Ricotta Mac And Cheese is the easiest, creamiest homemade mac and cheese out there. It's a heavenly combo of tender pasta enveloped in a smooth, cheesy sauce, where the subtle sweetness of ricotta harmonizes perfectly with the savory notes of cheddar. Oh, and did I mention that this ricotta mac is made all in one pot in under 20 minutes?
Experience the incredible flavor of our homemade mac and cheese, and wave goodbye to powdered cheese forever. Say hello to the rich, creamy goodness of real cheese, a taste your entire family will crave again and again!
Seriously, this is the easiest mac and cheese recipe you'll make - no need to make the roux (which can be intimidating), dirty more than 1 pot or use butter, condensed milk, Velveeta or canned soup. A little pasta water, creamy ricotta cheese and grated cheddar produce velvety cheesy sauce with the right consisteny. This method is life changing!
Why you'll love this recipe
- True 1-pot meal - no need to cook the pasta separately
- Minimal prep
- Ready in 20 minutes
- Kid and family-friendly
- Perfect for busy weeknights or lazy weekends comes together in no time
- Boil the pasta, stir in the ingredients, and voila!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Macaroni Pasta: while elbow macaroni is the classic choice, other small pasta shapes like shells or rotini are also great. Whole wheat or gluten-free options are excellent choices for a healthier twist.
- Cheddar Cheese: opt for high-quality sharp cheddar cheese that melts well and imparts a rich flavor to your dish. If you like, feel free to mix cheddar with other types of cheese like Monterey Jack or Gouda.
- Ricotta Cheese: select whole milk ricotta cheese made with whole milk for a luxurious, creamy texture. Brands like Gilbani tend to melt more smoothly, ensuring a velvety consistency in your mac and cheese.
- Milk: The choice of milk can influence the creaminess of your sauce. Whole milk is best, but you can also use 2% milk if you prefer a slightly lighter version. Lactose free milk works great.
- Dijon Mustard: mustard adds a subtle tangy note to the sauce, it’s optional and can be omitted if you prefer a milder flavor profile. I like Grey Poupon.
- Spices: The combination of garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika brings depth and warmth to your dish. Adjust the quantities to match your taste preferences. If you're a mac and cheese purist, skip the spices and stick to salt only.
- Pasta Water: One of the secrets to a creamy sauce is the starchy pasta water left after boiling. This water helps thicken the sauce, creating a luxurious consistency without the need for adding butter and flour.
See recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
How to make
STEP 1: Add 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a pot or a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil on medium-high heat.
STEP 2: Carefully add the macaroni, ensuring it's mostly submerged (Image 1). Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid and allow the macaroni to boil until it reaches an al dente texture, following the package instructions. Typically, this takes around 7 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and avoid overcooking (Image 2).
STEP 3: Make the sauce. Don't drain the pasta water. Keep the burner on low heat and add in the milk, ricotta cheese, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika to the pot (Image 3). Stir the ingredients thoroughly until well combined (Image 4).
STEP 4: Now add the shredded cheddar cheese (Image 5). Continuously stir until the cheese completely melts, forming a creamy sauce (Image 6). If you want creamier and saucier consistency, add more milk gradually, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time.
STEP 5: Taste and season with more salt, if needed.
STEP 6: Serve immediately on its own or spinkled with red pepper flakes and enjoy!
Storage and reheating
Storing leftovers: transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. Glass or plastic containers with secure lids work well for maintaining freshness. Store the mac and cheese in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Reheating: to reheat mac and cheese, add a splash of milk or cream before reheating. This helps restore the creaminess. Heat it gently on the stovetop over low-medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and ensure even heating.
What to serve with mac and cheese
Ricotta Macaroni and Cheese is a rich and comforting dish that pairs wonderfully with a variety of sides. Here are some delicious options to complement the creamy goodness of your mac and cheese:
- Proteins: as far as main dishes go, mac and cheese is a great side for pretty much every protein: chicken, pork, beef, salmon, shrimp or your favorite meat or fish. Try it alongside Buffalo Chicken Thighs, Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders or Pork Kebabs.
- Salad: balance the richness of the mac and cheese with a light, crisp green salad. Pair it with this refreshing La Scala Chopped Salad or this Strawberry Feta Spinach Salad.
Optional toppings and mix-ins
If your mac and cheese is the main dish, there are several options to add as a topping or mix-in item to make it special or more substantial. Here are some ideas:
- Spinach is my favorie mix-in. Just add some baby spinach after cheddar cheese and stir to wilt and heat up. Wholesome spinach gives the dish an instant nutrition boots and ricotta + spinach are such a classic combo! (as featured in my Chicken Stuffed with Spinach, Feta and Ricotta recipe).
- Parmesan cheese: to elevate the flavor of your mac and cheese, stir in ¼ cup of grated asiago or parmesan cheese.
- Crispy bacon, cooked and crumbled to add a savory crunch.
- Cooked vegetables such as broccoli, peas, and carrots.
- Lobster meat: since Maine is my home state, I'm a huge fan of lobster mac and cheese. Just top the dish with steamed lobster meat for a fancy meal!
- Minced garlic and diced onions. Sauté them in butter before adding the flour for the roux; you might need an extra tablespoon of butter for this addition.
- Herbs and spices: flavor the mac and cheese with your favorite dried herbs and extra spices, such as Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, taco seasoning or mix in fresh herbs at the end (parsley, dill, basil, chives).
- For a spicy kick, add some hot sauce. I like Frank's RedHot.
Can I turn it into baked mac and cheese?
This recipe is made in one pot on the stove and it's meant to be creamy and saucy. However, if you prefer creamy baked macaroni and cheese, you can easily turn it into a casserole form. Here's how:
- Preheat your oven: Heat your oven to 350°F (175°C) to ensure it's ready when your mac and cheese is prepared.
- Prepare your mac and cheese: Follow the recipe for Ricotta Mac and Cheese adding a full cup of milk (instead of ½ cup) until it's just about done on the stovetop.
- Transfer to a baking dish: Pour your prepared mac and cheese into a greased casserole dish.
- Add a crispy topping (optional): If you like a crispy crust, you can sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs mixed with melted butter or grated parmesan cheese on top of the mac and cheese. This will create a golden, crunchy top layer during baking.
- Bake in the oven: Place the baking dish in the preheated oven. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy, and the cheese inside is bubbling. Keep an eye on it to prevent burning.
- Serve hot: Once baked to perfection, take it out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving.
Baking your mac and cheese not only gives it a delightful texture but also intensifies the flavors as it bakes.
Yes! Just use gluten-free pasta. Brown rice pasta, chickpea pasta or red lentil pasta - all types of pasta will work! Just follow the package directions to figure out cooking time.
Technically yes, but I don't recommend it. Dairy products tend to split when frozen.
While cheddar cheese is a popular choice for mac and cheese due to its sharp flavor and good melting properties, there are several other types of cheese you can use to create a delicious variation of the dish. Here are a few options:
Gouda: Gouda cheese has a smooth, creamy texture and a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. It melts well and adds a subtle, unique taste to mac and cheese.
Swiss: Swiss cheese has a mild, nutty flavor. It melts smoothly and creates a creamy texture. You can mix it with other cheeses for a balanced flavor profile.
Monterey Jack: Monterey Jack cheese is known for its mild, buttery taste and excellent melting qualities. It's a good option if you want a creamy mac and cheese without an overpowering cheese flavor.
Fontina: Fontina cheese has a rich and earthy flavor. It melts beautifully, making it a great choice for a gourmet mac and cheese. It pairs well with ingredients like mushrooms and truffle oil.
Gruyère: Gruyère cheese has a slightly sweet and salty taste. It melts wonderfully and is often used in traditional Swiss fondue. When used in mac and cheese, it adds a sophisticated flavor.
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Ricotta Mac And Cheese
- Pour 2 cups of water in a pot or saucepan, add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.
- Add macaroni and stir so it's mostly submerged. Lower the heat to low.
- Cover with a lid and boil al dente according to package instructions. Mine took 7 minutes. Stir occasionally and don't overcook.
- Do not drain the pasta water and leave the burner on on low. To the pot add milk, ricotta cheese, dijon mustard, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Stir thoroughly together until combined.
- Now add shredded cheddar cheese and keep stirring until the cheese is melted and creamy sauce forms. Add more milk, if you want to make the sauce more creamy, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.
- Taste and season with more salt, if needed.
- Serve and enjoy!