Pesto Mac and Cheese – The Cookie Rookie®

Becky Hardin


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This Pesto Mac and Cheese is, creamy, savory, easy and delicious! Basil pesto mixed in with cheesy pasta – it’s a dream of a weeknight meal!

three-quarters view of a bowl of pesto mac and cheese with a fork.

What’s in Basil Mac and Cheese

This homemade mac and cheese recipe features ingredients like heavy cream, milk, Parmesan and cheddar to create the creamiest, cheesiest consistency and flavor!

  • Dry Elbow Macaroni: For mac and cheese, I recommend shorter pasta shapes, such as macaroni, shells, farfalle (bowties), cavatappi, penne, fusilli, or gemelli. These shorter shapes are easier to stab with a fork or scoop with a spoon, which makes them ideal for little ones!
  • Unsalted Butter
  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Heavy Cream
  • Milk: I recommend using whole milk for the creamiest consistency.
  • Freshly Shredded White Cheddar Cheese: The flavor here is no different than yellow cheddar. The only difference is the food dye that colors the cheese yellow!
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese: Check and see if your local deli already sells this packaged for you.
  • Kosher Salt: If you use salted butter instead of unsalted, you may want to omit this additional sprinkle.
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Ground Nutmeg: The nutmeg is totally optional, but I do really recommend it! You shouldn’t be able to taste the nutmeg itself, but it will enhance the other flavors in the dish by adding an earthy nuttiness that really brings everything together.
  • Basil Pesto
  • Fresh Basil

There’s so much flavor in this pesto mac and cheese, you can add store-bought pesto or homemade – both work great! Try my basil walnut pesto recipe if you want to go the homemade route.

Variations to Try

This pesto mac and cheese is great on its own, but you can also mix it up by adding:

  • Protein: cooked shredded chicken, sausages, or bacon crumbles
  • Veggies: chopped sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, or steamed broccoli
  • Nuts: chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Toppings: toasted breadcrumbs or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
step by step photos for how to make pesto mac and cheese.
Can I make this into baked mac and cheese?

To make this mac and cheese into a baked mac and cheese casserole, pour the cooked mac and cheese into a 9×13-inch baking pan, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and broil for 3-4 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.

Should I heat pesto before adding it to mac and cheese?

Nope! There’s no need to heat the pesto before adding it. We will add the pesto off the heat, and the residual heat from the pasta and cheese sauce will heat and loosen the pesto, allowing it to be stirred in seamlessly.

How do I make pesto mac and cheese ahead of time?

Pesto macaroni and cheese can be made up to 2 days in advance of when you plan to serve it. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Reheat gently over the stovetop, adding more heavy cream or milk to loosen the sauce as needed.

overhead view of pesto mac and cheese in a white bowl with a fork.

How to Store/Reheat Creamy Pesto Mac and Cheese

Store leftover pesto mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave, stirring in more cream or milk as needed to loosen and rehydrate the sauce.

How to Freeze Mac and Cheese with Basil

Freeze pesto mac and cheese in individual portions in Ziplock bags for up to 3 months. Let thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

How to Serve Stovetop Pesto Mac and Cheese

Easy, cheesy, and super satisfying! Pesto mac and cheese is a delicious take on the classic pasta dish. Great for meal prep, it’s a flavor-packed meal – or side dish – that’s bound to please kids and adults alike!

a forkful of pesto mac and cheese suspended in front of a bowl of pesto mac and cheese.

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