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Easy One Pot Spicy Mac and Cheese

Dec 1, 2022 | 2 comments

This easy one pot mac and cheese is loaded with spicy ‘nduja paste to make a supercharged, gooey, saucy mac and cheese with no need to make a roux, no butter and no flour. Just add everything into a pot and let the magical pasta starch do all the heavy lifting.

Spicy mac and cheese in a large black skillet with a silver spoon inside and pink plate next to it.

This technique for mac and cheese is truly a game-changer. Usually, you need to make a cheesy bechamel, cook the pasta separately, and then add everything together. This way, all you have to do is add everything into one pot and stir. 20 minutes max, and you’re done.

The secret? Starch. As the pasta cooks, the starch releases into the cooking liquid, naturally thickening the sauce without having to add anything else. Starch is why you should always add a little pasta cooking water to your finished pasta dishes to thicken the sauce up and make it nice and glossy. And we’re using it to its full potential here. It also means fewer dishes which is always a win in my mind!

‘Nduja paste is the magic ingredient that takes this mac and cheese to another level. This funky, umami-packed spreadable salami from Calabria just delivers so much flavour. It’s spicy, meaty and truly delicious.


The only speciality ingredient here is ‘nduja paste, but it’s becoming easier to find. I’ll give you a couple of easy alternatives below.

Ingredients for spicy mac and cheese laid out on a grey marble background and labelled.
  • Pasta. I’m using cavatelli, but you can use any small shape like fusilli or macaroni.
  • Milk. You’ll ideally want to use whole milk for the ultra-creamy factor, but semi-skimmed will also work.
  • Cheese. I’m using a mix of strong cheddar, gruyere and parmesan. You can mix this up – I’d recommend good strong-flavoured cheeses just so you can really taste them. Adding in a little blue cheese is also lovely.
  • ‘Nduja paste. This is the real magical ingredient. ‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria in Italy and it’s a flavour powerhouse. It’s becoming much more readily available – larger supermarkets are starting to stock it, or you can pick it up from Italian delis, or even Amazon. It will either come in a jar on the shelf, or as a slab in the fridge section. If you can’t find it, you could use harissa paste, sriracha or finely chopped chorizo.
  • Parsley and lemon. We’re going to make a quick, herby zesty gremolata (parsley, lemon zest and garlic) to top the mac and cheese with. This is a wonderful way to cut through the richness of the pasta, so I really recommend making it. You’ll just need flat-leaf parsley, the zest of 1 lemon and 1 crushed garlic clove. You could swap out the parsley for coriander or basil if you like.

How to make it

Add a little olive oil and the ‘nduja paste into a large, high-sided pan over medium heat and cook for a couple of minutes until the ‘nduja melts into the oil. At this point, add the pasta, crushed garlic, milk and water. Give everything a good stir, then bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, then simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened a bit (it will still be a bit saucy – the cheese will help thicken it more) and the pasta is al dente.

PRO TIP: You can also add the ‘nduja paste at the end when you melt in the cheese – I’ve tested both ways and the result is the same.

While the mac and cheese is simmering, make the gremolata. That’s as simple as mixing the chopped flat-leaf parsley with the zest of a lemon and crushed garlic clove.

Once the pasta is al dente (cooked, but still with a little bite to it), add the cheese and mix to combine it into the sauce. It’ll melt in and smell gorgeous. Remove from the heat, top with the gremolata and serve right away, while hot, gooey and ultra cheesy.

PRO TIP: If you’re using an ovenproof skillet, you can pop the mac and cheese under the grill (broiler) for 5 minutes before serving if you like. If you do this, keep about 1/4 cup of cheese aside to scatter on top before you put the pan under the grill. Top with the gremolata once it’s out of the oven.

Got a question?

Can I make this in advance?

You can – but be aware that the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid as it sits. It keeps well for 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container. When you come to reheat it, add a little water (a couple of tablespoons) just to help the sauce loosen up again. You can either reheat on the stovetop for a couple of minutes over medium heat or in the microwave at 1-minute intervals. Store the gremolata separately, then top once the mac and cheese is reheated.

What can I use instead of ‘nduja?

You can replace the ‘nduja with harissa paste for a vegetarian version. Harissa has a similar spicy profile (make sure to taste your harissa first as they vary widely in spice levels). You may need to reduce the quantity if you use harissa – start with 2 tablespoons). You could also use sriracha, or use finely chopped chorizo or another spicy sausage.

How spicy is the mac and cheese?

‘Nduja is a spicy ingredient, so this pasta is spicy. It’s not SUPER spicy, but it definitely has some heat. If you’re worried, cut 1 tablespoon of ‘nduja out of the recipe.

What kind of cheese is best for mac and cheese?

You want something that’s strong-flavoured and that melts well into your sauce. This recipe uses a mix of cheddar, gruyere and parmesan, but you can play around based on what you have and what you like. Havarti, gouda, fontina, Monterey jack, camembert or brie without their rinds or creamy blue cheese all work really well too.

What milk is best for mac and cheese?

I like to use whole milk for maximum creaminess, but low-fat milk works really well too!

If you like this recipe, here are some more pasta ideas you might enjoy

If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave me a comment below.

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Spicy mac and cheese in a large black skillet with a silver spoon inside and pink plate next to it.

Easy One Pot Spicy Mac and Cheese

  • Author: Kate Alexandra
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Diet: Low Salt


This easy one pot mac and cheese is loaded with spicy ‘nduja paste to make a supercharged, gooey, saucy mac and cheese with no need to make a roux, no butter and no flour. Just add everything into a pot and let the magical pasta starch do all the heavy lifting.

Remember, if you’re looking for US measurements, use the ‘Units’ section below and click on ‘US’.


Units Scale

For the mac and cheese –

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons ‘nduja paste
  • 300g dried pasta (cavatelli, fusilli, penne or macaroni are great)
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

For the gremolata –

  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Zest of 1 lemon


  1. Melt the ‘nduja. Get a large high-sided pan or saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of ‘nduja paste. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes as the ‘nduja paste melts down into the oil.
  2. Make the mac and cheese. At this point, add 2 1/2 cups of milk, 1 cup of water, the dried pasta, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir everything and bring it to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 12 minutes, until the pasta is al dente (cooked, with a little bite to it) and the sauce has thickened from the pasta starches. It will still be quite saucy at this stage – the cheese will thicken it up more. PRO TIP: Depending on the pasta shape you’re using, you may want to add a little more milk at this point, depending on how you like your mac and cheese.
  3. Make the gremolata. In a small bowl, mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Set aside.
  4. Finish and serve. Once the sauce has thickened, add all the cheese and stir it through as it melts and forms a gorgeous, cheesy sauce then remove from the heat. Spoon the herby, zesty gremolata all over the top of the mac and cheese and serve while hot, oozy and gooey.


If you are using an oven-proof skillet, I sometimes like to pop the mac and cheese under the grill (broiler) for 5 minutes at the highest temperature, for the top to crisp up nicely. If you want to do this, set about 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese aside then scatter it on top before popping it under the grill. 

INGREDIENT NOTES: If you can’t find ‘nduja, harissa paste is a good substitute. It’s also vegetarian. Taste it before you use it as different brands of harissa have different levels of spice – start with 2 tablespoons of harissa paste if yours is particularly spicy. You could also use sriracha, or use finely chopped chorizo or another spicy sausage. You can play around with your cheeses here too – use all cheddar if you like, or your favourite cheese. Try to make sure it’s a nice, strong-flavoured cheese so you can really taste it in the sauce. I’ll often add some creamy blue cheese! Skip the gremolata if you like – it provides a lovely zesty element that cuts through the richness of the mac and cheese but it’s equally as wonderful without it. 

MAKE AHEAD: If you want to make the mac and cheese ahead of time, you’ll need to add a little liquid to it as you reheat it. You can either reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water, just to help the sauce loosen up. The pasta will keep absorbing liquid as it cools which is why you’ll need to do this.

STORAGE INSTRUCTIONS: The mac and cheese will keep well for 5 days in the fridge stored in an airtight container. Store any leftover gremolata separately and spoon it over the top after you’ve reheated the pasta.

  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 15
  • Category: pasta
  • Method: one pot
  • Cuisine: american


  • Serving Size: 1 bowl

Keywords: mac and cheese, macaroni cheese, nduja mac and cheese, spicy mac and cheese


I’m Kate, the creator behind Dished. I love creating flavour packed, simple (ish) recipes for you, designed for every day and special occasions.





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  1. Rachel

    I can’t believe how easy this was!! will be added to our family rotation

    • Kate Alexandra

      It’s great isn’t it! So pleased you enjoyed it x


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