Today is the final episode of Food Network’s #ComfortFoodFeast and is dedicated to comforting pastas. I chose my favorite, macaroni and cheese to make. I wish I could still eat Stouffer’s version, but this gluten-free option is really amazing.
My friend Stephanie Stiavetti co-wrote a cookbook called “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese” with Garrett McCord. When I knew that I was going to be writing about Mac & Cheese for the Comfort Food Feast, I thought immediately of Stephanie’s book. It hasn’t been published yet but you can put in a pre-order now and it will ship to your home this fall.
Stephanie and Garrett’s version is a delicious Mediterranean twist on the classic. They recommend using a bold sheep’s milk cheese and combine it with dried apricots and pinenuts. The apricots provide a much needed bite of tartness that helps balance the richness of the cheese sauce. And the pinenuts give the dish an interesting texture, adding just a touch of crunch to every bite. The Artist liked it so much that he had eaten nearly his entire bowl by the time I was ready to sit down at the table!
Besides the use of different cheese and addition of dried fruit, the other major difference between this version and the classic is that you do not have to bake this one. This saves you at least 20 minutes and another dish to wash!
When I went to the store, I found some wonderful cheeses from Kerrygold, one of my favorite companies. I selected a mild cheese made in the “gouda-style” and a block of medium cheddar. I liked the blending of those two with the mascarpone. Rich and creamy with a strong cheese flavor, it made me very happy to be able to serve a great gluten-free Mac & Cheese!
This made a lovely pale gold sauce. If you are serving this to children who think that it isn’t mac and cheese unless it is neon orange, as long as they don’t have allergy issues, go ahead and add some food coloring to the sauce before you add it to the pasta. Remember, red and yellow make orange, LOL!
When you are toasting the pinenuts, make sure you keep them moving. It reminded me of when we used to make Jiffy Pop popcorn when I was a child. We would shake and shake that container, watching with fascination as the foil top expanded with the steam. There is no expanding foil with the pinenuts, but they require the same constant movement so they don’t burn.
Have the heat no higher than medium, keep shaking and stirring them and pull them off the heat as soon as a few start to turn golden. The heat of the pan will finish toasting them. And don’t forget to stir them occasionally even when they are off the heat because the residual heat of the pan could get them too brown if they are left alone. This may seem overly cautious, but once you’ve burned pan after pan of pinenuts, you learn to be extra careful.
You have probably made a roux at some time in the past, but if this is your first time using gluten-free flours, and in particular sweet rice flour, it is another task in patience. My favorite tool for making roux is a non-stick flat whisk. It gets into the corners of the pan, won’t scratch a non-stick surface, and makes sure there are no lumps in your sauce.
Once you have thickened the sauce and added the cheese, do not put the sauce back on the heat. I could never figure out why my sauce always broke … OK, I can be a bit slow at times, but I did finally learn! Also, if there are any lumps after you’ve added the cheese, it is probably clumps of shredded cheese that haven’t melted yet. Just keep whisking the sauce and it will all melt evenly eventually.
By the way, if you haven’t heard the term “Mornay sauce” before, it is a cheese-flavored white sauce, made the same way our mothers and grandmothers made their for years. Don’t let the fancy French term make you nervous, it is a basic Bechamel with cheese added. Easy-peasy!
I have enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite comfort foods this winter with all of you. They have each brought back fond memories of my childhood and in some cases provided me the opportunity to put my own personal spin on our family favorites, updating them to today’s sensibilities and to suit my new dietary restrictions.
Some weeks I have been pushed to make gluten-free versions that scared me. Biscuits, for example, are nerve wracking on their own but when I was faced with trying to create a gluten-free version, I had butterflies in my stomach. I am grateful to the Food Network team for forcing me out of my comfort zone and challenging me to try things that are difficult.
I am looking forward to Spring Fest starting in the next few weeks and hope you are too. Have a wonderful day and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese for your cookbook library!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Do all your prep before starting this because you will be stirring more than one pot at once and won’t have a chance to turn away from the stove to grate cheese!
The Artist and I prefer Schar brand of dried gluten-free pastas. They are neutrally flavored, cook easily and stand up to sauces well.
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour (or regular all-purpose flour)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots * see Note
- 8 ounces Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper, rind removed, shredded (any stout sheep's milk gouda will work here) * see Note
- 1/4 cup mascarpone
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt
- 10 ounces gluten-free spiral pasta (or regular wheat fussili)
- Heat a small pan over medium heat. Add pine nuts and roast until they become fragrant and begin to turn golden brown, tossing every few seconds to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chop pine nuts coarsely and set aside.
- Set a large pot of water to boil while preparing the mornay sauce in step three.
- To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and form tiny bubbles around its edges, turn off the heat. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium-low flame (sweet rice flour burns easily, so you don't want to turn the heat up too high). Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take a light brown color, scraping the bottom constantly to prevent burning, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Stir in salt, pepper, and apricots. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add cheese and mascarpone, and stir until completely melted. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Cover to keep warm while the pasta cooks.
- Add the coarse salt the boiling water and cook the noodles just until al dente - remember that gluten-free pasta can be finicky, so watch it carefully to prevent overcooking. Drain the pasta through a colander and return to cooking pot. Pour sauce over pasta and stir in half of the pine nuts. Portion into four bowls and top with the remaining pine nuts for garnish.
- *If you would like a more traditional version, you can eliminate the apricots and use Gouda, cheddar cheese, or a combination of the two. It will be a lovely, creamy sauce, perfectly safe for any gluten-intolerant diners in your home.
Check out these other amazing recipes!
The Cultural Dish: Pasta Carbonara
The Sensitive Epicure: Individual Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese (Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free)
Feed Me Phoebe: Green Eggs and Ham: Pasta Carbonara With Zucchini and Crispy Prosciutto
Red or Green?: Spicy Italian Sausage and Peppers Pasta
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Pasta With Apple-Sage Sausage, White Beans and Greens
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: A Healthier Crock-Pot Meat Lovers Pasta Sauce
Dishin & Dishes: Skillet Gnocchi
Devour: Low-Key Lasagna
Virtually Homemade: Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese With Crispy Bacon
Cooking With Elise: Scallops and Linguini
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Swiss Chard Lasagna
And Love It Too: Baked Spaghetti With Zucchini Noodles
FN Dish: The Most Satisfying Pasta Dishes
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