My favorite late night snack or go-to dinner when I was single was frozen 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 convenience foods that I miss, but this is one I really yearn for.
So I went looking for recipes that approximate the flavors of the Stouffer’s blend and found a few online. And then one caught my attention because it was made without a roux (a thickening blend of cooked flour and fat). This automatically eliminated the primary gluten element in most cheese sauce recipes. Today’s recipe is gluten-free (with the use of GF pasta) and absolutely delicious!
There is also no need to worry about cooking the sauce to thicken it or whisking like crazy to avoid 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.
Regular pasta has a lot of natural flavor, but gluten-free is quite 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. Yep, I’m in a Sriracha kind of mindset right now. I was a bit heavy-handed (oops!) so I will add a bit less next time … at The Artist’s request, LOL.
The other thing I like is that this sauce 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 ingredient in the mix. And before you ask, yes, all of these pictures are of my gluten-free version, complete with GF breadcrumb topping!
Gluten-free 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. I made adjustments to the recipe that I am sharing with you based on my experience. 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 would happily 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.
GF pastas also do not have a lot of flavor so be sure to add extra salt to the water, up to 2 tbsp for a large pot. The water should taste quite salty, and that takes a lot more salt than most people are used to using. For even more flavor use vegetable or chicken stock instead of plain water. This is one of my favorite methods of cooking pasta and rice.
Kitchen Skill: How to Cook Gluten-Free Pasta
Gluten-free pasta definitely behaves and cooks differently than traditional wheat pastas. Often made primarily with 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 and tasting until they are just right. There will be a little carry-over cooking, but not as much as with regular wheat pasta. And note that each brand will take a different amount of time to be perfectly cooked.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 lb elbow macaroni or GF pasta*
- 7 eggs
- 2-1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tsp to 1 tbsp Sriracha hot chile sauce or other favorite, optional (Sriracha is gluten-free)
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (Worchestershire is gluten-free)
- 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
- 4 slices white sandwich bread or 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 9x13-inch baking pan.
- 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.
- 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.
- While the casserole is baking, pulse the bread cubes and butter together in a While the casserole is baking, pulse the bread cubes and butter together in a food processor until crumbly. Add the salt and onion powder (if using) and pulse twice more to distribute.
- Carefully remove the casserole 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 at the table for those who want more zesty heat.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- * 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 absorbs more liquid than regular pasta and you will need the extra pasta water for the cheesy, souffle-like consistency.
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