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Penne Mac and Cheese

Penne mac and cheese is dreamy, creamy, and oh-so cheesy! The easy recipe combines delicious penne pasta and a gooey cheese sauce. The dish uses simple ingredients and makes the perfect side or main.

penne mac and cheese in a bowl on a plate with napkin.

Mac and cheese with penne pasta

If you’ve been wondering: Can you use penne instead of macaroni to make mac and cheese? you’re in the right spot!

We use penne noodles to create an incredibly creamy and flavorful dish that will have you come back to this recipe over and over again.

Mac and cheese with penne noodles are just as good as any classic mac and cheese!

It makes a quick weeknight meal and is a great holiday side dish.

What is penne pasta?

Penne noodles are medium-sized pasta. It’s similar in shape to ziti but has slated edges, giving it the typical diagonal cut.

Penne often has ridges on the outside that the sauce clings to the pasta (but there is smooth penne as well).

The angled edges and ridged surface create a large surface area that allows to soak up plenty of sauce.

Penne noodles are popular in Italian cuisine. They are used in a wide range of recipes, from saucy pasta dishes to pasta salads to baked pasta dishes.

Reason to love mac and cheese with penne
  • Comfort food: Al-dente penne noodles are smothered in a rich, velvety cheese sauce. Yum!
  • Quick: The meal is ready in about 30 minutes from start to finish.
  • Side or main: Penne with cheese is a great side, but you can also enjoy it with veggies for a balanced main meal.
penne mac and cheese ingredients.
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Ingredients

Mac and cheese with penne pasta is full of comforting flavor. And you only need a handful of simple ingredients to make it! See the recipe card below for specific measurements.

  • Penne noodles are short, cylinder-shaped pasta with angled edges. They come smooth and ridged. I recommend the ridged ones because they are best for picking up the luscious cheese sauce.
  • Sharp white cheddar cheese: We’re keeping it simple with shredded white cheddar cheese. Be sure to freshly shred the cheddar from a cheese block. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated so the shreds don’t stick together and that can make the sauce grainy.
  • Butter + all-purpose flour are needed to thicken the cheese sauce. This is called a roux and is super easy to do. Both salted and unsalted butter will work here.
  • Half-and-half gives the sauce a velvety, rich texture and decadent mouthfeel. We also have this mac and cheese recipe with half-and-half.
  • Seasonings: A mix of mustard powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper are all you need to season penne mac and cheese.
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Variations & substitutions

Penne pasta mac and cheese is so versatile because you can substitute and switch up the ingredients.

  • Milk: Feel free to substitute whole milk or evaporated milk if you don’t have half-and-half. Use 2% milk for a lighter option.
  • Cheese: Swap the cheese and make the recipe with Colby Jack, Colby, mild cheddar, pepper jack, or gruyere cheese. You can also try a blend of different cheeses.
  • Pasta: Use any type of noodles you have on hand. Classic macaroni, bowtie, or any short pasta will work.
  • Spicy: If you want a spicy kick, add cayenne or chili powder. A splash of hot sauce helps to bring out the other flavors.
  • Mix-ins: Toss in steamed broccoli, cooked cauliflower, crumbled bacon, caramelized onion, shredded rotisserie chicken, or tuna to turn this into a complete meal.
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How to make penne mac and cheese

In just 30 minutes, you can have this delicious penne macaroni and cheese on your table. Let’s go over the recipe step-by-step!

step 1 mix penne and butter

1. Prepare the penne

Cook the penne noodles in a large pot of salted until they are al dente.

Strain the penne and put it back into the pot.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until the butter is fully melted. This prevents the noodles from sticking together.

step 2 cook cheese sauce.

2. Make cheese sauce

While the pasta is cooking, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour and seasonings. Cook for 1 minute until a paste forms.

Slowly pour the half-and-half into the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to cook, constantly whisking, until the sauce thickens.

Remove the pot from the heat when the sauce is thick and add the cheddar cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted.

Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.

step 3 combine penne with cheese sauce.

3. Combine penne with cheese sauce

Add the cooked penne to the cheese sauce. Mix until the noodles are fully covered in the sauce.

Sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Penne mac and cheese bake

If you’re a baked mac and cheese lover, turn this dish into baked mac and cheese penne. Here’s what to do:

  1. Pour the penne mac and cheese into a greased casserole dish.
  2. Top with extra grated cheese and breadcrumbs.
  3. Bake at 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 for about 20-30 minutes, or until the top becomes golden, crispy, and crunchy.
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Cooking tips

  • Shred your own cheese: It’s worth it to shred your own cheese for this recipe. The already shredded package cheese contains a substance that prevents it from clumping and melting well.
  • Cook the roux for a full minute: This will eliminate any floury aftertaste and ensure that the roux properly thickens the sauce.
  • Adjust the consistency of the sauce: If the cheese sauce is too thick, stir in a little milk (1 tablespoon at a time) until your desired consistency. If the sauce seems too thin, cook it slightly longer until it thickens.
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Serving suggestions

You can serve this penne macaroni and cheese all by itself as a main dish or as a side!

A simple green salad, warm tomato soup, crispy garlic bread, or Italian cheese bread perfectly complements this mac and cheese.

close-up side shot of bowl of penne pasta mac and cheese.
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Make-ahead

If you want to make this ahead do time, penne rigate mac and cheese will keep well in the fridge for 1 to 2 days until you are ready to reheat it.

This is a big help for busy weeks or during holidays.

Just prepare the mac and cheese as directed and let it cool. Then cover tightly and place in the fridge.

To avoid mushy noodles, reduce the recommended cooking time by a minute. The pasta will finish cooking when you reheat it.

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Storage & reheating

How to store penne cheese pasta

Let leftovers cool completely and then store in an airtight container. It will last between 4 to 5 days in the fridge.

Reheat penne mac and cheese

You have a few options to reheat penne with cheese:

  • Stovetop: Place the mac and cheese in a saucepan and add 1-2 teaspoons of half-and-half (or milk). Warm over medium to low heat until saucy and warm. The more liquid you add, the creamier it will be.
  • Microwave: Put the mac and cheese in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons of milk. Heat for 1 to 2 minutes in the microwave. Stir again.
  • Oven: Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4. Pour the penne mac and cheese into a greased baking dish. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of milk and stir. Top with more cheese and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until warm.
overhead shot of bowl of penne mac and cheese bake with gold spoon.
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More mac and cheese recipes

There’s nothing like treating yourself to a cozy bowl of homemade mac and cheese! Here are a few more of our favorite mac and cheese recipes to try out!

Did you enjoy this recipe? Give it a 5-star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and leave a comment! Appreciate it so much, thank you!

If you had any issues, I’d appreciate the chance to help you troubleshoot before you rate.

penne macaroni and cheese.

Penne Mac and Cheese Recipe

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Penne mac and cheese is dreamy, creamy, and oh-so cheesy! The easy recipe combines delicious penne pasta and a gooey cheese sauce. The dish uses simple ingredients and makes the perfect side or main.

Ingredients

  • 10 oz / 300 g penne pasta
  • 4 tbsp / 55 g / 2 oz butter, divided
  • 2 tbsp cup / 15 g / 0.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups / 450 ml / 16 fl oz half and half
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups / 240 g / 8.5 oz sharp white cheddar, freshly shredded

Instructions

  1. Prepare the penne. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add uncooked penne noodles. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions until they are al dente. Penne usually needs to cook for between 10 to 14 minutes.
  2. Melt in butter. Strain the penne and put it back into the pot. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until the butter is fully melted. This prevents the noodles from sticking together.
  3. Make the roux. While the pasta is cooking, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour and seasonings. Cook for 1 minute until a paste forms.
  4. Add half-and-half. Slowly pour the half-and-half into the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to cook, constantly whisking, for 4 to 6 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  5. Melt the cheese. Remove the pot from the heat when the sauce is thick and add the cheddar cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
  6. Combine penne with cheese sauce. Finally, add the cooked penne to the cheese sauce. Mix until the noodles are fully covered in the sauce.
  7. Serve. Sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Notes

Tips

  • Shred your own cheese: It's worth it to shred your own cheese for this recipe. The already shredded package cheese contains a substance that prevents it from clumping and melting well.
  • Milk: Feel free to substitute whole milk or evaporated milk if you don't have half-and-half. Use 2% milk for a lighter option.
  • Cook the roux for a full minute: This will eliminate any floury aftertaste and ensure that the roux properly thickens the sauce.
  • Adjust the consistency of the sauce: If the cheese sauce is too thick, stir in a little milk (1 tablespoon at a time) until your desired consistency. If the sauce seems too thin, cook it slightly longer until it thickens.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 422Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 88mgSodium: 567mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 15g

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