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.
Servings: 4 -6 people
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch broccoli (about 1-1 ½ pounds), cut into small florets
- 1 pound rigatoni or penne pasta (gluten free or regular)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten free or regular)
- 2 ½ 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
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs (gluten free or regular)
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil (optional)
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.
Storage: Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 4 days. Reheat the pasta bake in a microwave or toaster oven until warmed through.
Substitutions you can use in this recipe:
- 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!
- 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.