Skillet Caprese Macaroni and Cheese is an easy, kid-friendly meal perfect for weeknight dinner or weekend entertaining. With two types of cheese, tomatoes, basil, and a golden panko topping, it’s pure pasta perfection.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese:
This recipe for Caprese Mac and Cheese may be one of the easiest, cheesiest versions out there. Firstly, it doesn’t require a roux (the flour and butter mixture that forms the foundation of many cream sauces). Second, it only requires one skillet, which gets transferred from the stovetop to the oven to achieve the coveted crispy, golden topping. (Side note: you do need a separate pot to boil your pasta in, but this can also be done in advance.)
This cheesy skillet is the perfect use of late summer produce, such as tomatoes and basil. So, if your garden has either in bountiful amounts, this recipe is basically begging to make an appearance on your dinner table.
The Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese:
This may be up for debate, however my vote is always for fresh mozzarella. Sure, cheddar cheese is the most classic and lends great taste, BUT mozzarella has superior meltability. And to be clear, I’m talking the big beautiful balls of fresh mozzarella that you can just tear apart with your hands. They have a super high moisture content which lends to top-notch creaminess.
The other (also nontraditional) cheese in this mac is whole milk ricotta. Since this is already a soft, creamy cheese, it forms the foundation of the sauce, negating the need for a roux. The sauce especially comes together when the starchy pasta water is mixed into it.
How to Make Caprese Mac and Cheese:
Here’s how to create the creamiest, easiest version of this family classic:
- Boil your pasta until just shy of al dente. The noodles will continue to cook in the oven, so this keeps them from becoming mushy.
- Cook your tomatoes in a piping hot skillet of olive oil until their skin blisters and some begin to burst. Next, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the ricotta and a portion of the pasta water and mix until it emulsifies into a creamy sauce. Pasta water is liquid gold for achieving restaurant-quality silky sauces. And it’s always better to reserve more than you need incase your sauce becomes thirsty for more. There’s no going back for more after you drain it!
- Next comes the mozzarella, which is responsible for those drool-worthy cheese pulls. The key is to tear the cheese into bite-sized pieces and continuously stir them into the hot pasta mixture. The heat will gradually start melting the mozz into ribbons of cheesy bliss, creating that “I just need ONE more bite” effect. You know it, right?
- Lastly, sprinkle the buttery panko mixture overtop and finish it off in the oven!
Easy Mac and Cheese for Dinner:
This supremely simple mac and cheese is guaranteed to become a family favorite. Serve it with a fresh side salad and you have all of the components for a winning weeknight dinner. And, if you give this recipe a try, don’t forget to tag #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations!
More Easy Pasta Dinner Recipes:
- 12 oz. dry pasta of choice
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling overtop
- 1 lb. cherry tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- ¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 (8-oz.) ball fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces
- ¾ cup fresh basil leaves, divided
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup plain panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400*F.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water until very al dente (about 2 minutes less than suggested cooking time). Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain remaining.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes; cook 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until skin is blistered and tomatoes begin to burst.
- Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute, stirring often, until fragrant. Stir in salt, pepper, and ricotta cheese.
- Add cooked pasta and ½ cup of reserved pasta water; stir until combined. Add mozzarella cheese and stir mixture continuously until mozzarella melts throughout mixture (it's OK if there are still some chunks). Stir in extra pasta water as needed to create a creamy, emulsified sauce. Remove mixture from heat. Finely chop ¼ cup of the basil leaves and stir into pasta.
- Place melted butter and panko in a small bowl; stir until combined. Sprinkle panko mixture over pasta and place skillet in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and melty. Garnish with remaining ½ cup basil leaves and a final drizzle of olive oil.