For Extra Weeknight Comfort, Make This Creamy Baked Cavatappi

published Jan 19, 2022
Eat
Cavatappi Recipe

Cheesy baked pasta makes for a weeknight dinner favorite.

Serves6 to 8

Prep12 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook30 minutes to 35 minutes

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Cavatappi (the Italian word for corkscrews, Cavatappi is a macaroni formed in a helical tube shape) baked with cheese sauce and broccoli.
Credit: Kelli Foster

Whenever I’m looking to change up my regular pasta routine of spaghetti or penne, I toss a box of cavatappi in my grocery cart. Not only does this corkscrew-shaped pasta make dinnertime extra fun, but it also happens to be the start of the creamy, cheesy baked pasta that my family cannot get enough of. 

This ultra-comforting baked pasta dish is packed with tender corkscrew pasta, blanketed in a velvety cream sauce mixed with a trio of cheeses, and studded with bite-size pieces of broccoli. It gets topped with a shower of Parmesan, then baked in the oven until the creamy sauce is bubbly and the top of the pasta picks up the faintest crisp around the edges. Ready to dig in?

The Secret to Making Impossibly Creamy Baked Cavatappi

I’m a firm believer that there’s no better sauce for cavatappi than a rich, garlic-scented cheese sauce. It nestles inside each nook and cranny of the corkscrew.

This impossibly creamy sauce starts the same way you’d make a béchamel sauce. You’ll start by making a roux with melted butter and flour, then mix in milk and cook until the sauce is thickened. The last step is what makes this sauce really great: You’ll mix in three types of cheese.

  • Cream cheese. This thickens the sauce a little more, and adds even more creaminess and a very subtle tang.
  • Sharp cheddar. Sharp cheddar (preferably white) gives this sauce lots of flavor.
  • Parmesan cheese. Salty Parmesan brings a hint of nuttiness and gives the sauce a sharp edge.

What’s the Difference Between Cellentani and Cavatappi? 

Cavatappi is a short, tubular, corkscrew-shaped pasta that’s also known as cellentani. Both pastas can be used interchangeably. 

Credit: Kelli Foster

How Long Does Cavatappi Take to Cook?

As timing can vary slightly by brand, always check the package instructions for the recommended cook time. 

This recipe calls for a two-step cooking process, where the cavatappi is first cooked on the stove in a pot of salted boiling water, then baked in the oven. Because of this, we call for cooking the cavatappi for two minutes less than the package instructions. The pasta will continue to cook a little more in the oven. So, shortening the cook time on the stove ensures that the cavatappi will turn out tender, rather than mushy or soft. 

Cavatappi Recipe

Cheesy baked pasta makes for a weeknight dinner favorite.

Prep time 12 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    broccoli (1 large or 2 small heads)

  • 2 ounces

    cream cheese

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, preferably white

  • 2 ounces

    finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 loose cup freshly grated or 3/4 cup pre-grated cheese), divided

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 pound

    dried cavatappi pasta

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 quart

    whole or 2% milk (4 cups)

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF.

  2. Bring a large pot or Dutch oven of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, trim the stalks from 1 pound broccoli, then cut the florets into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut 2 ounces cream cheese into 1/4-inch cubes. Grate 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups). Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese on the small holes of the box grater (about 1 cup). Mince 2 garlic cloves.

  3. Add 1 pound dried cavatappi pasta to the boiling water and cook 2 minutes less than al dente, about 6 minutes or according to the package instructions. In the final minute of cooking, add the broccoli. It will turn bright green. Drain the pasta and broccoli.

  4. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in the now-empty pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to dry out,1 to 2 minutes.

  5. Slowly whisk in 1 quart whole or 2% milk and continue whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 4 to 7 minutes.

  6. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cream cheese, cheddar, half of the Parmesan, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Add the cavatappi and broccoli and stir to combine.

  7. Transfer the mixture to a 9x13-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake until lightly browned on top and the sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Creamy Baked Cavatappi