Instant Pot

Instant Pot Mac & Cheese

October 12, 2018
4 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I am an al dente–obsessive. Accordingly, I was as skeptical as the next person about making pasta in an Instant Pot. Wouldn't a pressure cooker completely obliterate the noodles beyond the point of chewiness, to complete mush?

But, I'm also a sucker for convenience. And when I come down with a craving for cheesy pasta, it's not one to be shaken off lightly. It's the kind of craving that grips you by the shoulders and shakes you until it's been addressed. In other words, the sooner, the better.

With this in mind, I took note as Instant Pot pasta recipe after Instant Pot pasta recipe cropped up on blogs and within cookbooks alike.

It's no surprise that so many people have conceived of such dishes. Pressure cookers are, after all, just a (very clever, high-tech) way to make warm, soft victuals—the type of meals Laurie Colwin called "nursery food" in Family Happiness—in a fraction of the time. And there's nothing more comforting or heartening than a big bowl of noodles. So, a few weeks back, when a mac and cheese craving struck, I decided to give it a shot.

But if this was going to be truly convenient, that meant I didn't want to deal with the whole rigmarole of draining noodles, or making a roux. I wanted to dump everything into the pot, press start, open the lid, and commence my nursery food–enjoyment. So I did, for the first time around: I added milk, cream, broth, Pecorino, salt, pepper, and the uncooked pasta, and let it rip. Then, I stirred in big handfuls of grated cheddar, and got to sampling. To my delight, not only were my noodles far from mushy after a five-minute jaunt in the pressurized pot—they were infused with a subtle, irresistible cheesiness from the cooking liquid that I'd never before encountered in cooked pasta.

I was hooked. From there, potential embellishments poured forth like the liquid from my dishwasher the one time I forgot to fully shut its door. I experimented with different types of cheese. I added bacon and alliums. I omitted broth and tried it with water in broth's stead. I added a stovetop-crisped panko topping that came together in minutes, while the pasta was cooking.

The version I've included here is by far my favorite, but you should feel free to skip the pancetta if you'd like to keep it vegetarian, or swap out the cheddar for another medium-soft grater-friendly cheese like Gruyère. If you're not up for the panko topping, save it for next time you make this. (And oh, how I hope for your sake that there's a next time.) And feel free to dial up the cayenne if you like even more of kick!

For me, "next time" will be tomorrow, because this dish is nothing if not the perfect last-minute side to add to a Thanksgiving menu. It comes together in about 20 minutes, is cheesy-as-heck, and best of all, won't take up any valuable oven space.

The only foreseeable issue is that you'll have to share. But the holiday is technically all about giving, so maybe just this once. —Ella Quittner

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: 36 Best Instant Pot Recipes for When You Want Slow-Cooked Flavor, Fast. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Instant Pot Mac & Cheese
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 6 or more
  • 1 tablespoon butter, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 5 ounces pancetta, thickly sliced and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 small or 2 medium shallots, finely minced (about 1/3 cup minced)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth (you can substitute vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, finely grated (about 1/2 cup, packed) (you can substitute Parmesan)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 1 pound fusilli (or other similar twisty shape), uncooked
  • 1 large pinch powdered cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup plain panko
  • 12 ounces ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • Finely chopped chives, for garnish (if using)
In This Recipe
  1. Turn your multi-cooker on to its sauté setting (if your cooker has a timer component, set it to 15 minutes just to be safe, then hit cancel when you switch to pressure cooking mode) and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the pancetta, and sauté for a few minutes, until it crisps up on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove about a third of the crisped pancetta and set aside. Add the shallots to the cooker, and sauté in the rendered pancetta fat until they begin to turn translucent.
  2. Add the milk, heavy cream, broth, Pecorino, salt, pepper, and pasta, and stir to combine well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you mix. (The noodles won’t be fully submerged—that’s fine.) Put the lid on the cooker and turn to pressure cook mode on high for 5 minutes. (If you like your pasta less al dente, set it for 6 minutes.)
  3. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a 10-inch or larger skillet (either cast iron or non-stick works), and add the cayenne. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the panko and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook all together over medium heat, constantly moving the panko around, until it’s midway between the color of graham crackers and the color of caramel. Set aside, off heat.
  4. Once the pressure cooking is completed, let the multi-cooker naturally release pressure for 1 minute before carefully turning it to instant release. When the pressure has been fully released, open the lid, and immediately stir in the cheddar cheese, stirring until it fully melts. (If you need extra heat, turn it back to sauté mode for another few minutes. If you need additional moisture, add another splash of milk.) Adjust seasoning to taste, then serve in individual bowls topped with a few heaping spoonfuls of toasted panko, the reserved pancetta crisps, and the chives (if using).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Francesca Liu
    Francesca Liu
  • Molly
  • April Samuelson
    April Samuelson
  • Robyn Goldman-Grunseich
    Robyn Goldman-Grunseich
  • What We Eat Gals
    What We Eat Gals

30 Reviews

susanna November 23, 2021
I made his without the shallots and pancetta (kids) and my sauce split. I used milk and half and half, And skipped the stock, and just used more milk. What do you think happened? The pot was pretty dry.
carolee March 17, 2021
I added more liquid--1 cup of broth and a couple of splashes more of milk and the consistency was perfect. I found the recipe too rich--with the pancetta, the cheeses and the heavy cream. I used less salt b/c of all of the salt in the cheese, but that is my taste. I would not make this again as described. Just too heavy for my palate, as well as that of my husband--and we are mac and cheese fans.
JV November 19, 2020
Do you think this would work with half and half instead of heavy cream? That’s all I have...
Aunt M. November 19, 2020
Yes, I'm sure it will. It will be somewhat less caloric and perhaps less rich tasting, but frankly I doubt anyone will notice. I almost always alter recipes that call for a lot of heavy cream, butter, or other highly saturated fats. I make substitutions like evaporated whole milk, rich but less fatty, or greek yogurt, and I use the 2% or 5% Fage brand, again rich but less fatty. I have found that using some butter or cream, combined with less saturated fats like EVOO or using less fatty products like using half and half instead of cream, that so long as there's SOME of the fat that gives the flavor, you can fool your taste buds into thinking it's all cream, but you've cut out lots of fat calories.
I don't make substitutions for the butter in butter cookies, I make smaller cookies. Or for the cream in my Nana's vanilla caramels, because they won't taste right. So, again, I make smaller pieces. I find that even kids can be told don't eat more than x of that at a time, or some unwanted consequence will happen. So even without cutting the fat, I do manage to cut how much will be consumed at once.
loosylou November 10, 2020
This was really good and very easy! I added a little milk at the end and in the future I'll just add more liquid up front. It makes a huge amount of food. If you're feeding less than 4 people I think you can get away halving this.
Francesca L. September 25, 2020
I loved this recipe! I’m eating seconds as I type this. Haha.
For those who said the pasta came out too dry, I added a full cup of chicken broth (as opposed to the 3/4 c) and an extra splash of milk and the pasta came out perfect! It might look a little runny at first but thickens as you stir in the cheese.
Madeline R. September 25, 2020
Completely agreed. I was thinking the same thing last night!!
avb January 29, 2020
Never again. I was skeptical of pasta in an instant pot and my fears were confirmed. I ended up with burned, gloppy mess and split sauce. Tried to salvage it but next time I'll stick with pasta on the stovetop.
Margaret March 28, 2021
If that is what you ended up with, it means YOU screwed up the recipe. It is impossible for anyone following this recipe, which is not difficult, to end up what's a hot mess like you describe without having made several mistakes along the way. One thing I highly recommend, however, is purchasing a nonstick insert for your party. I got rid of the two stainless steel ones and I had and now only use nonstick.
Molly November 19, 2019
The pasta cooked all the way through, but there was basically no liquid left in the pot to make a creamy sauce. Definitely needs more liquid.
Meg O. April 14, 2019
Not a Review, but a Question:
Will this recipe work with fresh (as opposed to dried) pasta? Or would the pasta get very overcooked and be gross and mushy?
I ask because due to gastric bypass surgery, I cannot eat dried pasta. Once dried, the pasta will absorb 6 times its volume in liquid, and expand to that volume, but only half of that in the cooking pot, and half in my stomach. That's a recipe for pain after eating, so i can't eat pasta that has been dried. Fresh pasta still has water in it before cooking, so the amount that it absorbs is less, and it doesn't expand the same way in my stomach. But I'm finding that many pasta recipes just won't work with fresh pasta.
Author Comment
Ella Q. April 14, 2019
Hi Meg,

Unfortunately, I think fresh pasta would get too gloopy if pressure cooked. In a comment below, I outlined how I think this could be adjusted for stovetop—you could easily sub fresh pasta into that!

Enjoy :)
Rosemary April 13, 2019
What sort of adjustment for whole wheat pasta? Diabetic here - love mac & cheese but white flour pasta? Unfortunately, no.
Author Comment
Ella Q. April 14, 2019
Hi Rosemary,

I haven't tried it with whole wheat, but I would definitely add more liquid. I'd probably start with an extra 1/4 cup or so, and if needed, add more after the pressure cook. Please let me know what proportions you test if you try it!
BakerMary March 25, 2019
Is this for a 6 qt or 8 qt? I have a three quart so need to cut in half...or?
Author Comment
Ella Q. April 14, 2019
Hi there,

I test my recipes with a 6 quart.

April S. December 21, 2018
It needs more liquid. Part of the pasta didn't cook. The rest was really dry
ghainskom January 16, 2019
I second this
shari November 21, 2018
Can you do this in a crock pot?
Author Comment
Ella Q. November 21, 2018
Hi Shari,

I haven't tested it that way, but I'd be curious to know. Let me know how it goes if you try it!

Robyn G. November 19, 2018
Can this be made ahead of time?
Author Comment
Ella Q. November 19, 2018
Yes, I'd just add some additional cream/milk and cheese when reheating to get it back to its melty state. And add the panko right before serving so it doesn't get too soggy.
What W. October 24, 2018
Hey Ella! Do you think using GF pasta would alter the cooking time? My gut says yes but just wanted to see if you'd ever tried it.
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 24, 2018
In general, my experience with GF pastas is that they cook WAY more quickly—with the actual cooking time varying by ingredients. If I were testing this recipe with a particular GF pasta, I might start by setting the Instant Pot to pressure cook for as little as 2 minutes, and assessing from there (you can always turn it back on for longer). Let me know if you try it!
Madeline R. October 18, 2018
My boyfriend wears khakis
Madeline R. October 18, 2018
Wow! I know what I'm making next time I have my girlfriend over on a date!
Adri October 18, 2018
How can I make this without pancetta?
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 18, 2018
Hi Adri,

You can just skip the pancetta, and sauté the shallots in the butter. Then, just top with the breadcrumbs.

Stephanie October 17, 2018
Could this recipe be altered for stovetop?
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 17, 2018
Hi Stephanie,

I haven't tried adjusting this specific recipe for stovetop yet, but if you wanted to do a similar version, I suspect the following would work: Make the spicy breadcrumbs according to the recipe. Separately, cook the pasta (to 2-3 minutes before it's ready, so it's super al dente) in one pot (of salted water). Meanwhile, in another pot, crisp the pancetta, and set aside about a third. In the same pot you browned the pancetta in in, sauté the shallots until translucent and fragrant in the rendered pancetta fat, and deglaze with about a cup of milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream, then bring to a light simmer and add in the two cheeses and salt/pepper. Whisk to combine until cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. (I think you can probably skip the chicken broth—if it seems thicker than a classic creamy, cheesy sauce, add a splash.) Then toss in the al dente pasta with a splash of its salted cooking water, stir to combine, and adjust seasoning. Serve mac and cheese topped with the reserved crispy pancetta and spicy breadcrumbs.