Creamy Pasta Sauce is a family favorite! It’s basically the grown-up version of boxed mac and cheese, but with kid appeal (phew!). If you’re a fan of traditional white sauces like alfredo and carbonara but find them a bit too heavy to include in the regular rotation, you’ll love this light and fresh take. We like to add roasted broccoli and cauliflower for a quick, easy, and balanced weeknight meal.
Perfectly cheesy and creamy without feeling overly heavy, this creamy pasta sauce is so deliciously simple. It’s made from scratch in just a few minutes with simple ingredients that are full of flavor and super comforting – and would couldn’t use some comfort food right now?
The sauce is like velvet, and it coats every single nook and cranny of the pasta and accompanying roasted vegetables. And roast them you should! Roasting crunchy veggies like cauliflower and broccoli really brings out their sweet, natural flavors. It’s so worth the extra few minutes to prepare them this way instead of boiling or steaming.
How to make creamy pasta sauce
I don’t often reach for white sauce on pasta night – while the gold standards of alfredo and carbonara are nothing short of mouth-watering, they’re heavy, decadent sauces that leave me feeling like a slug. This creamy pasta sauce is light and fresh, but still rich enough to be sinful. Toss it with your favorite short pasta and roasted vegetables for a very quick and easy dinner that’s both balanced and indulgent.
- Cook one pound of short, ridged pasta in salted water to one minute below al dente (check package directions) – be sure to salt the water liberally; it should taste like the ocean.
- Reserve about 1.5 cups of the cooking water for making the sauce, then drain the pasta.
- TIP: scoop out the pasta sauce using a ladle and transfer to a large measuring cup
- Grate the parmesan cheese – a microplane works best for a very fine grate that easily melts.
- Make the sauce using the pot you cooked pasta in.
- Melt butter until it foams. Add flour to the butter, then whisk and cook under a low flame until the color is golden brown and the aroma is nutty.
- Add one cup of pasta water and milk and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Season with garlic powder.
- Add the parmesan cheese in small batches, whisking until smooth after each addition. The sauce will thicken considerably.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste – parmesan is salty, so you may not need to add any salt at all.
- Add the cooked pasta and roasted vegetables to the pot, then toss to coat in the sauce.
- If the sauce is too thick at this point, add additional pasta water a tablespoon at a time until the texture is creamy and velvety smooth.
Can I use pre-grated parmesan cheese?
It’s possible, but not recommended. The texture isn’t the best for ensuring a smooth, creamy pasta sauce. A very fine grate, like the one you can achieve with a microplane, will ensure the cheese melts properly to create a velvety smooth texture. Pre-shredded cheese also loses its flavor more quickly, so a fresh block of parmesan cheese will give you the very best flavor for this sauce.
Can I make this sauce ahead of time?
Most pasta recipes are terrific for leftovers and this one is no exception. The completed pasta reheats well in the microwave and will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days in a tightly sealed container. Add a tablespoon of water to loosen up the sauce, as it will thicken considerably once chilled.
This sauce also freezes really well! I’m a big fan of batch cooking, and it takes little effort to double the recipe and save half for later. Just make sure you reserve enough pasta water before draining. Store the sauce in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then bring to a simmer over a low flame, whisking frequently to prevent clumping. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with pasta water a tablespoon at a time.
What’s the best pasta to use?
A short, ridged pasta will hold the sauce better than thin, smooth pasta shapes. Fusilli, penne, farfalle, and shells are all great choices. The nutty flavor of whole wheat pasta also pairs particularly well with this sauce.
Tips for making this recipe perfectly
- Always cook pasta in heavily salted water (it should taste like the sea!) – at least 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per pound of pasta. This infuses the pasta with flavor from the inside out while it boils.
- Cook the pasta to one minute under al dente. The pasta will continue to cook once it is drained and stirred into the sauce.
- Whisk the flour into the butter until it’s completely worked in, and very smooth.
- A little cheese goes a long way, and quality matters – use a fresh block of high quality parmesan cheese.
- Grate the parmesan as finely as possible so it melts easily into the sauce – I use a microplane for best results.
Make it your way
- Add grilled or roasted roasted chicken for a kick of protein. Grilled or pan-seared shrimp or salmon is also excellent.
- This sauce works with a variety of roasted vegetables, like zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
- If you’re short on time, add fresh spinach and/or frozen peas with the pasta to round out the dish and add a quick and easy nutritional punch.
More easy pasta recipes
- Late Summer Zucchini and Corn Pasta
- Ricotta Pasta with Peas and Leeks
- Easy Tomato Cream Sauce
- Spinach Pesto Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
Did you make this recipe for Creamy Pasta Sauce? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below
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Creamy Pasta Sauce with Roasted VegetablesPrint Recipe Rate this Recipe
- Large Pot
- Rubber Spatula
- 1 head broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
- 1 head cauliflower, chopped bite-sized florets
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb pasta
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 2 oz finely shredded parmesan cheese
- sea or kosher salt, to taste
- cracked black pepper, to taste
- Heat the oven to 425°F.
- Roast the vegetables. Separately, toss the broccoli and cauliflower with 1 tbsp olive oil each. Spread between two baking sheets. Transfer the cauliflower to the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, stir the cauliflower and return to the oven. Add the broccoli to the oven and set a timer for an additional 15 minutes. Roast both sheets of vegetables until tender and charred (approximately 15 minutes for the broccoli and approximately 25 minutes for the cauliflower).
- Heat a large pot of water until boiling, then season with the salt. Cook the pasta according to package directions to 1 minute under al dente (it will finish cooking in the sauce). Reserve 1-1.5 cups pasta water, then drain.
- Place the pot back over a medium flame. Add 2 tbsp butter and heat until it melts then foams. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk until the flour turns lightly golden brown, 1-2 minutes.
- Pour in one cup pasta cooking water and one cup milk; bring to a simmer. Whisk and simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and whisk until incorporated.
- Add the parmesan cheese gradually, a few tablespoons at a time, whisking until smooth; repeat until all of the cheese has been added and the sauce is thick. Taste for seasoning; add salt if needed and cracked black pepper to taste.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss. Add a splash of additional pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Fold in the roasted broccoli and cauliflower and serve immediately.
- Cook the pasta to one minute under al dente. The pasta will continue to cook once it is drained and stirred into the hot sauce, and you don't want soft, soggy pasta.
- Any short, ridged pasta shape will work for this recipe - fusilli, penne, and large shells are our favorites.
- Grate the parmesan as finely as possible using a microplane so it easily melts into the sauce.
- How to store leftovers: store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave, adding 1 tablespoon of water per serving to help loosen the sauce (it will thicken considerably once chilled).
- How to freeze the sauce: chill the sauce, then transfer to a tightly sealed container and place in the freezer; store for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then bring to a simmer over a low flame, whisking frequently to prevent clumping and scorching. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with pasta water a tablespoon at a time.
- Nutritional information includes the roasted broccoli and cauliflower.