German comfort food at its best: This is my mom’s famous noodle casserole recipe that both kids and adults can’t get enough of.
This German noodle casserole has it all: al-dente pasta tossed with a creamy sauce, flavorful bits of ham, and a crunchy, cheese crust!
My mom used to make this delicious recipe a lot when we were kids. And then she made it even more when the grandchildren came over. Simply because everyone loved it and couldn’t get enough of it.
Now, for the first time, she agreed to share her original recipe for “Nudelauflauf” so that you can make it, too!
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Why you’ll love this German noodle casserole
This recipe is both simple and delicious. And super flexible. While I will give you the exact recipe, feel free to substitute it with whatever you have or your favorites.
It’s also easy to make ahead. In the unlikely event that you will have leftovers, they are actually just as good if not better the next day.
Since you are making it in a baking dish, you can easily bring this great comfort food to potlucks and such.
And it’s easy to scale up or down depending on how many people you are serving.
How is a German noodle casserole different from macaroni and cheese?
While I consider them both essential comfort food classics, there are some differences.
In this recipe, you are tossing the pasta with a white sauce. Then you add a crunchy topping which is the best part and bake it to perfection. That way you’re getting the ultimate combination of creamy and crunchy.
Ingredients for this German noodle casserole
For this recipe you need:
- Pasta: I recommend using pasta shapes such as rigatoni or egg noodles
For the white sauce you need:
- Butter: You can use both store-bought or homemade butter. We always like using butter with a high-fat content such as Kerry Gold if we buy it.
- Flour: regular all-purpose is perfect for this sauce, also called a roux.
- Milk: you will need lots of whole milk since you really want to drench the pasta in the sauce.
- Egg: while this is somewhat optional, I feel that it really adds depth to the sauce. If you want to make this casserole extra special you can whip the egg white.
- Diced ham: any ham works perfectly in this recipe
- Nutmeg, salt, black pepper: nutmeg is a great seasoning for anything with cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the topping:
- Parmesan cheese: you can either grate your own fresh or use grated cheese.
- Breadcrumbs: while you can purchase them, I find that it’s the perfect use for stale bread.
- Butter: this really makes the crust stand out and the more you use the better!
Useful tools and equipment
Here are some tools that I find very helpful when making my mom’s famous noodle casserole:
- Wire whisk: since we are making the white sauce from scratch, this stainless wire whisk is an essential tool.
- Box grater: I am a big fan of using fresh. Therefore, I like using this box grater for the cheese as well as the bread crumbs. You can also use a
- Food processor: If you don’t like to use elbow grease, you can use a food processor for grating the cheese and stale bread.
- Big casserole dish: we love using a 12″x16″ stainless steel baking pan for 1 pound of pasta.
How to make this pasta casserole
Cook the pasta:
- In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions.
- Drain the pasta, toss it with some butter or oil, and set it aside for later.
Make the white sauce:
- In a large pot, melt butter and add the flour.
- Using a wire whisk, stir this mixture and cook for 1 minute.
- Add about ⅓ of the milk while constantly stirring.
- Gradually add the remaining milk.
- Simmer this sauce for about 5 minutes. It needs to be thick.
- Add the egg if you are using it and whisk it in. Optional: only add the egg yolk. Whip the egg white stiff and gently fold it in.
- Season the sauce to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Assemble the casserole:
- Place the cooked pasta in your baking dish.
- Sprinkle the diced ham over the pasta and distribute it evenly.
- Pour the white sauce over the pasta. Make sure that the noodles are covered.
- Spread the cheese first and then the breadcrumbs over the dish.
- Add dollops of butter on top of the breadcrumbs.
Bake the noodle casserole:
- Place the casserole in a preheated oven at 400˚F on the middle rack.
- Bake it for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the crust golden brown.
How to eat this German pasta casserole:
Since this dish is pretty substantial, we feel that it is perfect on its own with a green salad on the side for a complete meal.
However, you could make this a side dish for your favorite meat recipe.
Variations and substitutions:
- Pasta: I recommend using rigatoni, elbow macaroni, or other smaller shapes but you can use your favorite pasta.
- Flour: you can replace the regular all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Or use spelt flour or einkorn flour, either white or whole grain.
- Milk: you can use any milk here, both regular or plant-based.
- Butter: while I think butter is best for this recipe, you can also use oil such as avocado, canola oil, or olive oil (if you don’t mind the flavor)
- Ham: you can use any ham or prosciutto. You can completely omit it if you’d like to make it vegetarian.
- Cheese: parmesan is the classic cheese for this noodle dish but you can use other cheeses such as gruyere cheese, cheddar cheese, or your favorite cheese.
- Additional ingredients: you could replace some of the milk with heavy cream or sour cream.
- Extra flavors: Less traditional but very flavorful would be to add ground beef, diced tomatoes, caramelized onion, green beans, or your favorite vegetables.
Can you make this German noodle casserole ahead of time?
In short, yes!
You can make the pasta ahead of time and then only prepare the sauce and bake this cheese casserole.
But you can make the entire dish, let it cool down, cover it with aluminum foil and keep it in the refrigerator. When ready, simply reheat in a warm oven at about 180˚-200˚F.
Also, if you have any leftovers, you can fry them up in a skillet with some extra butter. Yummy!
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German Noodle Casserole
- 1 pound pasta shapes such as rigatoni or elbow macaroni
- ¾ cup butter (⅓ c for the sauce and ½ c for the topping)
- ⅓ cup flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1 whole egg (optional)
- ¾ cup ham, diced
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- ¾ cup breadcrumbs
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- salt and black pepper to taste
- In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Drain, toss with some butter or oil, and set aside.
- In a large pot, melt butter and add flour. Mix well and cook for 1 min.
- While constantly whisking, gradually add the milk.
- Simmer for about 5 mins until the sauce has thickened.
- Whisk in the egg, if using. Optional: only add the egg yolk. Beat the egg white stiff and gently fold it.
- Season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.
- Place the pasta in a large baking dish.
- Add diced ham and pour the white sauce over the pasta. Distribute evenly.
- First, sprinkle the grated cheese, then the breadcrumbs over the dish. Place dollops of butter on top.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 400˚F for about 20 mins or until golden-brown.