Overnight Mac and Cheese Casserole
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Overnight Mac and Cheese Casserole is a delicious, easy mac and cheese casserole that’s prepped entirely ahead. It’s perfect for busy weeknights!
How was your Thanksgiving? I’m happy to say that mine was a big success — I even had time to sit down and enjoy the day here and there! The best part for me is that the leftovers are all gone and we’re back to eating regular food again.
I haven’t even begun thinking about Christmas cookies because I’m not in the mood for sweets yet, which is pretty strange for me.
I will tell you what I’m always in the mood for — cheese. Cheese is one of my favorite foods because not only is it delicious — it’s the ultimate comfort food. I especially love incorporating it into dishes during fall and winter because that’s when we really need our comfort food.
This Overnight Chicken Mac and Cheese Casserole is the perfect meal to serve your family or at gatherings because it’s guaranteed to make everyone feel warm and cozy inside.
I began making a casserole like this right after I got married because I found the recipe in a little paperback cookbook that I picked up at the supermarket one day. I wasn’t the best cook then, and I loved how easy the recipe was.
That particular recipe called for condensed soup, which I really don’t use anymore, so I thought it would be great to make my own version of that casserole with a homemade bechamel sauce. And this version is even better!
Of course, this mac and cheese casserole recipe would be nothing without the cheese. 🙂
I use Kraft Natural Cheese often, and there are so many delicious varieties to choose from. The Mexican variety shown above is one of my favorites, because it’s two of my favorite cheeses in one.
I happened to find a large selection of Kraft Natural Cheese at my local Walmart store, and knew it was just what I needed for this casserole!
The best part about this easy mac and cheese casserole is that you can make the entire thing in advance, and that it’s easily customizable with whatever veggies or protein you’ve got on hand.
How to make Mac and Cheese Casserole
I used some leftover chicken breast, and sautéed some fresh mushrooms and frozen peas. From there, I got started on my homemade bechamel sauce.
A homemade bechamel sauce is very easy to make, and requires only about 15 minutes of time. Who needs condensed soup?
- Start by melting your butter in the pan, then sprinkle in the flour and whisk it in.
- Whisk over medium heat until it turns golden brown and smells like shortbread, about 1 minute. This is the roux, which is the thickener for our sauce.
- From there, remove the saucepan from heat. Add 1/3 of the milk slowly while whisking constantly, until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and place over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the sauce comes to a boil, about 10 minutes. The sauce will have reduced about 1/3 and will coat a wooden spoon.
- Pour the sauce into a large bowl and allow to cool completely.
- Add the elbow macaroni and stir until the pasta is completely coated with the sauce.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. The next day — voila! You have the ultimate creamy pasta with no boiling required. 🙂
- Add your chicken, veggies, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, and stir. Place into a greased 9×13″ baking dish and spread evenly.
- Top with the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs, pop it in the oven, and you get one cheesy, comforting dish that nobody will be able to resist.
I made this chicken mac and cheese casserole 3 different times within a 3 week period while testing this recipe, and it was always met with happy faces. The fact that it got better each time certainly didn’t hurt either!
Obviously the third time was the charm — this gloriously cheesy, comforting casserole before you just couldn’t get any better in my opinion. It’s soul-warming comfort food, it’s perfect for weeknight dinners because you can do everything in advance, and most importantly, it’s a hit with everyone.
- This recipe is perfect for leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken, or simply bake your chicken breast(s) in the oven with salt and pepper at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- The mushrooms and peas may be substituted with your favorite veggies.
More chicken recipes you’ll love:
- Chicken burrito bowls
- Chicken piccata by Giada de Laurentiis
- Instant pot chicken and rice
- Mexican rice casserole
- Tequila lime chicken
For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups milk (I used skim)
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the casserole:
- 2 cups dry elbow macaroni
- 1 1/2 cups cooked, cubed chicken breast (about 1 large breast)*
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces mushrooms, stemmed and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed if frozen)
- 2 cups Kraft Natural grated cheese, divided (I used Mexican)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
Prepare the bechamel sauce:
- Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle in the flour and whisk until combined. Continue to whisk until the roux is golden brown and smells like shortbread, about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and whisk in 1/3 of the milk slowly until a smooth paste forms. Whisk in the remaining milk, and place back over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, about 10 minutes. The sauce will have reduced by about 1/3 and will coat a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and pour into a large bowl and allow to cool completely.
- Once the sauce has cooled, add the elbow macaroni and stir until completely coated with the sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight until the pasta has softened completely.
Saute the mushrooms:
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms until browned and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the thawed peas and saute 1 minute more. Remove from heat and store in an air tight container in the fridge until the next day.
Assemble the casserole:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13" baking dish with cooking spray.
- Add the chicken, mushrooms, peas, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese to the pasta mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared casserole dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top.
- In a small bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the melted butter until coated, and sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let stand for about 10 minutes, serve, and enjoy!
- *This recipe is perfect for leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken, or simply bake your chicken breast(s) in the oven with salt and pepper at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- The mushrooms and peas may be substituted with your favorite veggies.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 394Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 391mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 23g
Nutrition information is mean to be an estimate only. The numbers will vary based on the quantity consumed, brands used and substitutions that are made.