This easy cream cheese pasta recipe uses just a few basic ingredients and is ready in about 15 minutes. And it is versatile; add other ingredients to make this dish your own.
I've been cooking this delicious cream cheese pasta dish for almost 20 years - a truly tried-and-tested recipe, probably one of the most cooked dishes in our home. My whole family loves this easy pasta recipe. I always have all the ingredients in the refrigerator and pantry, and it only takes about 15 minutes to cook.
Creamy pasta coated in a rich cheesy sauce with Parmesan and flavored with garlic and basil. This easy recipe is a great choice for a busy weeknight; it can hardly get any better.
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- Pasta: I usually use spaghetti or tagliatelle, but any other kind, either long or short, is fine.
- Full-fat cream cheese – Philadelphia (or similar) in a tub. Cream cheese in a tub is creamier and softer than the one sold in a block. However, a brick of cream cheese is excellent, but you might need a bit more pasta water to make the sauce smooth and creamy. Check out another pasta dish using cream cheese: Beetroot Pasta.
- Milk to thin the creamy sauce slightly.
- Fresh garlic: as much as you like, 2 garlic cloves are the minimum; I usually take 3-4. Make Chicken Parmesan Garlic Pasta next time.
- Parmesan: We love to add it, but the dish tastes just as good without it. It’s preferable to use freshly grated Parmesan cheese; it tastes best and melts better.
- Fresh basil: The flavor is incredible. Alternatively, use fresh or frozen chopped parsley. Or add some Italian seasoning or other dried herbs to the dairy mixture.
- Other ingredients: Olive oil, fine sea salt or kosher salt, and ground black pepper.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
- Tomatoes: I add one or two tomatoes (or a good handful of cherry tomatoes) at least half the times I cook this pasta dish with cream cheese.
- Remove the seeds from 1 or 2 tomatoes. Chop the tomatoes finely and add to the dish together with the garlic. Sauté everything for 1 or 2 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly softer before adding the dairy mixture. You can also use some sun-dried tomatoes instead of fresh ones.
- Anchovies: Another favorite version of mine. Chop 4-5 anchovy fillets finely and let them melt in the pan with the garlic.
- Peas: Something my children like me to add from time to time. Add a handful of peas to the cooking pasta during the last two minutes of the cooking time.
- Chili: For a spicy dish, sauté a deseeded and finely chopped red chili together with the garlic. If you don’t have fresh chili, replace it with red chili, red pepper flakes, or a bit of cayenne pepper to taste.
- More favorite veggies: Roasted cauliflower or broccoli pieces, sauteed mushrooms, cooked and chopped green beans, sauteed asparagus, chopped spinach leaves, or green onion.
- More protein: Drained tuna from a can, cooked chicken breast (or leftover rotisserie chicken), shrimp, sausage, bacon, or ham.
👩🏻🍳How to make pasta with cream cheese?
- Cook the noodles al dente. To speed up the process, boil the water in a kettle and pour it into a large pot. Add plenty of salt and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Before draining, reserve some of the starchy pasta water.
- In the meantime, prepare the ingredients for the sauce and keep them separated, but only start cooking them a couple of minutes before the pasta is cooked.
- Grate the garlic and set aside. Grate the Parmesan. Cut the basil into strips.
- In a bowl, whisk the cream cheese and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet, Dutch oven, or non-stick pan. Sauté the garlic on low heat for just about 30-60 seconds; it should not get too much color or burn (1).
- Add the dairy mix and stir well to melt until the mixture is smooth (2).
- Add the chopped basil and Parmesan cheese and combine (3).
- Add drained pasta and some of the reserved cooking water, not all of it, just enough to make the sauce creamy and help it coat the pasta thoroughly. I start with a splash of water and add more as required (See Expert Tips).
- Adjust taste: If you like a more pungent garlic taste, grate another clove on the dish and mix again. Adjust the taste generously with salt and pepper (4).
The type of cream cheese: I usually use creamy and softer cream cheese from a tub. However, a block is just as great, but you might need to mix it with a bit more milk or pasta water to help it reach a smooth and creamy consistency. Add the extra liquid gradually and stir well before adding any more.
The dish tastes best with full-fat cheese and whole or semi-skimmed milk.
The flavor is so much better. In addition to that, pre-grated cheese generally contains preservatives like starch and natamycin, which are added to keep the cheese from clumping together in the bag. Unfortunately, these preservatives also prevent the cheese from melting nicely, making the sauce grainy.
The dish tastes best when cooked with full-fat cheese. However, you can use lower-fat cheese, not lower than 20%, though (check the package). Fat-free cheese is not good.
The dish is best served immediately.
Refrigerate leftover pasta in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
Reheat in a non-stick pan and add a splash of milk to the pot. Stir often, taking care not to break the noodles.
Reheat in the microwave: Add a splash of milk, reheat for 1 minute, stir, and reheat for another minute. Check if the leftovers are hot.
🍽️How to serve cream cheese pasta?
Cream Cheese Pasta
- Large pot
- Large skillet or pan
- 1 lb pasta 450 g, Note 1
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3-5 garlic cloves to taste
- 1 ⅓ cup cream cheese 300 g/ 10.5 oz, Note 2
- 1 cup milk 230 ml
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + more to serve, Note 3
- small handful fresh basil Note 4
- fine sea salt or kosher salt
- ground black pepper
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Before draining, reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water.1 lb pasta / 450 g
- In the meantime, prepare the ingredients for the sauce, but only start cooking a couple of minutes before the pasta is cooked.
- Grate the garlic and set aside. Whisk the cream cheese and milk in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Grate the Parmesan. Cut the basil into strips. Keep all the ingredients in separate containers.3-5 garlic cloves + 1 ⅓ cup cream cheese/ 300 g + 1 cup milk/ 230 ml + 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + small handful fresh basil
- Cream cheese sauce: Heat the oil and sauté the garlic on low heat for just about 30-60 seconds; it should not get too much color or burn. Add the cream cheese mixture and stir until smooth. Add the chopped basil and Parmesan and combine.1 tablespoon olive oil
- Add drained pasta and a little reserved cooking water, just enough to make the sauce creamy and help it coat the pasta thoroughly.
- Adjust the taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with more Parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately.fine sea salt + ground black pepper
- Pasta: I use spaghetti or tagliatelle most of the time, but any other kind of pasta shape is fine.
- Cream cheese: I usually use creamy and softer cream cheese from a tub of cream cheese. However, brick cream cheese is just as great, but you might need to mix it with more milk or pasta water to help it reach a smooth and creamy consistency. Add the extra liquid gradually and stir well before adding any more.
- Parmesan: Preferably freshly grated; pre-grated cheese has less flavor, and its preservatives might make the sauce grainy. It can be left out; the dish will still taste great without it.
- Basil: Only fresh basil, don't substitute with dried. Fresh or frozen parsley can be used instead.
- Add 1-2 deseeded and chopped tomatoes and stir them with the garlic in the pan for 1-2 minutes until slightly softened before adding the cream cheese.
- Sauté 3-4 finely chopped anchovies with the garlic until “melted.”
- Sauté a finely chopped chili with the garlic, or add some red chili flakes or cayenne pepper to the sauce.
- Add a good handful of peas to the cooking pasta during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time.