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Homemade Mac and Cheese with ham and peas is a perfect, quick meal that is always creamy and NEVER grainy. Get creative with the add-ins and toppings!
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Oh, the ooey-gooey goodness of homemade mac and cheese. This macaroni and cheese with ham and peas is one of our favorite weeknight meals.
This is THE perfect way to use up leftover ham. It is quick, easy, and versatile. You have SO many options here. Keep it plain or make it fancy. Either way, this will be your new go-to homemade mac and cheese base recipe!
Ingredients for Basic Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
As mentioned above, if you aren’t big on ham or peas, this is still the perfect “base” recipe. You can make this a couple of different ways. You can do a basic skillet macaroni and cheese by making the entire thing in a skillet and serving it creamy (my kids’ favorite way). The other option is to BAKE it.
- Elbow macaroni
- Corn starch
- Whole milk
- Ground dry mustard
- Ham – Add some protein to your mac and cheese.
- Sharp cheddar cheese – shredded, about 4 cups
Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese
The recipe below is for a baked macaroni and cheese with ham and peas. The “topping” is just an added layer of cheese. The added cheese makes for a slightly crisp, bubbly layer on the top, which is amazing (and easy).
You can also broil for a minute or two instead of baking if you still want the extra creamy noodles and just a light crusty topping. In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds — just be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t get scorched.
I also love making a crumb topping with equal parts Panko bread crumbs and parmesan cheese (about ½ cup each or so). If you want to get even fancier, you can use a stuffing mix as your topping instead. The possibilities are endless!
My favorite cheese to use with homemade mac and cheese is sharp cheddar. Sometimes I even use extra sharp cheddar—the flavor be a little much for the kids, though. I usually end up doing a blend of cheeses.
The last time I made this I actually used a blend of sharp cheddar and Havarti. I love the taste of the sharp cheddar and the smooth, creaminess of the Havarti. Havarti just melts so well (and gives you those beautiful cheese pulls.. as illustrated below).
If ham and peas aren’t your thing, no biggie. You can make your homemade mac and cheese any way you’d like. Here are a few ideas that you can add in to make this dish your own:
- BBQ pulled pork (seriously though, try it with the BBQ pork because it is amazing)
- Ground beef
- Smoked sausage
Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese
This homemade mac and cheese can EASILY be made GF, mainly because the roux for the sauce is made with corn starch, not flour, like most recipes. You will find that the corn starch makes the sauce so it is not gritty at all.
Really, the only thing you need to do to make this gluten-free is swap out the macaroni noodles for GF mac. We used the Barilla Elbow Macaroni to make the GF version (the Barilla GF pasta have been my favorite GF noodles so far). My family honestly didn’t even taste a difference.
The same rules apply for GF noodles as below—make sure they are under-done a bit before adding to the sauce if you are baking this dish.
Remember– make sure the noodles are UNDER cooked, especially if you are going to bake it (same goes for the gluten-free version).
Also, use cheese that has NOT been pre-shredded. Trust me, if you do NOT want a gritty mac and cheese you will shred it yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
For a mac and cheese recipe, consider the combination of sharper cheddar cheeses and a flavorful Parmesan. This cheese adds a boost of fruity, nutty notes to your favorite macaroni recipes. Parmesan is also ideal for grating on top of mac and cheese before you bake it to add golden color.
Undercook your pasta—cook one minute less than the package directions to avoid a mushy mac and cheese. Swap rich cream for all or half of the milk in the recipe. Cook your pasta in salted water. Season every layer of your sauce: the roux, after the milk is added and after the cheese is melted in
You want equal amounts of butter and flour by weight. This is key. Throw in too much flour, and sure the sauce might get thick, but it also might taste floury and be lumpy. Even if you get the roux right, use too much or reduce your sauce down too far, and the macaroni and cheese will turn out dry
To maximize the shelf life of cooked macaroni and cheese for safety and quality, refrigerate the macaroni and cheese in shallow airtight containers. Properly stored, cooked macaroni and cheese will last for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Place the macaroni & cheese into an oven-safe dish. Make sure to only take out what you’re going to use.
Add 1 tablespoon of milk per cup of mac and cheese and mix to incorporate as much as possible. …
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven at 350°F for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through.
Read More:35+ Quick and Easy To Follow Dinner Ideas Your Family Will Surely Love
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How to Make Homemade Mac and Cheese
Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 3 cups elbow macaroni uncooked
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
- kosher salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup ham cubed (optional)
- 1 cup peas frozen (optional)
- 16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese shredded (about 4 cups)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if baking).
- Prepare macaroni according to directions on box, removing from the heat about 1 minute before recommended "al dente" cook time.
- Check macaroni around the 5 minute mark. You want it to have a bit of bite to it. If making GF noodles, check around 4 minutes.
- Drain noodles and set aside.
- While noodles are cooking, melt butter in a large, oven safe skillet or dutch oven. over medium heat
- Slowly add corn starch while stirring constantly with a whisk.
- Keep stirring for about 1 minute until the roux becomes bubbly.
- Add milk, a little at a time, until sauce becomes thick (you want the consistency of gravy). Add more milk if necessary. If it gets too thin, you can mix a little corn starch with some milk and add it to the mixture to thicken.
- Add dry mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
- Add cooked macaroni to the sauce. Stir well to coat.
- Add ham and peas and stir to combine.
- Add cheese (reserving a little if you want to add cheese to the top as a topping).
- If you want a creamier mac and cheese (not baked) reduce heat and cook on stove top until noodles are cooked through. You may need to add a little milk as needed.
- To bake, add reserved cheese to the top and place in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes or until cheese topping becomes bubbly and golden-brown. (see notes above)
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 3-5 minutes before serving.
- Monterey jack
- White cheddar
- Colby jack
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Fabulous recipe – just have to make sure to prep materials in advance as it comes together very quickly.
Very creamy and tasty!
I would like to try this recipe ( I have so much left over ham from the holidays)! Do you think instead of using whole milk, I could use unsweetened almond milk?
I have had pretty good success substituting almond milk in recipes like this. The sauce might turn out a little thinner, but I think it will work pretty well!
This is my family’s favorite Mac and cheese recipe. Do you have any tips for making ahead?
We are so glad you like it! I always hesitate to make mac & cheese ahead because I think it taste the best and has the best texture when it is fresh. However, if you do want to try it, I would suggest following the steps up until the baking step. Then, put the mixture in a casserole dish, cover it with foil, and freeze it. When you’re ready to use it, bake until it is heated all the way through. Add the reserved cheese and then bake again until the top layer of cheese is melted. Let me know how it goes if you try it!
Can you freeze it?
I haven’t tried freezing it so I can definitively say how it would affect the taste or texture of the dish. Let us know how it turns out if you do freeze it!
Best recipe I have found! I only replaced the cornstarch with flour. My husband says the best Baked Mac N Cheese with Ham & Peas he has had! Your ideas about extra sharp cheddar added the ump I needed!
Hi Joanne- so happy you liked this recipe! I consider anything that is husband-approved a big win! Thanks for the 5-stars!