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Overhead shot of a pot of mac and cheese with breadcrumbs

Hidden Zucchini Mac and Cheese with Garlic Brown Butter Breadcrumbs

Hidden Zucchini Mac and Cheese with Garlic Brown Butter Breadcrumbs is comfort food at its best. It's filled with an added veggie boost of grated zucchini, which disappears into the silkiest 3-cheese sauce. We've got Cheddar, fontina, and Gouda, and to top it all off, the mac and cheese gets topped with toasty garlic brown butter breadcrumbs! It's insanely delicious, and it's my version of adult mac and cheese! And it's perfect for kids if you're trying to be sneaky with veggies!

Course Main, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword 3 cheese mac and cheese, brown butter breadcrumbs, comfort food zucchini recipe, easy homemade mac and cheese, late summer recipe, mac and cheese with vegetables, stovetop mac and cheese, summer mac and cheese, summer zucchini recipe, veggie mac and cheese, zucchini mac and cheese
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 4
Author Molly | Spices in My DNA


For the mac and cheese

  • 2 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 pound elbow pasta, or short-cut pasta of your choice
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated
  • black pepper, as needed
  • 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 freshly grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 6 ounces freshly grated fontina cheese
  • 4 ounces freshly grated Gouda cheese

For the garlic brown butter breadcrumbs

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. To make the mac and cheese, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add 2 teaspoons of the salt. Once boiling, add the elbow pasta and cook until al dente.

  2. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until it is fragrant. Add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with the black pepper.

  3. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly to combine, and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly, and increase the heat to high. Continue to whisk until the milk comes to a simmer and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the mustard, nutmeg, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper and whisk to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gradually add the Cheddar, fontina, and Gouda cheeses, stirring well after each addition, until the cheeses have melted completely. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and season with black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce sit while you make the garlic brown butter breadcrumbs.

  4. To make the garlic brown butter breadcrumbs, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and whisk constantly until the butter is brown and becomes nutty and fragrant, watching it carefully to prevent burning.

  5. Once the butter is brown, add the panko breadcrumbs and salt and stir to combine, letting the breadcrumbs toast for about 1 minute.

  6. Add the pasta to the warm cheese sauce and stir to combine. Add half of the breadcrumbs into the mac and cheese and stir to combine. Serve immediately with the reamaining breadcrumbs on top.

Recipe Notes

*this recipe comes from my cookbook, Eat More Plants!