creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese with pancetta + spinach
This creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese is just as easy and satisfying as any homemade mac and cheese, but BETTER. Made with a decadent white cheddar cheese sauce, crispy diced pancetta, fresh baby spinach and fusilli pasta noodles, it’s fancy enough for date night but simple enough for a weeknight family dinner. Prepare thyself to fall in love with a new pasta meal.
Want to know what I love the most about this macaroni and cheese recipe? The CREAMINESS. Oh, but those crispy bits of salty pancetta, too. And the fresh spinach mixed into the cheese sauce. And the spiraled noodles that hug in all that cheesy, creamy goodness. OK, you know what, fine — I love all of it the most. One taste, and I suspect you (and every member of your family) will, too.
HOW TO MAKE STOVETOP MACARONI AND CHEESE
This mac and cheese recipe is basically a one-pot meal, and could actually be one if you decide to cook the noodles first and then proceed to make the recipe in the same pot once the noodles are drained. No matter how you cook it, the process is easy: cook the noodles and the pancetta, make the sauce, stir in the cheese, then stir in the noodles, spinach and cooked pancetta. And the dinner bell is ready to ring.
It really is that simple, it all comes together in less than 30 minutes, and it makes enough for a crowd, which makes it perfect for big families, dinner parties or as leftovers throughout the week (hellooooo, mac and cheese lunches, you complete me).
TIPS FOR THE BEST HOMEMADE MAC AND CHEESE
I’ve already waxed poetic on all the reasons I love this mac and cheese the most (again, that white cheddar cheese sauce, yesssss), but let me spill my secrets/tips on how to make the best version of your life:
1. Be sure to cook the noodles to “al dente,” or firm to the bite, and no more. Since you’ll be stirring the hot noodles into a hot sauce, they’ll continue to cook a bit more once everything is incorporated, and nobody likes a soggy noodle.
2. I tested this recipe with multiple cheeses and measurements of said cheese, and I found the equal ratio of sharp white cheddar cheese and mild cheddar cheese to be the perfect flavor combo — a little tangy and complex with some sweetness. That being said, feel free to adjust the ratios to your preferences, or use entirely different cheeses, such as sharp yellow cheddar, Fontina, Monterey Jack or even Gouda. Gah, now I just want to go eat a hunk of cheese.
3. Don’t love pancetta and/or spinach? Feel free to leave them out. You can also swap the pancetta for diced ham or bacon, and the spinach for steamed peas or broccoli. Really, the world is your macaroni and cheese-loving oyster here.
When winter doesn’t seem to ever end in your neck of the woods, or you’re in desperate need of cozy-but-fancy comfort food, or you just can’t take another night of chicken nuggets and want to make the family something special but simple, this creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese is your BFF. Keep this one in your back pocket for any of those times — or just because. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
- 1 lb uncooked fusilli pasta noodles (gemelli, cavatappi or rotini also works well)
- 5 ounces diced pancetta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper, plus more for topping
- 2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
- 4 cups packed baby spinach leaves
- Cook and drain noodles according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven or other heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, cook pancetta 5-7 minutes until brown and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a small bowl; reserve pancetta fat in skillet. Add butter; stir and melt over medium heat.
- Gradually whisk in flour until a smooth, lightly brown paste forms, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 2 cups milk until mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Continue to gradually pour in remaining 3 cups milk, whisking constantly, until mixture is well combined and smooth. Continue to cook, whisking often, 8-10 minutes until thickened.
- Whisk in salt, pepper and both cheeses to make a smooth, creamy, cheesy sauce. Remove from heat. Stir in cooked, drained pasta and spinach leaves until pasta is coated in sauce and spinach leaves are wilted. Top with pancetta and an extra sprinkle of pepper. Serve immediately.