Are you ready to dig into an easy cheesy pasta bake? With a creamy and gooey cheese sauce, and a perfectly crispy topping made with 3 different types of cheese.
Thoroughly tested by a self-confessed cheese fanatic to ensure the sauce, seasoning, and cheese selection are spot on with plenty of suggestions on how to adapt this versatile dish along the way.
Like my other pasta bakes, including this pesto lasagne, tuna pasta bake, and baked gnocchi this recipe is uncomplicated, making it the perfect dinner option for any night of the week. All this easy cheesy awesomeness can be whipped up and served in just 30 minutes. It's a family favorite that's sure to please everyone around the table.
Short on time? Try my No Bake Mac and Cheese and get your cheesy pasta fix in just 20 minutes.
The post contains additional information and helpful tips to ensure the recipe turns out great the first time. Please use the jump to the recipe card button above if you are in a hurry!
✅ 5 reasons why you'll love this recipe:
- Next level ooey-gooey creamy cheesy pasta with gruyere, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese
- A crowd pleaser that the whole family will love
- Comfort food at its finest
- Quick and easy pasta bake
This recipe requires a few simple everyday ingredients that are easy to find in your local grocery store.
Which cheeses to use?
After testing this recipe with several cheeses, I settled for Gruyère with a small amount of Parmesan. The Gruyère melts well and adds a slightly sweet nutty flavor and a bit of depth and Parmesan adds a hint of sharpness.
For the topping, I found that mozzarella and Parmesan provide a lovely blend of soft melted cheese texture and sharp nutty flavor. I often opt for grated mozzarella for convenience, but you could use fresh mozzarella if you prefer. I also add panko breadcrumbs to make it nice and crispy.
That said, there are many different types of cheese that can work well in this recipe. Other hard cheeses that melt well like cheddar, Gouda or Monterey Jack will do nicely so feel free to experiment or simply use what you have available.
What's the best type of pasta?
There are many types of short pasta that will work well. I often go for conchiglie (pasta shells) because the concave shape creates a little pocket for the sauce to sit in. Fusilli and tube-shaped pasta like penne and rigatoni pasta are also good options. Plus, if you're a macaroni cheese fan then normal or elbow macaroni are also solid choices.
While cheese is undeniably delicious, it can lack complexity when left unaccompanied. To boost the umami flavor and tanginess of the sauce, I have incorporated garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, mustard powder, and smoked paprika. If you don't have all of these, don't worry. Adding a few will still add depth and flavor to the sauce. You can also leave them out if pure and simple cheese flavor is what you are after, but I recommend you keep the mustard powder and black pepper.
Looking to add a fun twist? There are so many ways to jazz up this versatile dish:
- Vegetables: veggies like spinach, broccoli, and zucchini add flavor and texture as well as making the dish a little more nutritious. Plus mushrooms are great for adding more tasty umami flavor.
- Meat: add pancetta, ground beef or Italian sausage.
- Spice it up: add hot sauce, cayenne pepper or jalapenos.
- Herbs: Add Italian seasoning, fresh basil or parsley.
- Extra creamy: Add heavy cream, cream cheese, or ricotta cheese to the sauce.
🧑🍳 Recipe steps
Step 1: Cook the pasta according to packet instructions in a large pan of generously salted water until al dente. While the pasta cooks, place a frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Stir in the flour when the butter starts to sizzle.
Step 2: Stir in the milk gradually until the sauce starts to thicken. This usually takes around 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat and add the cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, mustard powder, and black pepper.
Step 3: Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.
Step 4: Add the pasta and sauce mixture to a baking or casserole dish and top with mozzarella, grated Parmesan, breadcrumbs and optional dried chives.
Which baking dish to use: I have tested the recipe in a 27 x 16cm (11 x 6 inch) cast iron baking dish. Alternatively, if you have an oven-safe cast iron dutch oven, you could use that instead, resulting in a convenient one-pot meal with fewer dishes to wash.
Step 5: Place under the broiler (grill) for approximately 5 minutes until the topping is golden brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.
🍽️ Serving suggestions
This delicious cheesy pasta dish can be enjoyed as a main or side dish.
I usually serve cheesy pasta with a simple green salad and a zesty dressing to balance its richness. Here are some other suggestions:
👍 Expert tips
- Be generous when salting the pasta water - it should be as salty as the ocean. If this makes you feel concerned about your sodium intake, remember that most of the salt will be poured away when you drain the cooked pasta.
- Cook the roux on a medium heat - it might be tempting to crank up the stove to a high heat to speed things up, but you also risk burning the flour.
- Add milk slowly and stir continuously - to prevent lumps from forming.
There are lots of cheeses that go well with pasta. Parmesan and pecorino are great for adding salty, nutty flavour. Mozzarella has a mild flavour and soft texture when melted making it perfect for a baked pasta topping. Ricotta cheese and mascarpone are mild and creamy and perfect for adding richness to pasta sauces.
Adding pasta water to cheese sauce is not always necessary, but it can be a helpful technique. When you add a small amount of pasta water to the sauce, it can help emulsify the cheese, butter and milk, resulting in a creamier and more cohesive sauce.
There are several reasons for this including using cheeses that don't melt well like feta or goat cheese, adding the cheese too early and overheating the sauce. Ensure you use cheeses that melt well like cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda or Gruyere and wait for the sauce to thicken and become hot before adding the cheese. However, if the sauce is too hot the cheese can become grainy, so it's best to reduce the heat to a low level when you add the cheese.
If the cheese is heated too quickly or at a temperature that is too high, it can cause the proteins to break down too quickly, resulting in curdling. You can prevent curdling by keeping the heat at a low simmer or removing the pasta sauce from the heat before adding the cheese, and adding the cheese gradually while stirring constantly.
If your cheesy pasta sauce is too runny there are several ways to thicken it including adding more roux or a cornstarch slurry or adding more cheese, and/or cream. You can also simmer the sauce on a low heat for a few minutes, but be careful not to overheat it as this can cause the cheese to curdle.
📦 Storage & freezing instructions
The best cheesy pasta is fresh cheesy pasta, served straight from the oven. I often find the sauce dries out a little in the fridge/freezer, which is why it doesn't make a great freezer meal or make-ahead option.
That said, any leftover pasta bake will still taste fine the next day. You can store the cheesy pasta in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and freeze it for up to 3 months. Just let it cool until it reaches room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, or transfer it to an airtight container.
You can reheat the cheesy pasta in the microwave, oven or air fryer. The oven and air fryer are best for keeping the topping nice and crispy.
Did you try this recipe? It would be really great if you could leave a comment and a star rating ⭐️. I would love to receive your feedback and know that other readers find it helpful too.
Don't forget to tag #knifeandsoulrecipes on Instagram or @knifeandsoul on Pinterest!
Easy Three Cheese Pasta Bake
- 2 saucepans
- 1 baking dish (Note 1)
- 320 g (11 oz) short pasta (Note 2)
- 250 g (2.5 cups) grated/shredded hard cheese Gruyere recommended (Note 3)
- 50 g (½ cup) Parmesan (Note 4)
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 600 ml (2.5 cups) milk
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 50 g (½ cup) grated mozzarella (Note 5)
- 20 g (½ cup) grated Parmesan (Note 6)
- 2 tbsp panko breadcrumbs Optional (Note 7)
- dried chives optional
- Bring a large pan of generously salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
- Meanwhile, place a frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter. (Note 8)
- Stir in the flour when the butter has melted until you get a smooth paste.
- Pour on the milk slowly and stir continuously for around 5 minutes until a smooth and thicker sauce forms, using a whisk if required to remove any lumps.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheese and season with mustard powder, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and smoked paprika.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, add the cooked pasta, and transfer the mixture to a baking dish.
- Sprinkle grated mozzarella, Parmesan, breadcrumbs and dried chives on top and place under the grill/broil for 5-10 minutes until the topping is brown and bubbling then serve immediately.
- Baking dish: I have tested the recipe in a 27 x 16cm (11 x 6 inch) cast iron baking dish. You can use an oven-safe cast iron pan, instead, for a convenient one-pot meal.
- Pasta: I like to use conchiglie (pasta shells) because the concave shape creates a little pocket for the sauce to sit in. Fussilli, penne and rigatoni are also good options.
- Cheese for the sauce: Choose a hard cheese that melts well. Cheddar, Gouda and Monterey Jack are all good options.
- Parmesan for the sauce: You can use the same volume of the main cheese for the sauce if you need to.
- Mozzarella cheese for the topping: you can also use fresh mozzarella.
- Parmesan for the cheese topping: you could also use another nutty stronger tasting cheese like mature cheddar.
- Panko breadcrumbs: are larger than normal breadcrumbs and make the topping extra crispy. You can use normal breadcrumbs instead.
- Making the roux: make sure you use a medium heat. A higher heat can cause the flour to burn.