes.
Serve pasta warm as a main dish or side dish.
This recipe was inspired by a box of Pesto Macaroni and Cheese from Aldi.