I don’t think there’s a meal that’s more crowd pleasing than this creamy pasta bake (the first time I made it my kids and I fought over the leftovers… p.s. the chef always wins 😉). Best of all, you can use up any vegetables and cheeses you happen to have in the fridge, and the baked pasta gets assembled and baked in the same skillet. It’s an easy weeknight dinner that you’re going to love. [Don’t miss the VIDEO below!]

Close up of spoon scooping baked pasta with broccoli.

Cheesy broccoli pasta bake

Do you want to know the most delicious way to eat broccoli? When it’s coated in this cheesy, creamy baked pasta sauce. I CRAVE it, and my kids fight over it (which is a miracle in its own right). But with this recipe you’re not limited to using just broccoli. You can use any veggies you have on hand!

Overhead shot of creamy baked pasta on a plate with a fork.

Vegetable pasta bake

Other veggies that work fabulously in this baked pasta include cauliflower, peas, asparagus, spinach and/or kale. You can even use leftover cooked or roasted vegetables (see the substitutions below). 

Overhead shot of all of the ingredients that go into the creamy pasta bake.

Gluten free baked pasta

You can easily make a gluten free pasta bake (which is how I make it!) by using gluten free flour, pasta and breadcrumbs. I use this GF rigatoni, this GF flour, and these breadcrumbs, but any brands will work!

How to make a creamy white sauce:

Making a white sauce (also called béchamel) is way easier than you might think. 

  1. Melt butter with smashed garlic cloves to infuse the butter with their flavor (the whole garlic cloves are removed, but you can use chopped garlic for a stronger flavor). 
  2. Whisk in flour (regular or gluten-free) and cook 1 minute while whisking (this is to cook off any raw flour flavor).
  3. Next, slowly whisk in milk. Keep whisking until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens. You just made a béchamel sauce! 
  4. Finally, stir in grated cheddar and Gruyere cheeses (or any melty cheeses you have), along with a touch of nutmeg for depth of flavor. 
Creamy white sauce in a large skillet with a spatula.

Pasta bake topping

A quick and easy breadcrumb topping gives this pasta bake an irresistible crunch. Store-bought panko and grated parmesan are mixed with olive oil, which helps the topping crisp up. For more garlic flavor, you can use a garlic oil in place of the olive oil. 

Hand sprinkling the breadcrumb topping over the broccoli pasta bake.

How to make creamy broccoli pasta bake

  1. Cook the broccoli in a large pot of boiling water, followed by the pasta (they both cook in the same water!). 
  2. In a large oven-proof skillet, make the white sauce. 
  3. Add the cooked broccoli and pasta to the skillet with the white sauce and toss to coat. 
  4. Sprinkle the pasta with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the topping is golden and the sauce is bubbling!
Process shot showing the steps for assembling the creamy pasta bake.

How do I serve the baked pasta?

The pasta bake tastes like a lighter, more elegant version macaroni and cheese. Serve it straight from the skillet as an easy weeknight dinner or dress it up with an easy green salad alongside for a cozy night in with friends. Leftovers pack up beautifully in thermoses for school and work lunches!

Substitutions you can use in this recipe:

  • Vegetables: You can swap out the broccoli for cauliflower, peas, asparagus, spinach and/or kale. If you have leftover cooked vegetables on hand (such as roasted squash or peppers), you can omit the boiling step and add the vegetables directly to the white sauce when you add the pasta. 
  • Pasta: This recipe calls for rigatoni or penne, but you can use any short, shaped pasta you have on hand, such as rotini, faralle or fusilli. 
  • Cheeses: A mix of sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses give the white sauce loads of flavor, but you could go for just one of the cheeses, or you can swap in another cheese that melts well, such as Comté or Emmentaler.
  • Milk: In the white sauce you can use either whole milk or 2% milk, according to what you have. 
Close up of a skillet of baked pasta with a serving spoon.

FAQ

What pasta should you use for a pasta bake?

You can use any short shaped pasta. Classic shapes include rigatoni and penne (which allow the sauce to seep into the middle), but you can use rotini, farfalle, fusilli or whatever you have on hand!

Should you cover the pasta bake?

No, do not cover the pasta bake when baking. Leaving it uncovered will allow the breadcrumb topping to crisp up and turn golden brown.

Can you assemble the pasta bake in advance?

This one-skillet dinner is best baked right after assembling (when the sauce is at its creamiest), but you can assemble it ahead. Toss the white sauce with the pasta and broccoli, but don’t add the breadcrumb topping. Cover the pasta bake and refrigerate it for up to 6 hours. Before baking, bring the pasta bake to room temperature and add the breadcrumb topping (the sauce won’t be quite as creamy if you make it ahead).

Close up of a spoonful of the creamy pasta bake.

Pasta bake tips:

  • The water that’s used to blanch the broccoli will also be used to cook the pasta (so don’t drain it!). A spider is a great tool for scooping up the cooked broccoli, or you could use a slotted spoon.
  • Cook the pasta until just shy of al dente according to the package directions (it should be a touch chewy). Don’t overcook the pasta, as it will cook further in the oven. 
  • You can use a large (12-inch) oven-proof skillet to both assemble and bake the pasta. If you don’t have a pan that’s big enough, don’t worry! You can simply transfer the pasta bake to a buttered baking dish. 
  • Make this a gluten free pasta bake by using gluten free pasta (this is the brand I like!), gluten free flour and gluten free panko breadcrumbs

Other easy dinners you might like:

Don’t forget dessert!

Watch the video!

Get the recipe!

Easy Creamy Pasta Bake with Broccoli (or Any Veggies!)

This creamy pasta bake is studded with broccoli (or any vegetables you like!), with a cheesy white sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb topping. It gets assembled and baked in just one skillet, and you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand (be sure to check out the ingredient substitutions below). You can also easily make this a gluten free pasta bake (see the Notes)! Be sure to measure out the ingredients and shred the cheese for the white sauce before starting the sauce (that way you won’t have to scramble once the sauce gets going). For a stronger garlic flavor, use chopped garlic cloves in the sauce and leave them in.
Prep Time35 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: broccoli pasta bake, creamy baked pasta, creamy pasta bake, pasta bake
Servings: 4 -6 people

Ingredients

Pasta

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1-1 1/2 pounds), cut into small florets
  • 1 pound rigatoni or penne pasta (gluten free or regular)

White sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten free or regular)
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup 2.5 ounces shredded Gruyere or Comté cheese
  • 1 cup 2.5 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Topping

  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (gluten free or regular)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil (optional)

Instructions

Cook the broccoli and pasta

  • Preheat the oven to 450˚F (230˚C).
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt. Add the broccoli florets and cook at a boil until bright green and tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the broccoli to a colander (reserve the boiling water). Rinse the broccoli with cold water to stop the cooking (this will also help preserve its bright green color).
  • Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions just shy of al dente (it should be a touch chewy—it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain. While the pasta cooks, start the sauce.

Make the white sauce

  • Put the butter and garlic cloves in a 12-inch straight-sided oven-proof skillet (if you don’t have one, make the sauce in a medium saucepan). Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the garlic smells fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Discard the garlic cloves.
  • Increase the heat to medium and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute. Very slowly pour in the milk while whisking (see the video above for reference!). Cook, whisking, until the sauce starts to bubble and thickens, about 2-4 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. Stir with a rubber spatula until melted. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg—be generous with the salt, as the sauce will flavor the pasta. Add the cooked pasta and broccoli and fold to combine (alternatively, transfer everything to a large bowl and stir to combine). Season with more salt and pepper to taste. (If you’re using a baking dish, transfer the pasta to an oiled dish and spread it in an even layer).

Add the topping and bake

  • Toss the breadcrumbs with the Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the pasta.
  • Bake the pasta until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and toasted, about 10 minutes. Scatter the chopped basil over top, if using. Serve hot.

Notes

Storage: Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 4 days. Reheat the pasta bake in a microwave or toaster oven until warmed through.
Tips:
  • The water that’s used to blanch the broccoli will also be used to cook the pasta (so don’t drain it!). A spider is a great tool for scooping up the cooked broccoli, or you could use a slotted spoon.
  • Cook the pasta until just shy of al dente according to the package directions (it should be a touch chewy). Don’t overcook the pasta, as it will cook further in the oven. 
  • You can use a large (12-inch) oven-proof skillet to both assemble and bake the pasta. If you don’t have a pan that’s big enough, don’t worry! You can simply transfer the pasta bake to a buttered baking dish. 
  • Make this a gluten free pasta bake by using gluten free pasta (this is the brand I like!), gluten free flour and gluten free panko breadcrumbs
Substitutions you can use in this recipe:
  • Vegetables: You can swap out the broccoli for cauliflower, peas, asparagus, spinach and/or kale. If you have leftover cooked vegetables on hand (such as roasted squash or peppers), you can omit the boiling step and add the vegetables directly to the white sauce when you add the pasta. 
  • Pasta: This recipe calls for rigatoni or penne, but you can use any short, shaped pasta you have on hand, such as rotini, faralle or fusilli. 
  • Cheeses: A mix of sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses give the white sauce loads of flavor, but you could go for just one of the cheeses, or you can swap in another cheese that melts well, such as Comté or Emmentaler.
  • Milk: In the white sauce you can use either whole milk or 2% milk, according to what you have. 

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