This Cheesy Baked Bechamel Pasta features savory bacon bits, tender pasta, flavorful cheese, and richly seasoned white cream sauce. It’s a delicious and satisfying comfort food that the whole family will love. The best part is it comes together quickly with just six main ingredients plus spices and only 15 minutes of hands-on time.
Pasta dishes are a favorite around here. They are a great way to serve a comforting and hearty meal and are favored by adults and children alike. They’re incredibly versatile, offering many options using various kinds of pasta, meats, veggies, and flavorings.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious Baked Pasta with Bechamel Sauce:
Pasta – You’ll need a 16-ounce box of your favorite short pasta; rotini pasta, penne pasta, elbows, and bow ties all work well. Regular or whole wheat pasta both work well.
Cheese – The addition of shredded mozzarella cheese helps the creamy texture of the sauce.
Milk – Whole milk is best to create that creamy bechamel sauce, but 2% milk will work too.
Bacon bits – Homemade crumbled bacon or storebought bacon bits work well. I like real bacon crumbles from Costco.
HOW TO MAKE BECHAMEL PASTA: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: First, cook pasta according to package directions, but cut the cooking time short by 1-2 minutes. For best results and a certain al dente texture, drain pasta 2-3 minutes earlier than the package instructions.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius).
Step 2: Melt salted butter over medium heat in a large oven-proof skillet. Once the butter is melted, add all-purpose flour and whisk until you have a smooth texture, about 2-3 minutes. Continue whisking the roux and slowly add milk to thin it out.
Add spices and stir until everything is incorporated and well combined. You should have a creamy, rich, and smooth sauce at this point.
Next, stir in the bacon bits and 1/2 cup of cheese. Stir to combine and do a taste test for seasonings. Adjust if needed
Step 3: Finally, add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. If using an oven-proof pan like Dutch oven, sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese directly over the top of the pasta. If you don’t have an oven-proof skillet or pan, transfer the cheesy pasta mixture to an oven-safe baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Step 4: Dice up two tablespoons of salted butter and add to the top of the pasta. This step is optional but makes for a deliciously creamy bechamel sauce as the butter melts into the crevices of the pasta.
Step 5: Bake creamy pasta in preheated oven for 25-28 minutes or until the cheese is nice and golden brown and the mixture is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow the bechamel pasta bake to cool for a few minutes at room temperature before serving.
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Make it a meal: Add a healthy protein and make it a complete meal. Some great options are leftover roast chicken meat, cooked ground meat like Italian sausage or ground beef, or flaked canned tuna. You can also pan-fry some boneless chicken breasts for easy protein.
- Healthier version: If you’re watching your sodium, use unsalted butter and choose cheese with lower sodium content, like mozzarella and swiss cheese.
- Bacon bits: make them yourself in the oven ahead of time and store them in a jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.
The best bechamel sauce should have a light yet creamy consistency and be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
STORAGE & REHEATING
- Storage: Leftover bechamel pasta bake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.
- Reheating: The best way to reheat pasta bake is to warm it in the microwave for a few minutes until thoroughly heated.
- Freezing: Cheesy sauces and other dairy ingredients do not freeze well. Therefore, I don’t recommend freezing this creamy pasta bake. It’s best enjoyed fresh or eaten within a few days.
Additions & Substitutions
- Veggies: Some great vegetables in this pasta bake include sauteed onions and mushrooms, blanched asparagus or green beans, and roasted red peppers.
- Change the seasonings: Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or chili powder to add some heat to the cheese sauce. Or use a few teaspoons of Italian seasoning.
- Protein: Add your choice of meat and make it a meal. Chicken, beef, or ground sausage all work well.
- Pasta: This is a great recipe to use whatever pasta you have. Any short pasta like penne, bow ties, or rotini all work. Even classic elbow pasta would make a delicious macaroni béchamel bake.
- Cheese: I like using mozzarella cheese to help make that classic white sauce, but other hard cheeses will work well too. Try Monterey Jack, sharp cheddar cheese, Colby Jack, or Pepper Jack. Use Swiss or Gouda cheese for a nuttier and more complex cheese sauce.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Béchamel sauce is a classic French sauce made from a roux (mixture of butter and flour), milk, and spices. It is commonly used as a base for many dishes such as lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and various gratin dishes.
It’s a versatile sauce and can be adapted to fit a particular taste preference by adding cheese, onions, or a variety of vegetables to create a bechamel with a unique flavor profile.
The most important thing to remember is to go easy on the heat when making the roux, a flour and butter mixture. This is especially important as you add the milk.
Gently whisk it over medium to low heat to make sure it’s thoroughly combined. If you have it on high heat, you run the risk of the sauce curdling or splitting, which means the proteins will separate from the liquid, forming curds.
TOOLS FOR THIS RECIPE
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Cheesy Baked Bechamel Pasta
- 1 16 oz. box rotini pasta penne pasta, elbows, and bow ties also work well!
- 1/2 cup salted butter (one stick)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk (whole milk or 2%)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup bacon bits See Note 1
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, optional
- 2 tbsp salted butter for topping, optional
- Prep: Cook pasta 1-2 minutes shorter than package instructions (pasta will continue to bake a bit in the oven). Drain and set aside. Then, preheat oven to 425°F.
- Make Sauce: In a large oven-proof skillet (See Note 2), melt butter over medium heat. When butter is melted, add flour and whisk until you have a nice, smooth texture (about 2-3 minutes). Continue whisking and slowly add milk.
- Season: Add salt, garlic powder, ground pepper, smoked paprika, and nutmeg, if using. Whisk until everything is well-combined. Stir in the bacon bits and 1/2 cup of the cheese.
- Add Pasta: Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Sprinkle on the remaining cup cheese over the top of the pasta. Add pieces of butter (about 2 tablespoons) to the top of the pasta (OPTIONAL). Note: If you don't have an oven-proof pan, you can transfer the pasta mixture to an oven-safe baking dish.
- Bake: Bake pasta in preheated oven for 25-28 minutes or until cheese is nice and golden and mixture is bubbly. Allow pasta to cool for a few minutes and serve!