Cheesy Cheddar Broccoli Pasta
Creamy, Cheesy Cheddar Broccoli Pasta is the perfect side of the main dish for any meal! It’s cheddar cheese sauce loaded with al dente shells and tender, chopped broccoli florets, and it is glorious!
Call it a side or a main dish.
These cheddar broccoli pasta shells are honestly the perfect side to any meal. Whether you’re planning your Thanksgiving menu or looking for something quick to make for the whole family on a random Tuesday night, broccoli and cheddar shells totally fit the bill.
What I love most about this recipe is that it comes together in one pot! So we’ll boil the pasta, then add the broccoli to the same water. Drain everything and then make the golden brown cheese sauce in the same saucepan before we toss it all together in the most decadent and delicious cheese sauce.
Would this work with your Thanksgiving turkey? YES.
Would this work with sauteed garlic butter chicken? YES.
Would this work with steak and shrimp? YES.
Could you make a meal out of this with a salad? 100% YES.
It’s honestly the yummiest, most versatile dinner recipe loaded with veggies, creamy cheese sauce, al dente noodles, and all the comfort one wants from a broccoli and cheese dish! It’s mostly pantry staple ingredients and, honestly, even better than Panera’s broccoli cheddar mac and cheese.
Ingredients for cheddar broccoli pasta:
- Pasta: I like to use shells for this recipe, but you could use any pasta shape you like.
- Broccoli florets: I like to grab a bag of florets from the store that I just break down to make them roughly the same size as the shells.
- Butter: We’ll use the butter to make a roux with the flour.
- Flour: We’ll use less flour so that it doesn’t affect the cheese sauce’s texture but still aids in thickening it.
- Half and Half: This is typically sold in the United States and is a 50:50 ratio of whole milk and heavy whipping cream. You can make your own half and half or use storebought.
- Cream Cheese: this ingredient aids in thickening the sauce further. I prefer to thicken the recipe with more cream cheese than flour because cream cheese doesn’t produce a gloopy sauce mixture.
- Chicken Bouillon: A sprinkle of granulated chicken bouillon adds so much flavor to the cheese mixture. The cheese flavor wouldn’t be as concentrated if we used liquid chicken broth. So I like using the granulated variety or a crumbled bouillon cube.
- Seasonings: This is my favorite blend for broccoli and shells. I use a smidge of ground nutmeg, some white pepper, and mustard powder. These ingredients work beautifully with cheddar cheese and add the best taste to the cheddar broccoli shells.
- Cheese: Feel free to play around with the cheese. I typically use a good medium cheddar, but this recipe would work with sharp cheddar cheese, gruyere, or even a handful of parmesan cheese and Swiss. If you aim to get that beautiful yellow hue, use more cheddar cheese and less of the other ones. Remember that it’s best to use freshly grated cheese for the best melty sauce.
How to make Panera’s broccoli cheddar mac and cheese:
- Start with the pasta. You want to bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, salt the water generously so the pasta has plenty of flavor. Then add the pasta and cook for 30-60 seconds less than package directions. When the timer goes off, add the broccoli and boil in the pasta water. Be sure to save a cup of pasta water so that you can add it to the cheese sauce later as needed. Drain the broccoli and pasta and set aside for later.
- Make the roux. Melt the butter in the same pot over medium heat. Then add the flour and whisk, and cook the flour until lightly golden and toasty.
- Make the sauce. Add half and half to the flour mixture and continue to whisk. Add the cream cheese and whisk it in. It will slowly heat through and melt into the sauce. Season with the bouillon, nutmeg, white pepper, and mustard.
- Adding in the cheese. When a bubble or two starts appearing on the surface of the sauce, turn off the burner. Slowly stir in the cheese, a little at a time, until it melts completely before adding in the next batch. This allows the cheese to melt, and you get the most luxurious sauce.
- Finish and serve. Once all of the cheese has been incorporated. add the pasta and broccoli. Add a small splash of pasta water if the sauce is thick. You can make it a bit soupy if you like it, like SpaghettiOs or a broccoli and cheddar soup. This would also be a good time to add other veggies like peas or steamed and squeezed spinach if you want to make this more veggie-loaded. Taste and adjust with salt as needed. Serve this warm!
FAQs about this recipe
Keep the leftovers in an airtight container like you would any pasta bake. Keep in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
Reheat in a microwave in portions so the cheese sauce doesn’t dry out too much while it reheats. You may want to add a splash of chicken broth or water to the sauce to thin it out to your liking.
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Keto Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Gruyere Mac and Cheese with French Onion Crust
- 5-Ingredient Mac and Cheese
- Creamy Lemon Garlic Pasta (Pasta al Limone)
- Garlic Parmesan Orzo Risotto
- ~2 cups broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
- 16 ounces medium pasta shells
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2½ cups half and half (see notes)
- ⅓ cup softened cream cheese
- ½ teaspoon granulated chicken buillion (or ½ bouillon cube, crumbled)
- ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper AND mustard powder
- 16 ounces freshly grated cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
- PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, salt the water generously. Add pasta and boil according to package directions, adding the broccoli to the water during the last 1 minute of cooking. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining. Drain the broccoli/pasta and set aside for now.
- ROUX: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine, cooking the flour for 1-2 minutes or until it smells buttery and browns just a bit.
- SAUCE: Slowly stream in the half and half as you whisk the roux. Continue doing so until all of the liquid is added to the roux. Add the cream cheese and continue to whisk until lump-free—season with bullion, nutmeg, white pepper, and mustard powder.
- CHEESE: Turn off the burner. Add roughly ½ cup of cheese at a time and slowly stir it into the sauce so that it melts. Be patient; this requires quite a bit of stirring.
- FINISH: Once the cheese is combined, add pasta and broccoli to the cheese sauce and stir. Heat the pot over low heat as you stir. Add a small splash of pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Taste and adjust with salt as needed. Serve warm.
- Half and Half: Half and half is a product sold in the US, which is a 50:50 combo of whole milk and heavy whipping cream use 1¼ cup of each if you can't find half and half.