broccoli shells n’ cheese

$6.05 recipe / $1.01 serving

I got a request from Nelson (a BB reader) last week to make some homemade mac n’ cheese and what a fantastic idea it was. I really need some mac n’ cheese in my life right about now.

Of course, there is the issue of guilt surrounding eating large quantities of cheese so I added some good ol’ broccoli to rationalize it all. ha. right. If you don’t want broccoli, just leave it out, make everything else as directed and you’ll have a good classic mac n’ cheese.

Making a cheese sauce can be a little bit intimidating at first but give it a shot. Once you get the hang of it, it’s super easy. The thickening action of the roux is kinda like magic, very mysterious but you gotta learn to trust it. It will thicken.

I like to use medium to sharp cheddar for my mac and cheese because I feel like cheese sauce needs that extra punch of flavor. I also ended up adding a little parmesan (another strong cheese) because after tasting the sauce I wanted it even cheesier! I despise a bland macaroni and cheese.

Then there is the hot sauce. I add just a little to add flavor but not really any heat. The hot sauce is completely optional. Many people add dry mustard which has a similar effect on the flavor. It just gives it a little zing. In the end, the cheese sauce is all about tasting and adjusting. And really, who’s complaining about repeatedly tasting cheese sauce? No one.

Broccoli Shells n’ Cheese

broccoli macaroni and cheese

4.5 from 6 reviews
broccoli shells n' cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $6.05
Cost Per Serving: $1.01
Serves: 6
  • 8 oz. pasta $0.55
  • 1 lg. crown broccoli $1.69
  • ½ med onion $0.18
  • 3 Tbsp butter $0.12
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour $0.03
  • 2.5 cups milk $0.65
  • 8 oz. (2 cups) sharp cheddar, shredded $2.49
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan $0.24
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (optional) $0.05
  • to taste salt and pepper $0.05
  1. Get a large pot of salted water on to boil. Rinse the broccoli well and cut it into small florets.
  2. The pasta and broccoli will be cooked in the same pot to save on dishes and time. When the water comes to a full boil, add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes then add the broccoli. Cook the pasta and broccoli for two minutes more and then pour everything into a colander to drain. Set them aside until ready to add to the cheese sauce.
  3. While the pasta and broccoli are doing their thing, you can begin the cheese sauce. Finely dice the onion and cook with butter over medium heat until softened (about 2-3 minutes).
  4. Add the flour to the butter and onion. The flour and butter will form a paste like mixture (roux). Using a whisk, stir and cook the roux for 1-2 minutes more taking care not to let it scorch. This slightly cooks the flour preventing the cheese sauce from having an overly flour or paste like flavor.
  5. Add the milk and whisk well to dissolve all of the flour clumps. Add freshly cracked black pepper at this point. Bring the mixture up to a simmer (you may need to raise the heat just slightly). When the sauce reaches a simmer, it will begin to thicken. When it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it’s time to add the cheese.
  6. Turn the burner off and whisk in the shredded cheese (and parmesan if using) until it is fully melted in. Give the cheese sauce a taste and add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.
  7. Once you have the cheese sauce seasoned to your liking, stir in the cooked and drained pasta and broccoli. Serve hot and gooey!


Step By Step Photos

broccoliI used one large broccoli crown… It was about the size a half bunch of broccoli.

chopped broccoliChop the broccoli into small, bite sized pieces. Do this before you begin anything else so that you can just toss it into the pasta water when it’s ready.

cook pasta broccoliI cooked the pasta and broccoli in the same pot to make things easier. The pasta takes 10 minutes (according to the box) and the broccoli takes 2 minutes or less. So, I cooked the pasta for 8, added the broccoli and cooked both for two minutes more. I also salted the cooking water because, again, I HATE bland mac n’ cheese.

onions butterWhile you’re waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, you can get the cheese sauce going. It starts with cooking down some diced onion in butter. Cook them over medium heat until the onions have softened.

flourOnce the onions are soft, add the flour.

rouxThe butter and flour will create a paste, or roux, which will thicken the sauce. Cook the roux while stirring for 1-2 minutes more to “cook out” the floury taste.

milkNext add the milk. Whisk the milk in good to dissolve any clumps of roux. Bring the mixture up to a simmer. The sauce will not begin to thicken until it begins to simmer. I also add the pepper at this point so that it simmers with the liquid and releases some flavor.

cheeseWhen the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it is time to add the cheese. The cheese needs to be shredded to properly melt in. Turn the burner off and whisk in the cheese(es) until everything is melted and mixed.

seasonIt’s now time to taste and season. I added a few dashes of hot sauce and just a little salt.

stirGive it all a good stir and then serve it up!

This really was the perfect side dish to the raspberry chipotle BBQ chicken. PERFECT.

broccoli macaroni shells and cheese
Hello, comfort food!


  1. Susan O'Bryant says:

    I’m eating this right now! It’s delicious. Thank you for a great and easy recipe!

  2. Jaylene says:

    I love this! It combines two of my 5 yr old’s favorites…Mac & cheese, broccoli! I’m going to attempt to make it gluten & dairy free!

  3. Shelby says:

    If you didn’t want to add the broccoli, would you still add the onions? I’m just confused what you do to the roux if you don’t want the onions

    • If you don’t want the onions, you can just melt down the butter and flour together and cook them for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next step. :)

  4. Kaylin says:

    We added bacon crumbles to it! num nums!

  5. Brittany says:

    I’ve tried a few different mac and cheese recipes. This is the only one I’ve actually loved. A previous poster suggested not as much onion so I used half the suggested amount, wasn’t nearly as nice. I don’t have hot sauce on hand so I used mustard powder. My hubby doesn’t like pasta and isn’t a fan of mac and cheese like me, but he requests this about once a week. I will say that higher quality cheese makes a difference.

  6. WOW!! This was sooo good! My daughters both ate without gripe, one even had a second bowl. I look forward to buying your book.

  7. Danica says:

    Love this! makes for really good left overs too. I used medium cheddar instead of sharp because its cheaper and would probably add about a quarter cup more cheese to get the flavor. first time around i didnt use hot sauce but found it to add a lot of flavor the second time around. really cheap really easy and i usually have all the ingredients already. keeper

  8. Patricia says:

    I made this tonight except I used colby/jack to my allergy to cheddar. It came out really well.

  9. madeleine says:

    you could save even more on dishes and cook the broccoli and noodles directly in milk/broth! or even the liquid from canned tomatoes for extra flavour. one pot mac n cheese – i do it all the time :)

  10. Stephanie says:

    Made this the other night and it was super easy! We used wheat penne with frozen broccoli and they were good! I would recommend using a little bit more cheese though!

  11. Tricia says:

    I’m thinking of turning this into a cheesey rice recipe. I’ll start by cutting the sauce in half so it doesn’t drown the rice. Do you think that would work and if so, any ideas as to what type of rice would work best?

    • Yeah, I think it would work great! I would cook the rice first and then just stir in the broccoli and sauce. Yum :)

  12. KLC – A good way to tell is the color. It’s technically a white sauce, so you don’t want the roux to get dark, but watch for just the slightest turn towards tan. The color will start to change as the flour toasts. Usually its good in a minute or two, but the time will fluctuate with small differences in the amount of heat under the pot. It’s kind of one of those things that you just need to get the hang of :)

  13. How do you tell when roux is cooked throughly? I was just going to cook it the estimated 1-2 mins but after reading the comments I’m worried it won’t be enough. I’m really looking forward to making this. My fiance’s favorite comfort food is cheese/broccoli meals so this looks awesome!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Used penne pasta and added ham. Very good. Sauce a bit watery but will be good for next day. Won’t be dried out

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is by far the best Mac and cheese I’ve ever made or eaten PERIOD!! I even added some cayenne for spice and it was AWESOME! I love your blog!

  16. Lilly – Cheese sauces can be tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. I promise! Usually when the sauce gets grainy its because the sauce got overheated and started to separate. Try turning off the heat just as soon as the milk thickens, then stir in the cheese and let the residual heat melt it. Don’t give up :)

  17. Lilly says:

    I made this tonight and followed your instructions exactly, and the flavor was good, but the texture was grainy and awful! I don’t know what went wrong! I guess I’m not cut out for cheese sauces :(

  18. About 6 … it’s been a long time since I’ve made it, but I’m guessing it’s about a cup per serving.

  19. Anonymous says:

    How many servings does this make?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Add more cheese!!

  21. Anonymous says:

    This was amaaaazzinnggg. I shredded up some organic cheddar cheese and used frozen organic broccoli instead of fresh to save time. I didn’t use onions, just used onion powder. Didn’t use regular milk, just almond. Added a little cornstarch/cold water mix after I started simmering the milk to get it to thicken up quick. Then I added the pasta and broccoli and the clouds parted. Delicious. Had it for dinner with home made whole wheat rolls. I foresee the leftovers being my lunch tomorrow ;)

  22. Anon – you can definitely do this without the onions :) I would suggest, though, adding a pinch of onion powder for flavor. It can be added at the end when you’re seasoning the sauce.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I am nervous to make this.. can it be done without the onions? My husband usually doesnt like onions, it looks like a lot in the pictures and seems like they would be clumpy in the sauce.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Tried this tonight and my cheese sauce was grainy. The flavor was good, just didn’t like the texture. Will try one more time using a milk other than skim (think it might be the culprit).

  25. We made this and had quite a bit left over. Me being a broccoli junky I picked out all of the broccoli and ate it!! So that left us with cheesey noodles. Today for lunch I added a can of tuna, an 8oz can of tomato sauce and some frozen peas, reheated it on the stove and poof! It’s all gone, yum! :))

  26. Anonymous says:

    The cheese sauce didn’t quite come out as intended, tried three times. Always ended up with a very unpleasant and grainy mixture; I hesitate to call it sauce.

    I don’t know what went wrong, but I had to make my own cheese sauce…

  27. Anonymous says:

    I just made this recipe. I liked the home-made feel of it and so easy! but it tasted a little watery and was kinda clumpy. I love the added brocc.

  28. I like to add cayenne pepper to homemade mac & cheese. It adds a nice little kick, plus I think the little red flecks look pretty up against the cheese sauce :)

  29. Anonymous says:

    a way to make this even cheaper would be to use defrosted frozen broccoli..frozen veggies are usually close to a dollar and anything you dont use can just be put back in the freezer for another time (awesome for me since I live alone and fruits/veggies used to go bad before I could finish them). I also buy frozen chopped onions..they are already cut up so I dont have to and I rarely use a whole onion in a recipe so once again it doesnt waste food

  30. this was very good :) my husband loved it. i followed it exactly but added panko breadcrumbs and baked at 350 for 15 mins (couldn’t wait any longer). adding hot sauce (we used franks) was definitely a good and in my opinion necessary addition. we added maybe 1tsp. then when we ate it we sprinkled it with ceyenne pepper. a very good and easy beginner’s mac & cheese!!! (ps: the more broc the better!)

  31. I love adding veges in with Macaroni Cheese when I make it – especially things like tomatoes, mushrooms and silver beet (swiss chard). I like to add a pinch of nutmeg whenever I make cheese sauce. That helps wham up the flavour without having to add too much extra cheese. Or if I’m feeling really decadent, I’ll crumble in some blue cheese (but that starts to add to the price of course…).

  32. This was sooo good! I loved it.

    I’ve never been a big fan of homemade cheese sauces, but the hot sauce was the key! It really made the whole thing so much better. Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. Great recipe! I added two cloves of garlic instead of onions then put frozen artichoke hearts in with the broccoli, stirred a half pound of spinach in with the cheese sauce, topped it all with a mix of pankow and Parmesan and baked it for 20 minutes.

  34. I made this recipe tonight and it was really good! One complaint though… I absolutely LOVE onions and this recipe had wayyy too much onion for me.

  35. Allison says:

    I just made this and it was so yummy!! Thanks!!

  36. Anonymous says:

    Packaged, preshredded cheese is coated with chemicals to prevent clumping and can also make it difficult to melt smoothly–that may explain the issues with melting posted above.

  37. Made this and then baked it with breadcrumbs and parmesan on top, and the roommate adored it. Excellent recipe, will definitely be using it again in the future. :D

  38. Thanks for the tip, Beth, that might be it. I wasn’t confident about judging when the milk had properly thickened, so I let it cook for a while–maybe too long. I’ll keep that in mind if/when I try cheese sauce again!

  39. Checarina, I think if the sauce over cooks it will “break” and start to separate or curdle… Was the graininess like very small curdles? If so, try turning off the burner just after the milk/roux has come to a simmer and thickened. The residual heat of the liquid should be enough to melt the cheese in. I hope that helps! Cheese sauce can be a little tricky at first but once you get into a groove with it, it’s easy!

  40. checarina says:

    I just tried this! My first attempt at making a cheese sauce, and I found your instructions easy to follow, and the results pretty darn tasty! The only thing is that the sauce is a little grainy–I was wondering if that was normal, or if it might be due to the flour? I did cook the roux for the 1-2 minutes recommended. Not that the texture is a dealbreaker; I’m just wondering if there’s a way to get a smoother sauce.

  41. Wow, can’t wait to make this! Glad I could help think of a recipe idea.

  42. Thanks, Kelly. I’m definitely going to try that. :)

  43. Kelly says:

    Lilo, if you’re looking to cut salt but want the salty flavor, try Nori flakes. They are flakes of seaweed wrappers, which have a naturally salty flavor. Seaweed is really good for you and when flaked will add a nice salty touch without the sodium. It’s relatively inexpensive if you order online, too.

  44. Anonymous says:

    This looks absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to try it! Adding broccoli to mac and cheese is a stroke of brilliance. :D

  45. A friend of mine turned me on to your sight and so far I’m loving it. I notice that you do end up using salt often which I’ve been trying to cut out. If it’s something you enjoy, I’ve found a little bit of ginger (I always have ginger paste on hand, but you can mince fresh ginger if you want) gives me the extra flavor I’m looking for without the extra salt. :)

  46. Just want to say I tried this recipe last night, and I 1/2ed it because I was making just for myself. It was so easy and very delicious! I used skim milk,whole grain pasta, and reduced fat sargento shredded sharp cheddar. I also only had a red onion and not white but it worked just as well, I reduced the amount I diced up though because the flavor was so strong. You are my new favorite blogger!

  47. Hmmm, any cheddar should work. Was your milk thickened before you tried to whisk in the cheese? I do know (from experience, unfortunately) that if you just try to stir cheese into hot milk it will just clump up on your spoon or whisk. That’s weird that it didn’t melt upon touching the hot, thickened milk. I’ll research it more later today and report anything I find.

  48. Just tried making this tonight for dinner but not sure what went wrong. My cheddar cheese was clumpy and never melted. Are you suppose to use a specific type of cheddar cheese?

  49. I love mac and cheese with a tempered egg in it, but alas I rarely do it slow enough to make sure it won’t scramble.

    But do it right! Throw it in a casserole dish with some panko and cheese on top so it gets a crispy top and a gooey center.

  50. this looks awesome! Adding it to my next menu plan :)

  51. This is an awesome recipe! I love adding broccoli to my mac and cheese, plus broccoli is a great healthy addition to mashed potatoes too.

  52. You never cease to amaze me with your creations. Can’t wait to make this, mac and cheese is my all time favorite food!

  53. This looks wonderful! I love the idea of adding broccoli to the mac & cheese. If I might make a small suggestion of using Gruyere in addition to sharp cheddar cheese. It really adds a lot of richness and flavor though it can be expensive to purchase.

  54. It’s important that you cook the roux thoroughly or it’ll taste floury.

  55. Oh yum! Being from the south, we do love our Mac ‘n Cheese! I’m looking forward to trying your version, including the broccoli since I am a veggie fiend, too.
    Peace & Love,

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