Delicious ricotta mac and cheese recipe ready in about 20 minutes. Elbow macaroni coated in a melty creamy, cheesy sauce made with three types of cheese: an easy recipe that both adults and children love.
This ricotta mac and cheese is an outrageously creamy and cheesy meal that your whole family will adore. And it’s so easy and quick to make; you can make it any day of the week. An ooey-gooey, good mac and cheese, the ultimate comfort food!
Elbow macaroni: The classic pasta that is used for making this dish. However, rest assured the dish works perfectly with any other sort of short pasta, like penne, fusilli, farfalle, and so on.
Three types of cheese:
- Ricotta: creamy, full-fat ricotta cheese.
- Cheddar: NOT pre-grated! I prefer aged, more robust flavored Cheddar; it definitely imparts more flavor to the cheese sauce.
- Mozzarella: NOT pre-grated. Full-fat mozzarella cheese is the best kind.
Heavy cream: It adds extra creaminess and makes the sauce even smoother. You can replace it with single cream, full-fat, or skim milk, but I think that heavy cream works best. This is not a diet recipe anyway, so you will not make this dish considerably skinnier by using milk.
Pasta cooking water: Save about 1 cup before draining the noodles. You will need about ½ of it, maybe a splash more to loosen the sauce even more if necessary.
Other ingredients: All-purpose flour, Dijon mustard (or a similar kind), fine sea salt or Kosher, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cooked and crumbled bacon, about 4-5 slices.
- Chopped cooked ham, about 3-4 tablespoons.
- Frozen peas: Add them to the pasta pot during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time.
- Broccoli cut into small florets. Add them to the pasta pot during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time.
- Fresh baby spinach: It’s enough to add it to the pan together with the pasta; the heat will be enough to make it wilt.
- You could also add some red pepper flakes, lemon zest, white pepper instead of black, fresh herbs, and so on.
Four simple steps to make ricotta mac and cheese
- Step1: Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Save about 1 cup of cooking water and drain it.
- Step 2: Grate Cheddar and mozzarella on a block grater.
- Step 3: Make cheese sauce during the last few minutes of the pasta’s cooking time.
- Mix ricotta, Cheddar, mozzarella, cream, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large pan. Add ½ cup of the pasta water and stir well on low heat until the ricotta is smooth, about 1-2 minutes (the cheese will not be completely melted yet).
- Step 4: Combine. Add cooked macaroni to the pan. Mix well to coat and to help the cheese melt completely; it will take another minute or so. If the cheese is not completely melted after about 1 minute, turn off the heat under the pan and continue to mix macaroni with cheese sauce until everything is smooth.
- Add another splash of pasta cooking water if the sauce gets too thick, but it usually doesn’t.
Can I bake this dish?
Sure. I rarely do it because I love it just how it is and because it takes longer. But baking macaroni and cheese is a great idea, especially if you want to cook the dish in advance.
- Pour the finished mac and cheese into a buttered casserole dish.
- Topping: Combine 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Top the noodles with the breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 350°F (180°C) for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.
Tips for success
- Use mature, extra-sharp, or sharp Cheddar. Ricotta and mozzarella are both mild cheeses, so you need the punch that strong Cheddar gives the dish.
- Don’t use pre-shredded cheese; it contains some additives that prevent the cheese from melting nicely, so the sauce will turn out grainy instead of creamy and smooth.
- It’s better if the ricotta and heavy cream are at room temperature; remove them from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. If they are at room temperature, there are fewer chances that the sauce will become grainy due to extreme temperature differences.
- Use very low heat to make the sauce, and don’t overheat it, or the cheese might get grainy. During the first stage of making the sauce, only heat it long enough to allow the ricotta to get smooth.
- Add the drained noodles and continue stirring until all the cheese melts and coats the pasta. Turn off the heat after about 1 minute and continue stirring; the residual heat will be enough to melt the cheese.
You can substitute Cheddar with Gouda, smoked Gouda, Gruyere, or Fontina. Add a few slices of finely chopped American cheese for even more creaminess. Or you can combine different kinds of cheese. I always keep the mozzarella, though.
When making ahead, it’s preferable to bake the dish before serving. Pour the contents of the pan into a buttered baking dish, let cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake. Top with breadcrumbs and bake as instructed above.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. When reheating on the stovetop, add a splash of milk to loosen the sauce.
I recommend freezing ricotta mac and cheese before baking. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish, cover it tightly, and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Bake from frozen at 350°F (180°C) for about 1 hour or until thoroughly heated through; ensure that it is hot and bubbly in the middle. Add the breadcrumb topping during the last 20 minutes of the cooking time to allow it to get crispy and golden.
Bake from thawed at 350°F (180°C) for about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping right at the beginning and bake the dish until the topping is golden brown.
There are a few things you can do to ensure that your mac and cheese is nice and creamy. One is to use a higher quality cheese – the better the cheese, the creamier the dish will be. Pre-shredded cheese doesn’t melt as nice as freshly shredded, use only fresh grated/chopped quality cheese. Another is to use a roux to thicken the sauce – this will help to create a smooth, velvety texture. Finally, be careful not to overcook the pasta – if it’s too soft, it will absorb too much of the sauce and the dish will be dry.
More pasta recipes
Creamy Ricotta Mac and Cheese
- 1 Large pot
- 1 Box grater
- 1 Large pan
- 1 lb macaroni Note 1
- 1 cup ricotta
- 2 ½ cups Cheddar grated, Note 2
- 1 cup mozzarella grated, Note 2
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or similar
- 3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cooking water from the pasta
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt generously and cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta.
- Grate Cheddar and mozzarella.
- Make the sauce during the last minutes of the pasta’s cooking time.
- Mix ricotta, grated cheese, heavy cream, mustard, flour, salt, and pepper in a pan. Add about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Stir well on low heat until the ricotta is smooth (the grated cheese will not be completely melted); it will take about 1-2 minutes.
- Add drained pasta to the pan and mix gently for another minute or so until the cheese is melted and the sauce coats the macaroni.
- Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper and serve immediately.
- Or any other type of short pasta.
- Please use freshly grated cheese; pre-grated cheese will not melt nicely.