Rich and creamy pasta sauce made of cream cheese, milk, and parmesan cheese. Sounds decadent? Yes, it actually is. Perfect for a weeknight dinner your whole family will enjoy.
Cream Cheese Pasta Recipe
This is not your everyday white pasta sauce. Just by looking at the ingredients as simple as they may seem, you probably already have an idea of how delicious this will be.
Using cream cheese is a great way to transform your pasta sauce to a whole 'nother level.
You will love this because:
- It's packed with so much flavor. This is not your ordinary bland creamy sauce. It's rich and savory all at the same time.
- It's one of the most versatile pasta sauces you can make. So many vegetable and protein options.
- It's an easy pasta recipe that you can make for your family in just half an hour.
Ingredients for the Pasta Sauce
All you need are simple ingredients to make this cream cheese sauce:
- Cream cheese - a block of full-fat or low-fat cream cheese or cream cheese spread. I used Philadelphia cream cheese.
- Fresh garlic cloves - toasting the garlic until just brown (but not burnt) makes the sauce fragrant and flavorful. You can also use garlic powder but for this sauce, fresh is best.
- Butter - always makes any white sauce better.
- Whole milk - or skim milk
- Pasta water - or chicken broth. to loosen the thick consistency of the sauce without losing its creaminess.
- Parmesan Cheese - not only thickens the sauce but also adds a savory flavor.
- Onion Powder - or fresh chopped onion. I prefer the powder form to make the preparation easier i.e. less chopping.
- Fresh Parsley - you can also use Italian Seasoning, a pinch of chili flakes, or dried herbs like oregano, and basil.
Types of pasta
Good quality pasta always works well in any recipe. Here I used penne but you can also use any of these:
- shell pasta (conchigliette)
- bow tie (farfalle)
- other tube pasta - rigatoni, or ziti.
Tip: Remember to cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions.
How to Make It
And here's how to make it:
A few things to note:
- Soften the cream cheese so it easily melts and blends into the milk. You can either cut it into cubes and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or microwave it on high for 15 seconds.
- Cook your proteins first. Use the same large skillet or pan where you're going to cook the sauce. Any leftover bits and flavors will go in the sauce. Yum!
- Slightly brown the garlic (not burnt) for that unique toasted garlic flavor that brings any white pasta sauce to a different level of deliciousness.
- To quickly melt the cream cheese make sure the milk is warm (not boiling). Use low heat to prevent the sauce from curdling.
- Stir constantly until the sauce becomes smooth and creamy.
- If the sauce becomes too thick, just add more milk or starchy pasta water.
- Use freshly grated parmesan as it melts easily in the sauce and has better flavor than jarred ones.
- Add the pasta. Toss until the sauce is completely absorbed. If the consistency is too thick to your liking, you can add pasta water for a thinner consistency.
And that is it! Easy! A simple and delicious pasta dish!
The addition of vegetables and meat or protein is optional but highly recommended. It not only brings color but also adds an extra touch of flavor and texture to the sauce.
Choose from slices of chicken, shrimp, salmon, or bacon if you feel like celebrating and indulging on a busy weeknight.
Vegetables you can add
For vegetable options or a meatless meal, you can add the following ingredients:
- baby asparagus
- mushrooms - white button mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, or portobello mushrooms
- sun-dried tomatoes
Note: Stir-fry the vegetables before adding the milk and cream cheese.
Serve with garlic bread and a simple green salad or a rotisserie chicken. Enjoy as a complete meal for lunch or dinner.
Watch how to make it
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Cream Cheese Pasta Sauce
Cream Cheese Pasta Sauce
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 cup low-fat milk
- ½ cup cream cheese (softened, brick style or spreadable)
- ½ cup chicken broth (or pasta water, note 1)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ cup parmesan cheese (grated and divided)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 250 grams skinless chicken breasts (sliced into thin pieces, note 2)
- salt and black pepper (to taste)
- 8 ounces pasta (cooked al dente)
- fresh parsley, Italian seasoning (choose 1)
- Heat oil in a pan. Add chicken. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until slightly golden. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.
- Add butter and garlic. Cook over medium heat until lightly brown. Immediately add your choice of vegetables if using (see notes). Continue stirring until vegetables are half-cooked.
- Lower the heat. Pour in the milk and chicken broth or pasta water. Once it starts simmering, add the cream cheese. Stir until the cheese melts through the sauce. Sprinkle onion powder and continue stirring.
- Add the cooked chicken, half of the grated parmesan cheese, parsley, or Italian seasoning, and some black pepper. Stir until smooth and silky.
- Add the cooked pasta. Gently toss until well-coated. If it becomes too thick, add more pasta water ¼ cup at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
- Transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve and enjoy!
Recipe Notes and Tips:
- Chicken broth - or half chicken bouillon dissolved in ½ cup pasta water.
- Pasta water - reserve 2 cups liquid after the pasta is cooked.
- Protein - use bacon or shrimp instead of chicken.
- If using bacon, fry it in the same pan but remove or wipe out the grease after.
- If using shrimp, use the frozen pack for convenience. Submerge it in water for 10 minutes to quickly defrost. Drain well before stir-frying. Cook it for 1 to 2 minutes then remove it from the pan. Add it back to the sauce just before the pasta.
- Other vegetable variations: broccoli, green peas, white and brown button mushrooms, portobello mushroom, and yellow bell pepper. All are mild-tasting vegetables that won't overpower the buttery flavor of the sauce.
- Freshly grated parmesan is always recommended as it melts easily in the sauce. If using the jarred type, use the finely grated one for a smoother sauce.
- Nutrition: pasta is included in the calculation.
Originally published May 2019. Updated on Nov 2022 with new photos and recipe video.