Creamy Basil Artichoke Mac and Cheese

VegetarianMac Cheese

This mac and cheese with fresh basil and artichokes takes the classic to new heights! The sauce is infused with basil and made with a blend of melted cheeses. No roux! (P.S. Your kids will love this, too!)

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

This is grown-up mac and cheese! It’s so cheesy and creamy–swoon-worthy!

Before you fall over, you will want to take another bite. And then another. Basil-infused cream is the base in this roux-free sauce, and a whopping four different kinds of cheese make this stovetop mac and cheese rich and gooey.

HOW TO MAKE THIS MAC AND CHEESE

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, use the same pot to make the sauce. First, whirl a handful of basil in a blender with milk, cream, and cream cheese until it becomes a vibrant, creamy sauce.

Heat it in the pot and stir in the Fontina, cheddar, and Parmesan. Boom! That’s the sauce, done in short order.

Finally, add the cooked pasta and artichoke hearts. Just try not to eat it out of the pot. (Good luck with that!)

Sprinkle the top with toasty breadcrumbs if you feel like gilding the lily. It’s optional, but a creamy-crunchy combination makes my heart sing! Taking a few extra minutes to toast breadcrumbs is worth it for me.

Stovetop Mac and Cheese - mac and cheese in bowl with basil leaves and breadcrumbs on top

WHAT KIND OF PASTA SHOULD I USE?

Choose traditional elbows or any small to medium-size curvy pasta with plenty of nooks and crannies to capture the sauce. Campanelle (little bells), orechiette (little ears), lumache (snails), rotini, penne rigate, or fusilli are all good options.

I love cavatappi for its luxurious texture, but you could just as easily use this sauce on spaghetti or bucatini and call it something other than mac and cheese.

WHAT ARTICHOKES ARE BEST FOR THIS DISH?

Tangy marinated artichoke hearts (canned and packed in water or oil) lend a counterpoint to the richness of the sauce, but you could also use frozen artichokes—just thaw them before using.

In either case, cut the artichokes into bite-size pieces before adding them to the dish.

Creamy Mac and Cheese - mac and cheese in pot

HOW DO I REHEAT MAC AND CHEESE

Left over, refrigerated mac and cheese can be reheated in the microwave or in a saucepan, stirring frequently over low heat on top of the stove. If the pasta looks dry, add a little milk and stir it in before heating.

CAN I FREEZE MAC AND CHEESE?

Yes! If you want to make this mac and cheese ahead, place it in a buttered baking dish, cover with foil and store in the freezer for up to two months. Bake it, loosely covered with foil at 350ºF for one hour, or until the pasta is hot all the way through.

You may need to stir in a little bit of milk towards the end of the baking time if the pasta looks dry. If you’re planning to top this mac and cheese with toasted breadcrumbs, wait to add those the day you plan to serve it.

CRAZY FOR MAC AND CHEESE? TRY THESE RECIPES!

Creamy Basil Artichoke Mac and Cheese Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

For the mac and cheese:

  • Salt for the pasta water
  • 3/4 pound pasta, such as elbows or cavatappi
  • 1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup grated Fontina (about 3 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 (8-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut into bite size pieces
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

For the toasted breadcrumbs (optional):

  • 1 cup soft, fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

Method

1 Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and reserve the pot. You are going to return the pot to the stove after making the basil cream.

2 Make the basil cream: Combine basil, heavy cream, milk, and cream cheese in the blender. Puree until smooth. Return the pot used to boil the pasta to the stove, and set it over medium heat. Add the basil cream to the pot, and bring it to a low simmer.

Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese - cream sauce in a blender.

3 Make the sauce: Add the Fontina, cheddar, Parmesan, and cayenne pepper to the basil cream sauce, stirring until melted. Stir in the cooked pasta and artichokes. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture is heated all the way through.

Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese - pasta noodles in a milky cream sauce in a pot with a green spoonCreamy Mac and Cheese - mac and cheese in pot

4 Toast the breadcrumbs (optional): In a skillet over medium heat, combine the breadcrumbs, oil, and salt. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned and crisp.

Stovetop Mac and Cheese - toasted breadcrumbs in a skillet

5 Serve the mac and cheese: Transfer the pasta to bowls and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs, or don’t. It’s your call.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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Mac and Cheese Add-Ins - mac and cheese in bowl with basil leaves and breadcrumbs on topCreamy Basil Artichoke Mac and Cheese