Pizza Mac & Cheese

Hunting for kid-friendly dinner recipes? Pizza Mac & Cheese is exaclty what you need. I love to break this one out when the kids have new friends over for dinner. As long as everyone can eat meat, gluten, and dairy, this recipe is almost a guaranteed hit. There’s just something magical that happens when the kids’ eyes see those pepperoni slices on top of macaroni and cheese that makes even the pickiest eater want to give this casserole a go. The best part is, parents like it too!

I had this recipe at a friend’s house and tweaked it quite a bit for my own taste. My friend’s original recipe called for jarred pizza sauce, but I find that this quick-and-easy homemade sauce tastes better and is more flavorful. Sometimes pre-made pizza sauce is too sweet for my taste. I like this hybrid that walks the line between a pizza sauce and a pasta sauce for this dish.

Pizza Mac & Cheese – tomato sauce.

Usually I can whip the sauce up while I’m waiting for my pasta water to boil and the pasta itself to cook. It’s a very easy sauce that just calls for some dry seasonings, but if you have your own favorite recipe, or if you prefer to use jarred pizza or pasta sauce, that can work really well too. The important thing is to get the sauce up to a simmer so it’s nice and hot, although I recommend letting the tomato sauce drop below a simmer before you add the cream cheese in.

Let’s talk about cheese. This is actually a three cheese pasta in disguise. The cream cheese helps form the base sauce and adds a rich, somewhat tangy, and incredibly creamy element that really makes the whole dish sing. It’s not the cheesiest tasting sauce on its own, however, which is where the mozzarella and parmesan come in. Parmesan is one of my additions to this recipe. I felt like I really wanted a sharper cheese punch. Rather than add it to the sauce, I like to sprinkle it on and mix it in with the mozzarella.

Speaking of mozzarella, I make this dish a few ways. If I have fresh mozzarella on hand, I use it in this recipe. I dice it into small cubes rather than grating it like I would the part-skim type mozzarella we’re all used to finding pre-shredded in the grocery store. But generally, I just use the pre-shredded mozzarella off the shelf. It’s delish, melts beautifully, and makes this dish that much easier to whip up.

Pizza Mac & Cheese

4 from 5 votes
Recipe by Add Recipes Course: Dinner
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

25

minutes

This zesty combination of pepperoni pizza and macaroni & cheese is a kid favorite.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Macaroni, or any dry tube pasta

  • 8 oz Cream cheese

  • 2 cups Mozarella, shredded; divided

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

  • 5-7 oz package Pepperoni, pre-sliced; divided

  • 15-16 oz Tomato sauce, canned (one large can or two smaller cans)

  • 1/4 cup Water

  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon Onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon Salt

  • Black pepper, fresh ground; to taste

  • 3 tablespoons (optional) Basil, fresh; minced; divided

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease large casserole dish or 9×13 baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
  • Following macaroni package instructions, bring a pot of water to boil and cook pasta.
  • While pasta water is boiling and macaroni is cooking, in separate medium-sized saucepan over medium-low to medium, add canned tomato sauce, water, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir to combine and bring to low bubbling simmer. Once simmer is achieved, simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust heat as necessary to prevent from scorching and add an additional 1/4 cup of water if sauce reduces too much.
  • Cut 8oz block of cream cheese into 6-8 pieces.
  • Reduce tomato sauce heat until it’s no longer bubbling (or remove from heat briefly to stop simmer). Add cream cheese to tomato sauce over low to medium-low heat. Stir to melt cream cheese and combine sauce. Reduce heat to low if macaroni is not done cooking yet to hold sauce until needed. Taste sauce for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
  • Drain cooked pasta and pour into prepared baking dish. Pour cream cheese tomato sauce over hot pasta and stir until all pasta is coated. Add 1 cup of shredded mozzarella, parmesan, 2 tablespoons of (optional) fresh basil, and pepperoni slices — reserving 15-20 pepperoni slices for topping. Stir ingredients together to distribute and combine; work quickly as mozzarella will begin to melt.
  • Place reserved 15-20 pepperoni slices on top of pasta. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or cheese is melted and golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and rest 3-5 minutes before serving. Top with reserved (optional) 1 tablespoon fresh basil.

Notes

  • Macaroni can be substituted for any tublar pasta like cavatappi, cellantini, penne, rigatoni, ziti, etc.
  • Tomato sauce can be substituted with pre-made pizza sauce or pasta sauce. If using pre-made sauce, omit all the sauce seasonings (unless you prefer more seasoning), and simply bring the pre-made to a simmer briefly before reducing heat and adding cream cheese.
  • Any mild cheese that melts well can be used as substitute for mozzarella, like Havarti, Monterrey Jack, or mild Cheddar — taste will change. If using fresh mozzarella, recommend dicing into small cubes rather than attempting to grate.
  • Recommend using solid block-type cream cheese rather than whipped style.
  • Any sort of sliced pepperoni will do, but recommend using something you are accustomed to seeing on pizza.

I make this dish with any tubular pasta I have on hand, and the original recipe calls for macaroni, but I really like it with cavatappi. Cavatappi has ridged outsides that help the sauce cling, and it makes for a nice fork sized bite along with a slice of pepperoni. Penne is another favorite of mine.

Salami slices.

Finally, a word about pepperoni. I just buy the pre-sliced cheap stuff I find in the lunch meat section. If you have fancier tastes, please use any pepperoni you wish. Sometimes we buy the tiny tiny pepperoni rounds, and sometimes the larger floppy slices. I even bought turkey pepperoni once. Anything will work, and the package sizes all seem to range between 5-7 ounces but I never notice a flavor difference if one batch has a little less or a little more than another, so just use whatever you can find.

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