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25 minutes and 10 ingredients is all it takes to make this vegetarian Caprese mac and cheese - the perfect twist on a tried and true classic family dinner! It's loaded with sharp white cheddar, shredded Parmesan and fresh mozzarella along with grape tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic glaze!
You'll Love This
- It's everything you love about Caprese salad and homemade mac and cheese - wrapped up in one flavorful dish! The nutty, flavorful cheese sauce clings to every nook and cranny of the rigatoni. Then it's topped with melted fresh mozzarella, tangy broiled tomatoes, sweet balsamic glaze, and fresh herby basil. It's the perfect blend of rich, creamy mac and cheese with fresh, light Caprese flavors!
- If you're intimidated by the word "roux", this recipe is for you! Roux is a fancy word for melted butter and flour mixed together to create a thickening base for a sauce. It sounds difficult but it's actually super easy to make AND it's the secret to getting the creamiest dreamiest cheese sauce ever. All you do is melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Then add flour and stir until smooth, for about a minute or so. This will cook that raw flavor out of the flour and give you the perfect thick and creamy base for a sauce.
- If you've always wanted to try balsamic glaze, this is a great recipe to start with! I do have to warn you, that once you've tried balsamic glaze, you will want to put it on everything and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. So - you've been warned! Balsamic glaze is honestly the clincher in this recipe. It's got this fruity, tangy amazing flavor and it really just ties everything together. I like to serve it drizzled on top and then I serve it on the side for extra drizzling as well. You can never have too much balsamic glaze!
Cook your rigatoni until al dente and get other ingredients ready as this recipe comes together pretty quickly once you start making it!
Add flour and stir to combine.
Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Slowly pour in milk, stirring until well combined. Cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently.
Add sharp cheddar and Parmesan to the milk mixture.
Stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add cooked rigatoni to the cheese sauce.
Stir to combine.
Top rigatoni with fresh mozzarella.
Add halved tomatoes.
Broil for 1-2 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted and turning dark golden brown.
Drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Garnish with fresh basil and enjoy!
- Salt your pasta water! Your pasta water should literally be as salty as the sea! This means you're going to add a moderate amount of salt to the boiling water before cooking the pasta. Fear not, however, most of this salt will get left behind in the water after you drain the cooked noodles. Cooking the pasta in salted water is going to give your pasta tons of extra flavor.
- Cook the pasta just until al dente and not a second longer. If the directions on the box of pasta suggest boiling it for 8-10 minutes, I set my timer for 7 minutes and start testing the pasta after 7 minutes of cooking. This ensures that you can pull the noodles off the heat and drain them as soon as they are al dente. This will help avoid overcooking the noodles and ending up with a mushy mess!
- You can switch up the cheese to fit your personal tastes or use whatever you have on hand. However, I recommend using a flavorful cheese in the base of the cheese sauce.
- I like Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar because it's got a delicious nutty flavor and it melts really well into the cheese sauce.
- The shredded Parmesan in this recipe also adds a depth of flavor and some saltiness to the dish.
- Of course, I like to finish it with fresh mozzarella in keeping with the spirit of a traditional Caprese salad!
- But you could sub regular whole milk or part-skim mozzarella, fontina or even Havarti for any of the cheeses listed in this recipe. Just keep the ratios the same so the texture is similar!
Short cuts of pasta are going to work best for this mac and cheese. The creamy cheese sauce will cling to every nook and cranny of these bite-size pastas.
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