I have been craving mac and cheese for months and I had the opportunity to make it. My favorite late night snack or go-to dinner when I was single was Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese. It has the perfect blend of cheese, a creamy sauce and perfectly cooked pasta. But now that I am gluten-free I can no longer have it. Bah humbug. There are a lot of foods that I miss, but this is one I really yearn for.
So I went looking for recipes that approximate the flavors and found a few online. And then one caught my attention because it was made without a roux (a combination of flour and fat). This automatically eliminated the primary gluten element in most recipes. This recipe is naturally gluten-free and absolutely delicious!
There is also no need to worry about cooking the sauce to thicken it or avoiding lumps. The sauce ingredients are all stirred together and then poured into the baking dish. The eggs in the dish solidify during baking and create an almost soufflé-like texture.
The other thing I liked is that it uses buttermilk. This gives the sensation of heavy cream with a fraction of the calories. With the fat in the butter and cheese, it is good to have a lower calorie option! The original recipe was very basic and would suit children or those unaccustomed to much seasoning in their food. But I wanted to kick it up a notch.
Regular pasta has a lot of natural flavor, but gluten-free is usually rather bland. Boosting the aromatics and adding more seasoning can help that. So I added shallots, onions, and Worcestershire sauce. The Artist and I like a spicy kick every once in awhile so I also added some Sriracha. I was a bit heavy-handed (oops!) so I will add a bit less next time … at The Artist’s request, LOL.
Every time I make a recipe with gluten-free ingredients I learn new lessons and this recipe is no exception. GF pasta absorbs more liquid than wheat-based pastas and that changed the consistency of the final casserole. The flavor was fantastic, but it was just slightly on the dry side. This is why it is important to test every recipe and to make notes in your cookbooks with any changes you make.
While this isn’t exactly like Stouffer’s (my search continues), it is very flavorful and something I am happy to eat every week! Give this a try and see what you think. If you like spicy foods, I think you will enjoy the heat from the Sriracha. Make sure you pass extra at the table so each person can add more if they like.
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.
Spicy Mac and Cheese Family Casserole
© 2012 Jane Evans Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserved.
Inspired by a recipe on Taste of Home’s Community
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 lb elbow macaroni or GF pasta*, cooked and drained
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp to 1 tbsp Sriracha hot chile sauce, or other favorite, optional
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp ground dry mustard or prepared mustard
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 shallot, peeled and very finely minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced, optional
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, optional
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Buttered Breadcrumb Topping
4 slices white sandwich bread (about 6 slices of GF bread), cubed
3 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp onion powder, optional
Chopped fresh parsley or chives
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan.
Prepare Pasta: Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta in very well-salted water (it should taste salty) in a large saucepan, stirring often to keep it from sticking, until done, following package directions. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water if using gluten-free pasta.
Drain thoroughly in a colander, shaking off excess water. Leave pasta in the colander and stir occasionally to keep it from sticking together.
Make Cheese Sauce: In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until thoroughly blended. Add the buttermilk, Sriracha, Worcestershire, dry mustard, and melted butter; whisk until smooth.
Stir in the cheddar, Monterey Jack, shallots, garlic, green onions, salt and pepper. Add cooked pasta, tossing to coat evenly with sauce. It will be very soupy, but don’t worry, that is normal. Carefully pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the Parmesan. Place in hot oven and bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes.
Make Topping: While the casserole is baking, pulse the bread cubes and butter together in a food processor until crumbly. Add the salt and onion powder and pulse twice more to distribute.
Finish Casserole: Carefully remove baking pan from the oven and sprinkle the top with prepared breadcrumbs. Return to the oven and continue to bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until a knife inserted near the middle comes out clean and crumb topping is golden brown. You can put the casserole under the broiler for a minute if additional browning is needed.
Serve topped with some chopped parsley or chives, a little more black pepper, and pass the bottle of Sriracha for those who want more spice.
* If you are using gluten-free pasta, save 1/2 cup of the pasta water (scoop it out before draining pasta) and add to the buttermilk mixture. GF pasta is more absorbent than regular pasta and you will need the extra liquid.
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