If you’re feeling slightly skeptical about macaroni and cheese with zucchini, fear not. The flecks of suspiciously healthy green lend just the right amount of intrigue to the rich cheese sauce, and everyone will be too busy cramming their faces with this creamy stovetop classic and its remarkable topping of bread crumbs crisped in brown butter to even notice any vegetables present.

A hand using a wooden spoon to lift a scoop of macaroni and cheese with zucchini out of a cast iron pot.

Macaroni and Cheese with Zucchini

5 from 1 vote
This indulgently creamy, macaroni and cheese with zucchini has three types of cheese and just the right amount of crunch from the garlicky brown butter bread crumbs. It's likely no one will even notice the vegetables that are hidden in there.
David Leite
Servings6 servings
Calories912 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes


For the brown butter bread crumbs

  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the zucchini mac and cheese

  • 2 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 pound elbow pasta
  • 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 medium (about 1 lb 6 oz) zucchini, unpeeled and grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 ounces grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 6 ounces grated fontina cheese
  • 4 ounces grated Gouda cheese


Make the brown butter bread crumbs

  • In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and whisk almost constantly, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the butter is brown and becomes nutty and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Add the bread crumbs and salt to the browned butter and stir to combine. Cook, stirring as needed, until the bread crumbs are crisp and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the bread crumbs to a plate.

Make the mac and cheese

  • Bring a large pot of water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil over high heat.
  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 8 to 9 minutes.
  • While the pasta is cooking, in a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the zucchini and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with black pepper.
  • Switch to a whisk and sprinkle in the flour. Cook, still whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  • Still whisking, gradually add the milk and increase the heat to high. Continue to whisk until the milk comes to a brisk simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and maintain a simmer until the sauce thickens, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Add the mustard, nutmeg, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper and whisk to combine.
  • Gradually add the Cheddar, fontina, and Gouda cheeses in handfuls, stirring well after each addition, and cook until the cheese has completely melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper.
  • Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to coat the pasta thoroughly. Mix in half the bread crumbs and stir to combine.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs and serve immediately.

Adapted From

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 912 kcalCarbohydrates: 77 gProtein: 37 gFat: 51 gSaturated Fat: 30 gMonounsaturated Fat: 12 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 155 mgSodium: 1923 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 10 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2019 Molly Krebs. Photo © 2019 Molly Krebs. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is a perfect first-week-of-September dinner. I have a fridge full of zucchini from the garden, a kid who doesn’t eat vegetables, and a tired, hungry family adjusting to back to school. This was quick and easy to make. The cheese sauce comes together easily while the pasta is cooking.

You really can’t taste the zucchini at all so this is great for picky eaters, even though my daughter was able to pick out some of the larger and greener pieces.

I think this could be easily adaptable to whatever cheeses you had on hand. The sauce came together while the water was boiling and the pasta was cooking. The only changes I would make to the recipe would be to make sure to add a good amount of salt and pepper. This made about 8 servings, 4 for dinner and plenty of leftovers for the next couple of days.

I was skeptical about this macaroni and cheese with zucchini recipe but I needed a side dish to go with a smoked chicken I was making and mac n cheese is a classic.

I became more skeptical after I shredded the zucchini because I had 5 cups and I thought I would end up with mac n cheese soup. But, lo and behold, everything thickened up just as the recipe said it would and it became an instant favorite. Thick and creamy at the same time.

While you can see the zucchini, it really does get lost in the creamy deliciousness that the combo of Cheddar, gouda, and fontina create.

We weren’t sure whether adding zucchini made the dish healthier but we’ve never put mac n cheese on our list of healthy meals anyway. We also liked the crunch from adding half the breadcrumbs into the mixture.

The best part was that you make it entirely on the stove—no baking needed. I’ve made stovetop mac n cheese before and was never very impressed. Until now.

My only regret with this recipe is that I should have spent a few minutes locating the grating blade for my food processor to make it. Grating all of the zucchini and cheese by hand gave my arms a strenuous workout. I should have saved some energy for the later whisking steps. That’s about it for complaints.

The combination of cheeses worked well here and the brown butter garlic bread crumbs were a fine touch. I especially liked the idea of mixing half the crumbs into the cheesy pasta instead of putting all of them on top.

I’m not sure about the nutritional value of zucchini that has been cooked down, but the presence of the squash helped keep the macaroni dish nice and moist throughout. Keeping the skin on for grating contributed some flecks of dark green to the finished dish.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I was very happy about how creamy this dish was after the zucchini cooked down! It’s a very rainy day, and I wanted to elevate my usual frozen veggies with blue box. This was perfect comfort food (even though I skipped the crumb topping).

    1. Thanks, Eli! We’re delighted that you enjoyed it so much. Can’t wait to hear what you try next.