Creamy Cavatappi

My go-to weeknight meal is pasta. I always keep a variety of shapes on hand, as well as canned tomatoes, a head or two of garlic, and a hunk of Parmesan. In the event of a supper emergency, I can grab a few items and have dinner ready in no time.

This is one of my personal favorite pasta recipes. It has a simple ingredient list, takes just over 20 minutes to prepare, and is deliciously creamy. A little garlic and fresh lemon add flavor, but Parmesan does the heavy lifting. This simplified version of mac and cheese is suitable for both adults and kids.

To add color, texture, and flavor to creamy cavatappi, I often use frozen peas. You can easily leave them out or substitute a favorite green vegetable.

What Is Cavatappi?


I prefer to think of cavatappi as a more advanced version of elbow macaroni. It’s a hollow pasta fashioned into a twisted spiral shape with an extruder die. There are more twists and bends than elbow macaroni, which increases the odds of al dente texture and sauce capture. It pairs beautifully with creamy sauces, pesto and tomato sauce pasta bakes, and pasta salads.

You can find dried cavatappi in the pasta area of your supermarket. It is also available at some Italian specialty markets and online.

How to Cook Cavatappi

Like most pastas, cavatappi is best cooked in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Give the pasta a stir after adding it to the water to ensure the spirals don’t stick to the pot or each other. Boil cavtappi according to the package directions, often 6 to 8 minutes for al dente, before draining.

How to Serve Creamy Cavatappi

This quick and easy stovetop pasta recipe is done in just over 20 minutes, making it ideal for weeknights. It requires few ingredients and is simple to personalize. Plus, who can resist creamy pasta?

I frequently serve creamy cavatappi with a tossed green salad, and we’re ready to eat in under thirty minutes. Win! Popular accompaniments include roasted broccoli or broccolini, asparagus, grilled chicken breasts, sautéed shrimp, and more.

Tips for the Creamiest, Dreamiest Pasta

While this recipe is simple as can be, here are a few tips for assuring success:

  • Salt the pasta water well and don’t use too much water. You want enough to cover the pasta by an inch or two, but using too much water means your pasta water will be bland and won’t bind the sauce as well.
  • Don’t forget to save some pasta water before draining the pasta! It helps to simultaneously thin the sauce and make it creamier.
  • Stir the simmering cream often to keep it from scorching and keep it a low simmer, not a rolling boil.
  • Add the Parmesan a little at a time, letting each handful melt before adding more.
  • Just keep stirring. After adding the pasta water, keep tossing the sauced pasta over medium heat. The sauce will begin to coat the pasta, which is what you want. Add more pasta water as needed—while it does thin the sauce a bit at first, it also helps it to coat the pasta.

The Best Substitutes for Cavatappi

Cavatappi is commonly confused for macaroni. Cavatappi is a hollow, tubular pasta, although most Americans associate it with elbow macaroni. Cavatappi is slightly larger and has more twists and bends than elbow macaroni.

That being said, macaroni is an excellent replacement for cavatappi in this dish. Penne, fusilli, and any tubular pasta are also wonderful possibilities. Ridges are preferable because they cling to a creamy sauce more effectively.

Put Your Spin On It

This basic recipe is tasty all on its own, but it’s also easy to add, swap, and generally tweak the recipe to suit your needs. Try these easy variations:

  • Spicy: Kick the flavor up a notch by adding red pepper flakes to taste along with the salt and pepper.
  • Veggie swaps: Add more green veg or swap out the peas. Add 1 of bunch fresh, washed and dried spinach or 1 1/2 cups chopped frozen broccoli to the colander in place of (or in addition to) the peas.
  • Make it meaty: Stir in 1 to 2 sliced, cooked chicken breasts, 1/3 pound crumbled, cooked sausage, or 2 to 3 cooked and crumbled slices of bacon just before serving.
  • Tomatoes: Add a pop of color and brightness by incorporating 1 heaping cup of halved cherry tomatoes or 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chopped sun-dried tomatoes just before serving.
  • Fresh herbs: Sprinkle the finished pasta with 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley or torn basil.
  • Lemony: Finely zest a lemon and add it along with the cheese for an aromatic, zesty note.


  • 8 ounces (1/2 pound) cavatappi pasta
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (1.3 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup frozen peas, optional
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water


  1. Cook the pasta:

    Put a large pot of water on to boil over high heat. Season generously with salt.

    Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir. Cook until just short of al dente, according to the package directions.


    Make the sauce while the pasta cooks. Don’t forget to save some pasta water before draining the cavatappi!

  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce:

    While the pasta cooks, add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic and cook just until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds.

    Slowly add the cream while stirring and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reducing the heat if needed to maintain a simmer. Cook, while stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

    Add the Parmesan a small handful at a time, sprinkling it over top and stirring each time until melted. Add the lemon juice and stir. Turn the heat as low as it’ll go until the pasta is ready, stirring occasionally.

    Pot of Creamy Cavatappi Sauce With a Wooden Spoon

    Creamy Cavatappi Sauce Reduced Thickened. Wooden Spoon Stirring the Sauce and Leaving a Clear Streak to Showcase Desired Consistency

  3. Drain the pasta and thaw the peas:

    Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the frozen peas to a colander.

    Drain the pasta over the frozen peas (the hot pasta will help defrost the peas).

    Frozen Peas in a Colander Over a Bowl for Creamy Cavatappi Recipe

    Cooke Cavatappi in the Same Colander With the Peas

  4. Toss the pasta and serve:

    If your skillet is big enough, add the pasta and peas to the sauce. Otherwise, add the pasta and peas back to the pasta pot and pour the sauce over the top.

    Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and turn the heat to medium. Toss constantly until you have a creamy sauce that coats the noodles, 3 to 5 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick, add more pasta water a small splash at a time, tossing in between.


    You’ll want the sauce slightly looser than you think since it will thicken quickly as it cools.

    Taste, adding salt and/or pepper if needed. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

    Creamy cavatappi is best eaten hot and freshly made, but you can refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stovetop, adding a little water or cream to loosen the sauce.

    Love the recipe? Leave us stars and a review below!

    Bowl of Creamy Cavatappi Recipe

    Bowl of Creamy Cavatappi Pasta Topped With Shredded Parmesan


What is Creamy Cavatappi?

Creamy Cavatappi is a delicious pasta dish made with cavatappi pasta, which is a type of spiral-shaped pasta, tossed in a rich and creamy sauce. The sauce typically includes ingredients like heavy cream, cheese (such as Parmesan or cheddar), butter, garlic, and various seasonings. It’s a comforting and indulgent dish that’s perfect for satisfying cravings on a cozy night in.

How do I make Creamy Cavatappi?

To make Creamy Cavatappi, start by cooking the cavatappi pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the creamy sauce by melting butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, then stir in heavy cream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Gradually add grated cheese (such as Parmesan or cheddar) to the sauce, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the skillet with the creamy sauce. Toss the pasta in the sauce until well coated, then season with salt, pepper, and any additional herbs or spices to taste. Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs or more grated cheese if desired.

What ingredients are needed to make Creamy Cavatappi?

The main ingredients for Creamy Cavatappi include cavatappi pasta, heavy cream, butter, garlic, cheese (such as Parmesan or cheddar), salt, pepper, and optionally, herbs and spices for additional flavor. You can also add ingredients like cooked chicken, bacon, or vegetables to customize the dish to your taste preferences.

Can I make Creamy Cavatappi ahead of time?

While Creamy Cavatappi is best enjoyed fresh, you can prepare parts of the dish ahead of time to streamline the cooking process. You can cook the pasta and make the creamy sauce separately, then store them in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a day. When ready to serve, reheat the sauce gently on the stove and toss it with freshly cooked pasta until heated through. Keep in mind that the sauce may thicken upon refrigeration, so you may need to adjust the consistency with a splash of cream or pasta water when reheating.

What are some variations of Creamy Cavatappi?

Creamy Cavatappi is a versatile dish that can be customized in various ways. You can add protein such as grilled chicken, shrimp, or Italian sausage to make it a heartier meal. For extra flavor, you can incorporate ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, or roasted red peppers. Experiment with different types of cheese or herbs to create unique flavor combinations that suit your taste preferences.



Leave a Comment