Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese #ComfortFoodFest

This entry is part 35 of 54 in the series Food Network

Today’s Food Network #ComfortFoodFest is all about Macaroni and Cheese. I can’t imagine a more fun collection of recipes to have all in one place than those put together by the talented bloggers in this group. Make sure you check out all of the recipes listed below the recipe and on our Pinterest page. I promise your mouth will be watering!

If you or anyone in your family has been put on a gluten-free diet, you know how frustrating it is when you or your child wants their favorite comfort foods and you have to say no. This recipe may not be exactly the same as the “blue box” version, but everyone will enjoy it and no one will know that it is gluten-free. No more saying no!

Many classic French sauces depend on a roux (prounounced “roo”) for thickening and Bechamel, the base for 95% of the macaroni and cheese recipes out there is one of them. Roux is traditionally made by cooking equal parts of flour and butter until they just start to turn a light golden color and have a slightly nutty aroma. The inclusion of flour in most sauces makes them unsafe for anyone avoiding gluten. But you can use sweet rice flour just as easily and get great results. Just like regular flour, watch it carefully because it can go from pale to burned extremely quickly and sweet rice flour is especially sensitive to the heat.

Another trick to the perfect white sauce – the old-fashioned name for a Bechamel sauce – is to never let the sauce boil once you’ve stirred in the cheese and it is melted. If it comes back to a boil, your sauce will break and become grainy. Be patient, if you keep stirring, the cheese will melt and your sauce will be silky smooth.

The basic “recipe” for converting any mac and cheese recipe to gluten-free, is to replace the 2 tbsp regular all-purpose flour with the same amount of sweet rice (or glutinous) flour and add it as soon as the 2 tbsp butter is melted. You don’t want any browning to occur or the rice will burn. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a flat-edged spatula. It will only take about 1 minute to reach the right temperature and color. Add in 2 cups warm milk, whisking until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in 10 oz of shredded cheese (about 2-1/2 cups). Reduce the heat to low and stir until the cheese is completely melted.

Grated Cheddar cheese

Grated Cheddar cheese

The other thing that is different about using gluten-free pasta in a mac and cheese recipe is that it absorbs more liquid than normal pasta. I use up to 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water added to the cheese sauce to make it thinner than I normally would to compensate for the extra absorbent qualities of most gluten-free pastas. Try any recipe and if you find you need more liquid, make a note of it for future meals.

The technique for a basic gluten-free sauce and dozens of amazing macaroni and cheese recipes can be found in Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord. If you love mac and cheese and are interested in finding new ways to interpret it, Melt is the book for you. The authors have elevated the traditional family favorite into an elegant meal worthy of any fine dining establishment. You will discover a whole new range of cheeses to try, interesting ingredients to add, and creative options for serving that will keep you and your family happy for months to come. It is a beautiful book that you will enjoy having in your library for years to come.

One of the things that sets the recipes in Melt apart is the use of unusual cheese pairings. If you are an adventurous eater, try using a combination of cheeses in your casserole. Each one melts at a different temperature and has characteristics that make some more velvety than others. The goal is to find a blend that gives you a lot of cheese flavor with a satisfying richness. For a traditional mac and cheese that children will clamber for, I like to combine sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, mild cheddar and smoky cheddar. There is a lot of cheese flavor with enough creaminess to suit my tastes.

These days there are many good gluten-free pastas on the market and they are relatively easy to find even in the smallest towns. If you cannot find what you are looking for locally, you can always mail order. Amazon has a great selection and you can try several until you find your favorite brand. The Aritist and I are partial to the pastas from Schar (try their penne or fusilli in this recipe) because the blend of rice and corn flours with pea protein stands up to sauces beautifully and the pasta has a texture very similar to regular wheat pasta. With someone as picky about pasta as The Artist, I am thrilled to find a version he is happy with.

Enjoy all these macaroni and cheese recipes for a wide variety of versions. I know there will be many that you want to bookmark for future meals!

Gluten-Free Tips:

Look for hidden sources of gluten if you are cooking for anyone with Celiac or a high sensitivity to gluten. If you are in doubt, leave out that ingredient. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Kitchen Skill: How to Cook Gluten-Free Pasta

Gluten-free pasta definitely behaves and cooks differently than traditional wheat pastas. Made primarily from rice flours, they can be tough to get just right. Too little cooking and they will be crunchy; too long in the water and they will turn to mush. Start testing the pasta about 1 minute before the shortest cooking time on the package. Keep testing/tasting until they are just right. They also do not have a lot of flavor so be sure to add extra salt to the water, up to 1-1/2 tbsp for a large pot. The water should taste salty – and that takes a lot more salt than most people are used to using.

Gluten-Free Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Yields 8
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  1. Topping
  2. 4 tbsp butter
  3. 1/2 tsp onion powder, optional
  4. 1/2 tsp garlic powder, optional
  5. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  6. 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  7. 1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs or panko (panko is made with wheat bread)
  8. Pasta
  9. 3 quarts of water
  10. 1 tsp salt
  11. 4 tsp chicken base or bouillon granules (Better Than Bouillon Organic brand is gluten-free)
  12. 1 lb gluten-free pasta of your choice, such as penne, elbows, small shells, or ziti
  13. Cheese Sauce
  14. 2 cups half and half or evaporated milk
  15. 1 bay leaf
  16. 1/2 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  17. 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, optional
  18. 1-1/2 tsp Dijon or other prepared mustard, optional
  19. 2 tbsp butter
  20. 2 tbsp sweet rice flour (gluten-free option) or all-purpose flour
  21. 1/2 tsp turmeric, optional (adds the bright yellow color kids love)
  22. Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
  23. 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  24. 3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
  25. 1/2 cup grated Smoked Mozzarella cheese or mild cheddar cheese
  26. 1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×13-inch or similarly sized baking dish.
  2. Prepare Topping: In a small skillet, melt butter and using a fork, stir in remaining topping ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Cook pasta: In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil, stir in salt and chicken base, return to a boil, and stir in pasta. Cook to just under al dente or according to package directions. Pasta should still be a little underdone – it will finish cooking in the oven. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain cooked pasta in a colander set over a large bowl to capture some of the cooking water. Shake the excess water from the pasta and transfer into a large mixing bowl. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce slightly. Set pasta and water aside.
  4. While pasta is boiling, heat half and half in a saucepan over medium heat, with bay leaf, onions, nutmeg, and mustard, until steaming hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside to steep. Alternately, you can place milk in a heatproof container, such as a Pyrex measuring cup, and heat in the microwave.
  5. Make the Sauce: In a large skillet, combine butter and flour and cook over medium heat, whisking, until smooth and there are no lumps, until the raw smell of flour is gone, 1 to 3 minutes. (If you are using sweet rice flour cook on medium-low and only cook 1 minute.) Strain the solids from the milk and discard, then slowly pour milk into the flour and butter mixture, whisking constantly, making sure there are no lumps. Continue to cook, whisking, until thickened and bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in turmeric, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. Remove from heat and add all the cheeses. Stir until everything is melted and sauce is smooth. Pour over pasta in mixing bowl, tossing until thoroughly coated. If sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it.
  7. Bake casserole: Pour into prepared baking dish, sprinkle top with breadcrumb mixture, and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until heated through and top is browned and crispy. You can put the pan under a broiler for a few minutes if needed for browning. Serve hot.
The Heritage Cook ®

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Make sure you check out all of these recipes from my blogging friends!

Feed Me Phoebe: Jalapeno-Scallion Mac n Cheese
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Triple Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake
Dishing With Divya: Baked Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese
Weelicious: Green Mac and Cheese
Taste With The Eyes: Macaroni and Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Gravy
Red or Green: Mac & Cheese with Tuna and Green Chiles
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Mac & Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower and Leeks
Virtually Homemade: Ham and Cheese Mac and Cheese Bites
Domesticate Me: Skinny Mac with Cauliflower Cheese Sauce and Chicken Sausage
The Sensitive Epicure: Cauliflower ‘n Cheese (Gluten-Free)
Devour: Mix-Ins for Macaroni and Cheese
From My Corner of Saratoga: Queso Mac and Cheese
FN Dish: 10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese

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