This white sauce pasta is an easy weeknight meal that’s ready under 30 minutes. You will love this rich, creamy & saucy pasta, perfectly seasoned with Italian herbs & topped with red chili flakes. It’s lighter and not heavy and is a satisfying comfort food. White sauce pasta is simply cooked pasta mixed with a silky smooth & decadent white sauce made of milk, butter and flour. White sauce also known as Bechamel sauce has its origin from the Italian & French Cuisines.
In classic culinary terms, this is what is known as a mother sauce. It is the base for many other sauces and it offers a great deal of flexibility to your repertoire of recipes.
Once you have learned how to make it well, the options are really endless. Whether you are using it for pasta or as a base for macaroni and cheese, the end is always a delightfully rich, smooth consistency that you coaxed out of a simple sauce of flour, butter and milk.
About white sauce pasta
One of the many amazing ways to incorporate white sauce into a really delicious meal is to make white sauce pasta. This dish offers a well-rounded meal that is satisfying and a great way to incorporate vegetables into a pasta that will please your family. It is customizable by changing the vegetables or even the pasta used.
The backbone of this recipe is the sauce, so getting it right is really the key. It is thickened with a mixture of butter and flour in equal amounts which is called roux, in French.
The method is rather simple, but must be followed properly for a smooth, velvety sauce.
Once you have familiarized yourself with white sauce and its many applications you will have discovered a whole new world of dishes that you can create with ease.
White sauce pasta is the start of a whole new itinerary of recipes that you will be happy to serve your family with a vast range of possibilities that will be sure to please them.
How to make white sauce pasta (Stepwise photos)
1. Pour 3 to 4 cups of water to a large pot and add ¼ teaspoon salt.
2. Bring the water to a rapid boil & add 1 cup (100 grams) pasta.
3. Continue to cook on a medium high flame till al dente. Check the instructions on the pasta package for the correct cook time.
4. Check them a minute earlier than mentioned on the package. They must be tender, firm and chewy but not mushy.
5. Drain to a colander and reserve some water/stock. Set the cooked pasta aside.
6. Pour ½ tbsp oil or butter to a pan. Add 1 cup mixed vegetables ( I used carrots, sweet corn kernels, red bell peppers and peas). Sauté them on a medium high heat until slightly tender yet crunchy. Set these aside.
Make white sauce pasta
7. Use a steel pan for making the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons butter.
8. As soon as the butter melts, add 1 teaspoon grated garlic (optional) and fry for 30 to 40 seconds. Then immediately add 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour.
9. Turn down the heat to low to medium. Saute well until the flour loses the raw smell, for about a minute. Make sure the color of the flour does not change. This step is very important. Since this is a small quantity, the roux can become dry and clumpy. It’s just fine.
10. Lower the flame completely and slowly pour ¼ cup milk (warm milk).
11. Begin to incorporate the roux into the milk using a whisk or a spatula.
12. Dissolve the flour completely to a creamy sauce. Ensure the flame is low at this stage.
13. Once you see a smooth sauce, free of lumps, pour the rest of the milk (1¼ cups) in 2 batches and stir. Simmer (on a low flame) until the white sauce thickens. Keep stirring & scrape the sides for a uniform sauce.
14. To check if the white sauce is done perfectly, dip a spoon or a spatula into the sauce. It must coat the back of the spoon well as seen in the picture below. Alternately You can draw a line with your finger on the back of the spoon, you should see it clean with a space. This means it is thick enough.
15. Add 2 to 3 tbsps cheese (optional), pepper and oregano. You can also add a pinch of ground nutmeg if you want. I used cream cheese here. You can use parmesan or cheddar.
16. Mix until the cheese blends well & looks like a rich, creamy and smooth sauce. Turn off. Do not overheat the white sauce. Taste test and add more salt & herbs if needed.
17. Add vegetables and cooked pasta to the white sauce. Mix everything together.
18. If the sauce looks too thick (as it cools down), add 2 tbsps of the reserved stock so the sauce loosens a bit.
Garnish white sauce pasta with red chilli flakes and crushed black pepper. Serve it immediately as the sauce thickens more as it cools down.
Customizing white sauce
The flexibility that bechamel sauce offers makes it a perfect candidate for adjusting it to your liking. It really is a blank slate for a wide range of seasonings. Here is how to customize it.
Vegetables: Broccoli, peas, corn kernels, bell peppers (red & yellow) and carrots contribute not just added nutrition, but beautiful color! Use any of your favorite veggies that you prefer.
Meat: For those who are looking to bring some protein to the table, cooked/sauteed chicken or sauteed shrimp take this simple sauce to new heights.
Garlic: The next step is the part that allows you to put your own spin on this dish with the addition of spices, herbs and aromatics. For those who wish to take this dish into a more robust direction, garlic is a nice addition. You can also skip it.
Herbs: Fresh or dried herbs like thyme, oregano and basil bring a not just fresh flavor, but also a fantastic aroma.
Spices: A simple pinch of fresh black pepper can heighten the flavor profile while red chili flakes will appease those who have a preference for a more pronounced bit of heat. Adding a touch of grated nutmeg gives it a French flair.
Cheese: Once you have achieved a velvety smooth white sauce, you have the option to take it into a number of directions. Cheese is an obvious choice here.
Parmesan is quite classic, but for those looking for something a bit creamier can venture to add cream cheese which imparts a richness that is beyond comparison. Consider other varieties, as well, such as mozzarella, or try something that appeals to you. The options are endless.
With the addition of cheese like Gruyere, or a mix of it with white cheddar or parmesan, it quickly becomes a mornay sauce.
One more way to customize this recipe is with the type of pasta you use. Of course, there are so many shapes available in the market and some are better suited to this recipe than others.
For example, I recommend avoiding long pasta like spaghetti which is not really substantial enough to stand up to this sauce, while smaller shapes like orzo can easily get lost in it.
Our favorite shapes are the ones with plenty of surface area and texture to capture and hold the sauce. I have found that penne pasta or even macaroni offer the sauce the opportunity to coat the pasta well, successfully bringing the dish together.
When preparing the pasta, it is really important to cook it properly so that you end up with well-seasoned pasta that has a desired texture. This is referred to as al dente which really means that the pasta has retained some of its toothsome bite.
The best way to ensure that you have perfectly cooked pasta is by starting in a large pot with plenty of water. Ideally, you will want to start with 3 cups of water for 1 cup of pasta.
After bringing the water up to a rolling boil, add ¼ teaspoon of salt. This part really is essential as you really need to season the pasta thoroughly.
With the water still at a boil, add all of the pasta at once and stir immediately to ensure that it neither sticks to the bottom, or to the rest of the pasta in the pot.
As all pasta requires a specific cooking time, it is essential that you refer the recommendation on the package. It is best to start testing it about a minute before the suggested time. It should be firm and chewy without any crunch, yet not mushy.
When you are satisfied with the doneness of your pasta, strain it immediately, reserving 2 to 3 tbsps of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the white sauce and toss thoroughly.
That extra 2 to 3 tbsps of pasta water will come in handy in the event your sauce seems too thick. Usually white sauce thickens as it cools down so this stock always helps.
Because it is seasoned and contains a good amount of starch, this water will be just the thing to loosen up your white sauce pasta to silky perfection!
Making perfect white sauce
In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter thoroughly. Once it is melted add the flour all at once.
Whisk constantly for just a couple of minutes, just to give the roux a chance to develop some flavor and encourage its thickening properties, while preventing it from getting any color.
In a separate pan, gently warm the milk, being careful to not let it heat or come to a complete boil. At this point, carefully add just a small amount of the warm milk to the pan with the roux, stirring constantly to create a smooth, lump-free mixture.
Once this is achieved, you can add more milk (hot or cold) gradually, continuing to stir until all of the milk is added.
Continuing over low heat, cook the sauce for about 5-8 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken until it is shiny and leaves a trail behind the spoon in the bottom of the pan.
Alternately, dip a spoon in the white sauce & draw a finger on the back of the spoon. If it is done perfectly, it leaves an open space meaning it is of the right thick consistency.
Finish your sauce with salt and the seasonings of your choosing and you are on your way to a really great meal!
Cold milk vs Warm milk
Expert chefs always suggest using cold milk as hot milk can end up with lumps of roux in the white sauce. With cold milk you get enough time to incorporate the roux into the milk before it begins to simmer. So no lumps.
However cold milk can end up with instant splatters when added to the very hot roux. So bring down the temperature of the roux slightly before adding cold milk or warm up the milk slightly (not hot, not cold) before stirring it to the hot roux.
There is no one way to make perfect smooth white sauce. In this recipe, it is warm roux + warm milk = no lumps. So if you 2x or 3x this recipe, do follow this as it makes a lot of difference when made in larger quantities.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- 1 cup pasta (100 grams penne or macaroni)
- 1½ cup warm milk (full fat or vegan milk, refer notes)
- 1½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ tablespoon oil or butter (to saute veggies)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper (crushed or ground, adjust to taste)
- 2 garlic cloves grated (optional)
- ½ teaspoon oregano (or dried mix Italian herbs)
- salt as needed
- ½ teaspoon red chilli flakes (optional, adjust to taste)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cheese (optional, parmesan, cream cheese, mozarella or cheddar)
optional (1 cup mix veggies)
- ¼ cup carrots (fine chopped)
- ¼ cup corn kernels
- ¼ cup green peas
- ¼ cup bell peppers (fine chopped)
- Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large pot along with salt.
- When the water begins to boil rapidly add pasta.
- Cook al dente. When done, pasta should be tender yet should get a bite into it (not too soft).
- Drain off to a colander completely reserving ¼ cup pasta water/ stock.
- Optional – Add ½ tbsp oil or butter to a pan and saute vegetables until slightly tender yet crunchy.
Making white sauce
- Add 2 tablespoons butter to a sauce pan. Set the flame to low. Saute garlic (optional) for 30 to 40 seconds until aromatic.
- Then add flour. Whisk it along with butter & saute until the raw smell of the flour goes off.
- The flour may turn slightly lumpy. Just break up the lumps and continue to saute until it no more smells raw. Make sure the color of the flour does not change.
- Slowly pour ¼ cup of milk. Whisk continuously to incorporate the roux (flour mixture) with the milk.
- When you see the flour is well blended with milk & no lumps appear, pour the rest of the milk and mix well.
- Simmer this on a low to medium heat until the sauce turns thick & coats the back of a spoon. Check the pictures in the step-by-step section.
- Add cheese if using and gently stir until the mixture reaches a thick creamy sauce consistency. Do not overheat after adding cheese. Turn off the heat.
- Next add oregano and ground pepper.
How to make white sauce pasta
- Taste test and add more salt if needed along with veggies & cooked pasta.
- Mix well to coat the pasta with the creamy white sauce.
- If the sauce is too thick, you may add 2 tbsps of reserved hot pasta cooked stock to loosen the thick sauce.
- Sprinkle red chili flakes. Serve white sauce pasta immediately as the sauce thickens even more as it cools.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
© Swasthi’s Recipes
This recipe was first published in December 2016, Updated & republished in February 2021.