This garlic parmesan mac and cheese is interesting and flavorful enough that it’s a delicious dish in its own right, not just a kid’s lunch. I would happily serve this at one of our fancy adult dinner parties, but it’s equally good as a comfort food. (You don’t even want to know how much of it my husband and I can eat at a time while in lockdown in a foreign country.) It’s rich, creamy, nutty, crunchy, and garlicky. And while it uses a roux, which can sound intimidating if you’ve never made one before, I promise it’s super simple!
This recipe calls for Gruyere as the secondary cheese supporting the Parmesan. I love the way this combination enhances the nutty flavor of both cheeses. The overall outcome is rich and complex despite using only two cheeses, with a depth and earthiness of flavor. With that said, you can absolutely substitute other cheeses for the Gruyere if you prefer. Similarly, feel free to play with the spices to create a garlic parmesan mac and cheese that you’ll absolutely love!
Notes on This Recipe:
Cheese grating: please do not use pre-grated cheese! I know grating it yourself is more work, but I promise it’s worth it for the gooey, smooth result. Pre-grated cheese tends to clump and not end up as nice and melty.
Cheese varieties: don’t skimp on the Parmesan, since this is a garlic Parmesan mac and cheese! Gruyere is my favorite option for the accent cheese, but you can substitute something else if you don’t have it on hand. Just make sure that whatever you substitute is a nice melty cheese. Some options include Cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, or Swiss.
Garlic quantity: this recipe calls for eight cloves of garlic. Four go in the sauce, and the other four go in the topping. The result is distinctly garlic-flavored, but not overpoweringly so. If you really want a garlic fest (and I can relate!), feel free to up the quantities.
Spices: using smoked paprika and chili powder adds just a hint of heat and smoky complexity to the dish. This recipe uses the quantities I would use when cooking for a dinner party or other people. My personal taste would be to double the amount of chili powder to give it a nice kick. Play around with the quantities based on your own taste, or leave them out completely if you prefer. Or use different spices! This is a forgiving recipe, so play with it and make it your own.
Pasta type: you don’t need to use proper macaroni for this recipe. Penne, fusilli, farfalle, and other similar small pasta shapes can all work just as well. I wouldn’t recommend using long noodles like spaghetti or fettuccine for this recipe… but hey, you do you. If you try it, let me know how it works out.
Pasta doneness: make sure you don’t fully cook your pasta as you’re boiling it. It will bake in the oven for around 30 to 40 minutes in a rich, creamy sauce, so if it’s perfectly done at the beginning, it will be overcooked by the end. Drain it when it’s a minute or two before al dente.
Seasoning: I season the sauce throughout, but you can wait until the last stage to add salt to taste if you prefer. Don’t be afraid to salt this liberally to bring out the flavor! I haven’t included exact quantities because it depends so much on the specific cheeses you’re using. There can be a huge difference in flavor and saltiness from one Parmesan or Gruyere to another!
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to eat this with vegetables so you’re getting at least some real nutrition in your meal. But I won’t. If you need a night of comfort food, enjoy your mac and cheese guiltlessly. If you really want to pair it with something, though, try my shredded Brussels sprouts, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest. The flavor of the Brussels sprouts works great with this cheese combination, and the lemon zest and balsamic vinegar add some nice brightness.
Cook your pasta. As I mentioned before, undercook your pasta slightly. This allows it to do the last bit of cooking in the oven as it bakes in the sauce. If your pasta is perfectly cooked when you mix it with the sauce and bake it, it will end up overcooked and mushy.
Mix the topping. This 5-ingredient topping just requires garlic, bread crumbs, salt, melted butter, and Parmesan. lMake sure you’re mixing constantly as you drizzle the melted butter into your topping. If you don’t, you’ll end up with clumps of buttery crumbs. The goal is to spread the butter through the topping as evenly as possible.
Make the roux. Don’t be intimidated! Making a roux just means frying flour in fat (in this case, butter). As you add the flour and make the roux, whisk constantly. Depending on the use, a roux can be anywhere from pale to dark nutty brown. For this one, you’ll want to add the milk/cream mixture as soon as the roux just barely starts turning golden, which should only take a few minutes.
Finish the sauce. Drizzle the milk in slowly once the roux is ready, whisking the whole time. The mixture will look weird and clumpy at first, but will soon smooth out. Next, turn off the heat and mix in about two-thirds of the cheeses for the sauce. (You’ll use the rest in the middle of the mac and cheese.) Stir until the cheese melts. Just like that, you’ve made a roux-based cheese sauce!
Assemble and bake. Pour the sauce over the prepared pasta and fold together gently, trying to minimize the breakage of the pasta while ensuring a generous even coating. Scoop about half of the sauced pasta into your baking dish and spread it out into an even layer. This is where you’ll use the rest of the cheese you grated: sprinkle it evenly over pasta in the baking dish. Add the rest of the pasta, so you now have basically a pasta sandwich with cheese in the middle. (Yum!) Cover evenly with the crumb topping, then bake!
When is the mac and cheese ready? You’ll see lots of recipes for mac and cheese telling you that it’s ready when you can see the cheese sauce bubbling. Thanks to the crispy crumb topping on this one, though, the sauce isn’t really visible. Instead, you’ll know it’s ready when the topping is golden-brown in spots throughout and you can hear little whispering bubbly sounds from the mac and cheese.
Take Your Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese to the Next Level:
Want to be super indulgent? Go completely over-the-top luxurious (and delicious) by shaving a nice black or white truffle over this mac and cheese. The heat of the food will release the truffle’s aroma and flavor. Don’t have fresh truffles? Finish the mac and cheese with a sprinkle of high-quality truffle salt or a few drops of truffle oil.
Looking for something to go with this garlic Parmesan mac and cheese? Try my shredded Brussels sprouts, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest!
Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese
- 1 bag of pasta of your choice (1 pound or 500 grams)
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup cream
- ½ cup butter
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup flour
- 3 cups grated Gruyere divided (about 8 ounces or 225 grams)
- 1 ½ cups grated Parmesan divided (about 6 ounces or 170 grams)
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
- ½ teaspoon chili powder (optional)
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces or 55 grams)
- ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- Prepare. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease a 3-quart baking dish with butter. Cook the pasta according to package directions, but stop cooking it one to two minutes before the recommended time. Drain and set aside.
- Make the topping. Mix together the first four topping ingredients with a fork. Slowly drizzle melted the butter into the mix, stirring constantly to coat evenly.
- Make the roux. Mix together the milk and cream. Melt the butter for the sauce on medium heat in a large pot. Add the garlic for the sauce, and saute until just fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisking constantly, add the flour. Keep whisking as it cooks until the mixture is fluffy and bubbly, and the color just barely begins getting more golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Finish the sauce. Still whisking constantly, slowly pour the milk and cream mixture into the pan. Once it’s fully incorporated, continue whisking and cooking over medium heat until the sauce gets thick. (This should happen pretty quickly.) Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the hot burner. Add about 2/3rds of each of the cheeses for the sauce, and mix until melted and the sauce is homogenous. Whisk in the spices (optional) and salt to taste.
- Assemble and bake. Pour the sauce over the prepared pasta and fold together gently to coat the pasta evenly. Transfer half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese from the sauce. Put the rest of the pasta into the baking dish. Evenly distribute the topping mix over the pasta. Bake at 350 F (180 C) until the crumb topping is golden brown in spots and you can hear a bit of bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes. Enjoy!
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