Our homemade Panera Bread broccoli cheddar mac and cheese copycat recipe combines two of our favorite dishes – broccoli cheddar soup and mac and cheese. It’s made with tender shells pasta, a creamy blend of three cheeses and simple ingredients.
Perfectly tender broccoli florets and pasta are covered in a velvety cheese sauce for the ultimate comfort food. This craveable meal is one of our favorite dishes and can be served for an easy lunch or dinner or side dish.
This Panera Mac and cheese copycat recipe combines the flavors of classic mac and cheese with the cafe’s ever-popular broccoli cheddar soup. It’s perfect for those of us who have trouble deciding between the two dishes. Just think of this recipe as the best of both worlds.
- uncooked pasta – smaller pasta like Pipe Regatta, shells or elbows work best with this recipe.
- butter – to soften the onions and to make the roux.
- fresh veggies: yellow onion, broccoli florets, carrots.
- flour – we used all-purpose.
- chicken broth – helps with the sauce consistency and adds flavor without adding more dairy.
- milk and heavy cream – makes a creamy mac and cheese sauce.
- spices: salt, white pepper, dry ground mustard, garlic powder, onion powder.
- cheese: we used a blend of white extra sharp cheddar cheese, white American cheese and yellow cheddar cheese for ultimate cheese flavor.
How to Make the Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese Recipe
Prep the veggies and shred all of the cheeses. In a large pot, cook the pasta so it’s al-dente, according to the package instructions.
Lori’s Prep Tip:
For easier shredding and to avoid clumping, make sure the cheese is very cold before shredding. I leave it in the refrigerator right up until I’m ready to shred it. Softer cheeses can be placed in the freezer for 15-20 minutes before shredding.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onions and broccoli until softened, stirring frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the carrots and continue stirring. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan if the veggies dry out before they have softened.
Remove the vegetables from the skillet and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in the same pan. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two to make a roux.
Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, milk, then cream. Whisk constantly to avoid lumps and scorching.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce thicken to a soup consistency.
Stir in the spices.
Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring frequently.
Stir in the cooked veggies, then the pasta. Top with additional cheese if desired and serve.
What is al-dente?
Al-dente is an Italian term that literally means “to the tooth” or “to the bite”. It is used to describe the texture of cooked pasta, which is firm to the bite but not soft or mushy.
What is a roux?
A roux is a mixture of flour and fat that is used as a thickening agent in sauces. It can also be used as a thickener for stews, soups, and gravies.
Tips for Making
- For even cooking, slice the veggies so they are similar in size.
- Grate the carrots using a cheese grater or food processor.
- Check your deli counter if you have trouble finding a block of white American cheese.
- Freshly grated cheese melts easier and has a better flavor than the pre-shredded kind.
- Having everything prepped and measured before you start cooking makes the process easier.
Substitutions and Variations
- For a creamier sauce use whole milk in place of the 2%.
- Swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth if that’s what you have on hand.
- If you can’t find Pipe Regatta pasta (what Panera uses), elbows and shells are the next best type of pasta to use.
- We like to add a dash or two of hot sauce to our mac and cheese when serving.
What to Serve With
This recipe is a family favorite, so we eat it with just about any main dish.
How to Store and Reheat
Keep leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of milk or broth to thin it out.
With the perfect blend of creamy cheese sauce, tender pasta and broccoli our Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese copycat recipe is sure to become a staple in your meal rotation. Ideal for any occasion, this easy dish brings the taste of Panera right to your dining table.
Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 3/4 pound Pipe Regatta pasta, uncooked, or elbow or shell pasta
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
- 3 cups broccoli florets, cut in bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup white American cheese, shredded
- 1 cup sharp yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
- Prepare the vegetables and shred the cheeses.
- Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Note: the cooking time will vary based on the pasta you are using.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onions and broccoli and cook until softened, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots at the halfway point. If the vegetables dry out before they’re done cooking, add a tablespoon of oil and continue cooking.
- Remove softened vegetables from pan and set aside.
- In the same skillet, melt the remaining butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two to create a light roux.
- Slowly whisk in the broth, then milk, and finally the cream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps and scorching.
- Reduce the heat to Medium-low, and cook until the sauce has reached a thick soup consistency.
- Stir in salt, pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, and onion powder.
- Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until melted between additions.
- Stir in vegetables then the pasta until evenly coated.
- Garnish with additional shredded cheese before serving if desired.
- Panera uses Pipe Regatta pasta but you can substitute with elbows or shells if you can’t find it.
- Cut vegetables in bite-size pieces for even cooking.
- Use a cheese grater to grate the carrots.
- Freshly grated cheese has a better flavor and melts smoother than pre-shredded cheese.
- I like to prep and have everything measured and ready to go before I start cooking.
- We like to add a couple shakes of hot sauce to this dish.
- This recipe makes 12 side dish servings or 8 main dish servings.
Nutritional information is provided as a reference, using an online calculator. We recommend verifying the information independently for accuracy.