This baked mac and cheese with spinach is ready in just 30 minutes! A basic béchamel sauce with gruyere and cheddar cheese brings this rich and creamy mac and cheese recipe to life. It’s a terrific vegetarian dinner or side dish.
Whether it’s the middle of winter and you need some comfort food, or you need a pasta casserole recipe to bring to a summer cookout, you can’t go wrong with this 30-minute baked mac and cheese with spinach.
Fresh baby spinach is added to the cheese sauce which is so creamy and delicious that the kids won’t even notice the added veggies. Don’t like spinach, try broccoli pasta instead.
Everyone loves quick and easy pasta dinner recipes and macaroni and cheese is on the top of most peoples list for comfort food. It’s not like potato salad where people seem to have their own version and no one can make it like mom does.
I can eat macaroni and cheese whether it’s my favorite Southern-style macaroni and cheese or macaroni and cheese with cottage cheese, I love them all and am always on the search for different mac and cheese recipes. Did you know you can even make mac and cheese in a crock pot!
Adding spinach makes it more of a stand alone meal, or it can be a great side dish to round out a simple weeknight dinner.
I have several different mac and cheese recipes depending on my mood and what I’m serving it with. There’s a Southern-style macaroni and cheese, an easy one-pot macaroni and cheese, brisket mac and cheese casserole or a baked macaroni pie.
I love them all, even the boxed Kraft macaroni and cheese, if I doctor it up a bit. This mac and cheese with gruyere cheese has a classic base where you make a white sauce, add cheese and then bake. However, to make it more interesting, I add cayenne pepper and fresh baby spinach.
I first had spinach in mac and cheese, when Natalie and I went to Foster’s Market after I ran the RDC ½ marathon. It was a great race on the Tobacco Trail in Durham, which if you’re a runner and visiting Durham you’ve got to check out.
Fosters was just a few minutes away and I had one of their awesome scones and peppermint hot chocolate. Maybe the best post race food I’ve had. I picked up some Southern style macaroni and cheese with spinach for lunch. The added spinach wasn’t too unusual, but I’ve never had spicy mac and cheese.
It almost makes you feel like you’re eating a healthy dish, it has spinach in it after all! Eat this in moderation, it’s pretty rich with all the cream and cheese but worth all the calories.
Some spinach mac and cheese recipes are creamed spinach with pasta added in. This is more macaroni & cheese with spinach, which means that the spinach is not overwhelming. If someone’s not a spinach fan, it’s easy to eat around it. Of course you can add more spinach if you’re a fan.
Try adding some rotisserie chicken and make it an entire meal.
Why you’ll love it
- Creamy, cheesy comfort food
- The cheese combination is delicious
- Spinach makes it healthyish
- It has a little kick to it
What you’ll need for Southern baked mac and cheese
- Baby spinach – you can add as much as you want, if you are using regular spinach, you may need to chop it. If you want to use frozen, make sure that it is completely drained before adding it to the sauce. You could also substitute kale, but I prefer spinach.
- Cheese – a combination of sharp cheddar and gruyere are my favorites. you can use white cheddar or yellow.
- Hot sauce and cayenne – this adds a little heat without making it too spicy, if you just want a hint of spice, leave out the cayenne.
- Milk and cream – for creamy mac and cheese you need whole milk, you could substitute half-and-half for the cream.
- Pasta – while elbow macaroni is the standard, I like the ear shaped orecchiette pasta because there’s more surface area for the sauce to cling to.
- Panko – you can also use bread crumbs or if you have leftover crispy onions from when you made loaded mashed potatoes, sprinkle those on top!
- Butter and flour – for the sauce
Best noodles for baked mac and cheese
While elbow pasta is the most common shape for mac and cheese, a flatter shaped pasta lie orecchiette or ear shaped pasta has more surface area for the sauce to cling to. Another great shape to try is conchiglie, which is pasta shaped like a sea shell or fusilli which is a spiral shaped pasta, all three will hold the sauce so that you get completely coated pasta in every bite.
How to make mac and cheese with spinach
Cook pasta according to the package instructions.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add flour and cook for a minute then gradually whisk in milk until thick.
Pro tip: When making a béchamel sauce, it will go quicker if you warm up the milk in the microwave first so that it’s not cold when added to the butter and flour mixture.
Add part of the cheese and stir until melted then add fresh spinach along with seasonings.
Add pasta to the cheese sauce and combine.
Pour half of it into a casserole dish, add some cheese and add the rest of the pasta.
Pour the cream over the top and then sprinkle with panko.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Of course you could leave out the spinach and have a delicious creamy macaroni and cheese.
So, if like me ,you have kids coming home to visit, or just want to give your family a little comfort food, add some macaroni and cheese to your dinner plans.
FAQs and tips
Baked mac and cheese will last for 3-5 days if stored in an airtight container.
If using frozen spinach, you will need to make sure all of the moisture has been removed before adding it to the sauce.
Yes you can freeze mac and cheese. It’s best to freeze before baking and let it come to room temperature before placing in the oven. If already baked, store in an airtight container and let it thaw completely then cover and re-heat in the oven at 350º for 10 minutes.
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30-Minute Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach
- 1 lb orecchiette pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 5 cups milk
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese 8 ounces
- 2 cups gruyere cheese 8 ounces
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce up to 2 tbsp
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly butter a 9 x 13 or a 2 quart baking dish.
- Cook pasta until al dente, drain in colander and sprinkle with olive oil.
- Place milk in a microwave safe bowl and cook for about 2 minutes until it is warm. In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium heat and add flour, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes. Gradually add warm milk whisking until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until thick, about 10 minutes.
- Combine the cheeses in a bowl. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add 3 cups of cheese, reserving a cup for later, stir until melted. Add spinach, hot sauce, salt, cayenne, and black pepper and stir until the spinach has wilted.
- Combine the pasta and cheese sauce and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Place half in the prepared pan and sprinkle with ½ the remaining cheese. Repeat with remaining pasta and cheese. Pour cream over the entire mixture and sprinkle with panko.
- Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly around the edges. Remove the foil and continue to bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- Warming the milk before adding it to the sauce will help it thicken quicker
- You can use any shaped pasta that you want
- If you want, you can use half-and half instead of cream
- You can use other hard cheeses