The best pasta for macaroni and cheese, like elbow macaroni, is shaped in a way that will cling to the cheesy sauce well. This guide will go over the abundant varieties of pasta that I think are best suited for this kid-favorite pasta dish. Have fun and get creative with your mac & cheese stir-ins while trying out all of these types of pasta!
Best Pasta For Mac & Cheese Recipes
Mac & Cheese is a popular comfort food enjoyed all over the world. But choosing the right pasta is important whether you enjoy thinner or thick and creamy sauce!
The best pasta is small and cylindrical, with nooks and crannies to hold all that delicious cheese sauce! This guide will walk you through all the best pasta choices and give you a few tips and tricks for your recipes.
- Best Pasta For Mac & Cheese Recipes
- Pasta Varieties
- Elbow or Straight Macaroni
- Shell Pasta
- Tubular Pastas (Penne/Zitti/Rigatoni)
- Gnocchetti Sardi (or Malloreddus)
- Table 1: Mac & Cheese Pastas
- Tips And Tricks For Added Flavor And Variety
- 😋 🧀 Mac and Cheese Recipes To Try
- 📋 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
When it comes to deciding on the best pasta for macaroni & cheese, you need to consider size, thickness, taste, and texture. These differences contribute to a lighter or heavier dish, something fun for the kids, or an elevated dinner for an at-home date night.
Read more to learn about all the flavorful kinds of pasta that will guarantee the perfect mac & cheese.
Elbow or Straight Macaroni
Macaroni itself is the most traditional pasta to make mac and cheese. Any type can be used, but elbow is the favorite variety, especially with kids. The curved shape makes the satisfying dish fun to eat.
Similar in shape to elbow macaroni, this is a good choice if you prefer a bigger, chewier pasta. It is also versatile, retaining its flavor and texture with added ingredients (such as breadcrumbs or veggies).
Its ridges and thickness also add to its ability to hold the cheese sauce well. It does take longer to cook than elbow macaroni.
Shell pasta is lighter but just as satisfying. They come in many different sizes, so your choice would be based on preference.
I recommend conchiglie as it holds the sauce well, even in different consistencies (such as thick and creamy sauce or thinner sauces).
This beautiful pasta is one of the most popular in Italy. The flat surface allows the dis to be elevated as they hold herbs and seasonings well.
You can also try topping the dish with shredded Parmesan for an added sharp taste. And the butterfly shape makes it a fun choice for the kids.
Tubular Pastas (Penne/Zitti/Rigatoni)
These kinds of pasta have texture and are hollow, allowing the cheese sauce to coat the outside and fill the inside for a delicious, gooey bite every time. Tubular pasta is typically sturdier than other pasta types and works well with stovetop or baked recipes.
This pasta looks like little radiators with lots of nooks and crannies, making them excellent for holding onto sauce.
Gnocchetti Sardi (or Malloreddus)
A small, ridged pasta that resembles gnocchi in shape. These are great for thicker cheese sauces.
Gnocchi are small dumplings made from potatoes, flour, and eggs. While not a typical ingredient for mac and cheese, it is an excellent way to elevate the dish.
It has a light, fluffy texture that pairs perfectly with a creamy sauce and can be baked or fried for a crispy texture. Toss with cheese sauce when done for an exceptionally tasty treat!
Table 1: Mac & Cheese Pastas
|Elbow Macaroni||The classic choice. Its short, curved shape is perfect for holding onto cheese sauce.|
|Cavatappi (or Cellentani)||Spiral, corkscrew-shaped with ridges. Great for catching sauce. Provides delightful texture.|
|Penne||The tubular shape allows cheese penetration inside and out.|
|Rigatoni||Larger than penne with ridges and a wide hollow center. Ideal for hearty mac and cheese.|
|Rotini||Spiral shape, like cavatappi but without the hollow center. Grabs onto cheese sauce.|
|Fusilli||Tight spirals, similar to rotini. Great for holding creamy cheese.|
|Farfalle (Bow Tie)||Flat with a pinched center. Uncommon but offers an interesting texture for mac and cheese.|
|Shells (Conchiglie)||Small to medium shells. The concave shape acts as scoops for cheese sauce.|
|Radiatori||Looks like little radiators with lots of nooks and crannies. Excellent for holding onto cheese sauce.|
|Gnocchetti Sardi (Malloreddus)||Small, ridged pasta resembling gnocchi. Great for thicker cheese sauces.|
|Gnocchi||Soft dough dumplings. Not traditional but can be used for a unique mac and cheese experience.|
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Tips And Tricks For Added Flavor And Variety
Mac & cheese is a favorite dish for children and adults alike. While it's good on its own, there are some things you can do to add flavor or make your meal more nutritious.
Cheese sauce typically has butter, flour, milk, and cheddar cheese. You can substitute cheddar with any other cheese you prefer to add a different flavor.
Adding shredded mozzarella or Parmesan before baking can also add to the flavor. Also, try cooking the pasta in salted water or milk rather than plain water.
For more complete cheese alternatives, see my guide on the best cheese for mac and cheese!
Add Proteins & Sides
- Proteins such as grilled chicken, steak, pork chops, or bacon bits are an excellent choice, as are a Caesar salad and garlic bread.
- Seafood (lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops) can add indulgence to the dish.
- Veggies also go well with Mac and cheese (broccoli, cauliflower, roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini).
See my complete collection of what to serve with mac & cheese for more tasty side dishes!
With gluten-free pasta becoming more and more readily available, making a fantastic GF mac and cheese is now easy to do! Opt for your favorite GF pasta and then omit the flour in most mac and cheese sauces.
Using heavy cream will yield a rich, thick cheese sauce without making a roux as the thickening agent for your cheesy sauce.
Wine can also elevate an adult dinner of macaroni and cheese. Riesling is an excellent choice as its sweetness balances the saltiness of the cheese, and the acidity in the wine refreshes the palate between bites.
Some other wine choices that pair well with mac and cheese are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, or a light, unoaked Chardonnay. For dishes with seafood added, try a posh white burgundy.
Now that you know you can customize your mac and cheese with all of these tasty varieties of pasta, it's time to get cooking! Let me know your favorite mac and cheese recipes in the comments below!
😋 🧀 Mac and Cheese Recipes To Try
- Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese - The smokey flavor of smoked gouda cheese makes this macaroni taste extra delicious!
- Sour Cream Mac and Cheese - Sour cream is the secret ingredient in this ultra-rich mac and cheese, giving it a subtle tang!
- Smoked Mac and Cheese - With pickled jalapenos and tons of smokey flavor, this macaroni and cheese is a summertime favorite!
- Velveeta Mac and Cheese - A smooth and creamy macaroni made with Velveeta, just like grandma used to make!
- Crockpot Mac and Cheese - An easy, set-it-and-forget-it recipe for perfect mac and cheese!
- Paula Deen's Macaroni and Cheese - Paula Deen's signature recipe for baked macaroni is downright addicting!
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Best Pasta For Macaroni & Cheese: Sour Cream Macaroni and Cheese (+Tips & More!)
Sour Cream Macaroni & Cheese
Optional Topping For Baked Mac & Cheese
- ½ cup plain breadcrumbs (or Panko breadcrumbs)
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (shredded)
- 3 tablespoon butter (melted)
Sour Cream Macaroni & Cheese
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Reduce the cooking time by 1-2 minutes for al dente pasta. Remove from heat when done and rinse in cool water then return to your saucepan.1 lb elbow macaroni
- Add the sour cream, butter, and seasoning to your pasta (salt, pepper, garlic powder). Stir over low heat until the butter is melted.1 cup sour cream, ¼ cup butter, ½ teaspoon each, salt & pepper, ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Remove from heat and add the shredded cheddar cheese, stirring until melted, then serve immediately.2 cups cheddar cheese
Optional Topping For Baked Mac & Cheese
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Mix until the butter has coated the dry ingredients.½ cup plain breadcrumbs, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoon butter
- Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the combined sour cream mac & cheese in a casserole dish. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and the topping is golden.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
- Each cup of shredded cheddar cheese is approximately 4 ounces.
- Check out my post on the best cheese for macaroni and cheese for more tasty cheese combinations you can try!
- Freshly shredded cheese is always the best choice when making mac and cheese. The store-bought packages of shredded cheese coat the cheese with cellulose to block moisture which keeps the cheese from melting as easily.
- I like to add a pinch of paprika or ground mustard to complement the rich and creamy flavor of the macaroni.
- The number of optional mix-ins you could try is endless! Diced ham, lump crab meat, pickled jalapenos, bacon, frozen peas, there are so many great ways to make this recipe your own!
- I don't recommend freezing this macaroni and cheese because the sour cream-based sauce will start to separate. If you are looking for a freezer-friendly mac and cheese, give this mac and cheese without flour a try!
- To store: Let the leftovers cool fully before transferring them to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- To reheat: Reheat individual portions in the microwave. Large portions can be reheated in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for 10-15 minutes.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!