Sunday, January 23, 2022
HomeFoodItalian Mac and Cheese {Simple Weeknight Dinner} – WellPlated.com

Italian Mac and Cheese {Simple Weeknight Dinner} – WellPlated.com


This Italian Mac and Cheese recipe combines two of food’s greatest gifts—pizza and macaroni and cheese—into a single casserole of melty, gooey delight.

Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese in a casserole dish

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With three different kinds of cheese and any of your favorite pizza toppings, this Italian mac is a shoo-in instant family favorite.

It will be welcomed with equal enthusiasm from both the kids and adults dining at your table (just like Chicken Alfredo Bake and Zucchini Pizza Boats, which are two other family favorites).

It’s also proof that kid-approved recipes don’t have to be bland, deep-fried, or served with a side of ketchup.

A pan of baked penne Italian mac and cheese

Spicy Italian mac and cheese is where our Velveeta-loving inner-kid and healthy-lifestyle-loving adult intersect.

  • It has all the creamy comfort we crave when eating mac and cheese, but is significantly lightened up and filled with whole wheat pasta, lean protein, and fresh veggies.
  • Favorite pizza toppings such as pepperoni, black olives, and bell peppers fill this easy loaded mac and cheese with Italian flare and give it instant eye appeal.

Tip!

Can’t get enough mac and cheese? Me either! Don’t forget to check out The Well Plated Cookbook where I share my recipe for Ultimate Creamy Mac and Cheese 4 Ways.

A serving of Italian macaroni and cheese on a plate with greens

5 Star Review

“This is absolutely delicious!! Definitely a keeper recipe.”

— Christine —

How to Make Italian Mac and Cheese

Three kinds of cheese, bell peppers, black olives, and lean turkey pepperoni coat tender al dente whole wheat pasta for a comforting (yet healthy) Italian mac and cheese bake.


The Ingredients

  • Whole Wheat Pasta. My way of making any pasta dish (like this Eggplant Pasta) healthy-ish with added fiber, iron, and whole grain goodness.

Substitution Tip

I opted to make Italian mac and cheese with penne because that is what we had on hand, but you can swap it for any short pasta shape. Try Italian mac and cheese with shells, rotini, fusilli, or cavatappi.

  • Onion + Garlic. For a little zip, zing, and bite.
  • Bell Peppers. I love the subtle crunch tender-crisp bell peppers lend this dish (and this popular Stuffed Pepper Casserole).
  • Canned Tomatoes. Add moisture and pizza-riffic tomato flavor.
  • Black Olives. Pepper the pasta with extra antioxidants, vitamin E, fiber, and iron. Though if you aren’t into them, feel free to omit.

Market Swap

Feel free to swap in or add other veggies of your choice. Think of this Italian mac and cheese like pizza mac and cheese and customize it to suit your tastes.

  • Butter + Flour. Come together to form a roux that thickens the cheesy pasta sauce.
  • Milk + Half-and-Half. I combination of milk and half-and-half adds richness and creaminess to the sauce with less fat and fewer calories than heavy cream.
  • Greek Yogurt. My secret to adding even more creaminess and a slight tang to this easy Italian mac and cheese (as well as this Avocado Pasta).
  • Italian Cheese. A mix of melty mozzarella, flavorful Fontina, and aged Parmesan make for the BEST baked Italian mac and cheese sauce.

Substitution Tip

The best cheeses for mac and cheese are melty and gooey. I also like to add a hard cheese for saltiness and punch.

For this recipe, Mozzarella is key, but you may swap the Fontina for another melty Italian cheese, such as Provolone. The Parmesan can be swapped for another aged hard cheese like Asiago or Romano.

  • Pepperoni. To keep things lighter, I like to use turkey pepperoni in this Italian mac and cheese recipe, but you could use regular pepperoni if you prefer.

Substitution Tip

If you’re not a fan of pepperoni, try making Italian mac and cheese with sausage by stirring in 1/2 pound of cooked ground Italian sausage. Choose a chicken or turkey Italian sausage to cut fat and calories.

  • Red Pepper Flakes. Add a little or a lot. Adjust the amount to suit your family’s tolerance for spice.
  • Oregano. Its aroma calls to mind your favorite childhood pizza joint.
A spoon scooping a cheesy serving of Italian mac and cheese

The Directions

  1. Cook and drain the pasta until almost al dente. Set aside.
sauteeing bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes in a large pot with a spoon
  1. Combine the onion, red and green bell pepper, and drained tomatoes in a skillet and sauté until crisp-tender.
  2. In a large pot, make the sauce.
adding cheese and greek yogurt to a rich homemade italian mac and cheese sauce
  1. Stir in the spices, then the Greek yogurt, mozzarella, and fontina.
coating tender pasta with a homemade pizza mac and cheese sauce
  1. Add in the cooked pasta.
stirring in pepperoni into Italian mac and cheese
  1. Roughly chop 2/3 of pepperoni and stir into the pasta mixture.
homemade italian mac and cheese in a baking dish topped with shredded mozzarella and pepperonis ready for the oven
  1. Transfer the pasta into a greased 9×13 baking dish, then top with olives, remaining pepperoni, and Parmesan.
  2. Bake Italian mac and cheese for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F, until hot and bubbly. ENJOY!

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Leftover Italian mac and cheese will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  • To Reheat. Warm in a 350 degree F oven, covered with foil, until heated through.
  • To Freeze. Italian mac and cheese may be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to two months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before warming.

What to Serve with Italian Mac and Cheese

Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe

  • Casserole Dish. This 9×13 baking dish is my go-to for casseroles, baked pasta, and more.
  • Dutch Oven. An everyday kitchen essential no home cook should be without.
  • Box Grater. Grating cheese from the block is the best way to achieve a perfectly smooth and silky homemade mac and cheese sauce.

The Best Colander

I appreciate the size variety in this 3-colander set. Made with durable stainless steel, it also has sturdy feet for stability on your counter.

A pan of baked penne Italian mac and cheese

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know what you thought!

Leave a rating below in the comments and let me know how you liked the recipe.

Pizza AND mac and cheese for dinner? I think my inner kid just did a cartwheel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make Italian Mac and Cheese Gluten Free?

I have not tried making this recipe gluten free so it would be an experiment. You would need to opt for your favorite gluten-free pasta in place of the whole wheat pasta and select a trusted gluten free flour alternative to thicken the sauce.

Can I Make Vegetarian Italian Mac and Cheese?

You can make this Italian mac and cheese vegetarian by simply omitting the pepperoni from the recipe. You could also swap it for a vegan pepperoni if you wish to retain the salty spiciness the pepperoni lends to the dish.

What Does Whole Wheat Pasta Taste Like?

Whole wheat pasta has a slightly nuttier flavor than traditional pasta. It’s my favorite way to sneak in a little extra fiber and whole grain goodness into traditional pasta recipes.

Italian Mac and Cheese Video

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  • 12 ounces whole wheat pasta noodles (such as rigatoni or penne)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14 ounces) drained
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups non-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
  • 3 ounces turkey pepperoni slices (about 50 slices)
  • 1/4 cup pitted black olives chopped
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta to water and cook until 1 or 2 minutes before al dente, according to package directions. It shouldn’t be completely crunchy, but should still be a little too firm to eat since it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and set aside.

  • Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly butter 9×13-inch baking dish.

  • In a Dutch oven or large, deep sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high. Sauté onion, red bell pepper, and green bell pepper for 2 minutes; add drained tomatoes and continue to cook until onion and peppers are crisp-tender and tomato cooking liquid has thickened and mostly evaporated; about 5 minutes.

  • Add the butter. Sprinkle in garlic and flour and cook, stirring often, until flour is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually pour in milk, stirring constantly, then half and half. Cook until sauce simmers and thickens; about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in red pepper flakes, salt, and oregano.

  • Let the mixture cool for a minute or two, then stir in the Greek yogurt, mozzarella, and fontina.

  • Combine the sauce with the drained pasta. Stir to coat.

  • Roughly chop 2/3 of pepperoni. Stir into pasta mixture, reserving the remaining 1/3 whole pepperoni.

  • Transfer the pasta into the prepared baking dish, then scatter olives, remaining pepperoni, and parmesan over top. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving.

  • TO STORE: Leftover Italian mac and cheese will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  • TO FREEZEItalian mac and cheese may be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to two months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before warming.
  • TO REHEAT: Warm in a 350 degree F oven, covered with foil, until heated through.

 

Serving: 1(of 8)Calories: 385kcalCarbohydrates: 41gProtein: 20gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 48mgPotassium: 404mgFiber: 6gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 1155IUVitamin C: 37mgCalcium: 277mgIron: 1mg

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