Creamy Cavatappi Pasta
This exceptionally easy recipe for Cavatappi Pasta with cream sauce and sun-dried tomatoes can save the day when you need dinner in no time. Tender corkscrew pasta and a simple Parmesan cream sauce adds up to real food that can be on the table in just 15 minutes.
This creamy cavatappi pasta is one of those recipes that is so simple, it almost feels like cheating, but then again that’s exactly the point. It’s got tender twirls of pasta, tangy sun-dried tomatoes, and a deliciously creamy sauce.
I especially love that this cavatappi pasta is:
- Creamy yet light. The sauce has a rich taste but is not super heavy.
- Ultra-fast. If your water boils quickly, dinner can be done in about 15 minutes.
- Simple and kid-friendly. The sauce is un-intimidating. If you have a tomato skeptic (I do!), they are easily avoided for individual portions.
I first made this one night when my husband was out of town. When he is traveling, I lower our family dinner standards pretty dramatically, meaning more take-out and only the very simplest home-cooked meals. I had planned to make pesto cavatappi for myself and the kids that night, but my mushrooms had gone slimy in the fridge. Yuck!
Although take-out seemed very appealing, the kids were tired and I figured I could make something else with the pasta more quickly than I could decide, order, and wait for something else to arrive. 🙂 A happy decision, because this was so quick and easy, and both kids loved it–a rare occurrence in my house!
Whatever you do, don’t skip the extra sprinkle of Parmesan on top! Red pepper flakes would also be a nice touch for anyone who likes more spice.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Here are a few notes and shopping tips about the ingredients you’ll need to make this, as well as possible substitutions. Find full amounts in the print-friendly recipe card below.
- Cavatappi. Of course you can substitute a different type of pasta, but cavatappi are just so fun, this recipe is named after them! They are pretty easy to find in a well-stocked grocery store or online.
- Grated Parmesan. Of course freshly-grated is ideal, but I’ve had no problems using good-quality pre-grated to save time.
- Sun-dried tomatoes. Use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, ideally those already julienned. If they are whole, just give them a quick chop before adding to the pan.
- Heavy cream. I believe you could substitute half and half, but expect a thinner sauce.
- Italian seasoning.
- Garlic powder. You can certainly substitute fresh minced garlic, in which case I would use 1 clove and sauté it briefly in the butter before adding the sun-dried tomatoes. (See full recipe directions below and this will make sense.) This recipe is written with garlic powder because it’s designed for maximum convenience, and we think it tastes pretty darn good this way.
- Vegetable broth or chicken broth.
What kind of pasta is cavatappi?
Cavatappi is not the most common pasta shape, but if you ask me, it is the most fun! Like most other pastas, it is typically made from water and semolina flour. It has a long body twirled into a tight spiral shape, with ridges that give each piece texture and create maximum cling-able surface area for sauce. It is a great stand-in for just about any medium-sized, ridged pasta in all your favorite recipes.
What is a good substitute for cavatappi noodles?
Can’t find it? No worries! Substitute rotini, fusilli, penne, rigatoni, farfalle (bow ties), or any other medium-sized pasta.
Cavatappi is the Italian word for corkscrews!
How To Make Cavatappi Pasta with Cream Sauce
This is certainly a weeknight wonder, and so quick that I would even consider making it for a quick lunch! Let’s hit the highlights.
This is a general overview. As always, you will find full instructions with exact ingredients and times in the print-friendly recipe card below.
- Boil a large pot of water over high heat. This is probably the step that takes the longest!
- Cook the pasta and reserve some water. The pasta water will be needed to thin out the sauce to your liking.
- Whip up the sauce. Melt butter, then add the sun-dried tomatoes with a bit of oil, broth, and seasonings. This will be the base of a simple pan sauce.
- Add cream. Stir in gently until smooth and warmed through. There may be a small amount of oil that doesn’t incorporate–that is OK.
- Stir in drained pasta and grated Parmesan.
- Thin sauce to your liking. Add the reserved pasta water, just 1-2 Tablespoons at a time, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. I usually add about 1/4 cup total, but this will vary according to how much your sauce simmered down as well as your personal preference.
- Garnish and serve! A little fresh parsley adds a very nice pop of color.
- Make it gluten-free. Use your favorite gluten-free pasta. The sauce doesn’t require any flour, so no other swaps are needed. The pasta water may be a bit less starchy, however, so add it more slowly if thinning the sauce.
- Make it vegan. Use dairy-free butter, vegetable stock or vegetable broth, and a vegan Parmesan cheese.
- Incorporate more veggies. Add roasted red peppers, sautéed zucchini or summer squash, frozen peas, steamed broccoli, or asparagus to the pan to up the nutritional content here.
- Add protein. Toss the pasta and sauce with crumbled bacon, shredded rotisserie chicken, pan-fried Italian sausage, cooked shrimp, or cooked Italian meatballs.
- Add a splash of white wine. It will only add another layer of flavor. Mix in along with the broth.
Storage & Reheating
- Storage: Place leftovers in any airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. (These are our favorite meal prep boxes for the fridge.)
- Warming: Reheat in the microwave or in a small pan over medium heat on the stovetop. If the cream sauce looks dry, add a splash of water or broth to thin it back out.
- Freezing: I haven’t tried freezing this and would try to avoid it; cream sauces don’t always fare well when frozen and thawed.
Can’t get enough of this cute pasta shape? This copycat Noodles & Company pesto cavatappi is just what you need!
If you try this Cavatappi Pasta recipe, don’t forget to rate it and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
Cavatappi Pasta in Cream Sauce
- 8 ounces cavatappi pasta
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or veggie
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan plus more for serving
- kosher salt and black pepper
- Italian parsley optional garnish
- Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When bubbling rapidly, add a generous pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions just to al dente. When the pasta is tender, scoop out about 1 cup of the water in a liquid measuring cup, then drain the rest of the water. Set pasta and reserved water aside.
- While the pasta cooks, melt butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add sun-dried tomatoes together with a smidge of their oil. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the chicken broth, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Bring mixture to a simmer, then stir in the cream until smooth.
- Reduce heat to low and stir in the drained pasta and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Add the reserved pasta water, 1-2 Tablespoons at a time, until the sauce is loosened to your liking.
- Season with additional salt to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley, black pepper, and more Parmesan, as desired. Enjoy!
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes: You can use whole sun-dried tomatoes, of course, just chop them into small pieces before adding to the skillet.
- Garlic: You can certainly substitute fresh minced garlic, in which case I would use 1 clove and sauté it briefly in the butter before adding the sun-dried tomatoes.
- Gluten-free? Use your favorite gluten-free pasta. The sauce doesn’t require any flour, so no other swaps are needed. The pasta water may be a bit less starchy, however, so add it more slowly if thinning the sauce.
- Vegan? Use dairy-free butter, vegetable stock or vegetable broth, and a vegan Parmesan cheese.