Macaroni and cheese never grabbed me. The few times I tried the American casserole classic, made with a cheddar sauce, I found it to be dry and unappealing. Then Stouffer's happened.
One night I watched a friend zap a pan of frozen Stouffer's macaroni and cheese in the microwave. Like me, she generally prefers homemade to storebought. As she ate, I saw the appeal: the creaminess of the sauce. In the name of food research, I swiped a forkful from her plate (I wasn't gluten-free at the time.). My reaction? Well, thank goodness for willpower. It kept me from grabbing her plate, running off, and eating the whole thing.
If a frozen macaroni and cheese achieved a creamy sauce, a homemade one could too, right?
But they never did. One recipe called for eggs in the sauce, making it more custard-like, while another used evaporated milk and half-and-half, creating a rich sauce that muted the flavor of the cheese. One version even used Velveeta, and the result was saucy but I didn't like the flavor. Was it impossible to make a macaroni and cheese at home that was both flavorful and saucy? When I started eating gluten-free, grabbing a box of Stouffer's to satisfy a mac and cheese craving was no longer an option. I needed to find a recipe I liked.
While flipping through an old copy of Cook's Country magazine, I saw a promising recipe.
I converted it to gluten-free by replacing the wheat flour needed to thicken the sauce with sweet rice flour and the wheat pasta with brown rice pasta. Everything else I left the same. The amount of cheese in the casserole startled me a little. One and half pounds! Since there was more cheese than pasta (it used one pound of pasta) I worried it might be too rich. It wasn't. And, as promised, the sauce, even after baking, stayed creamy.
Had I finally found the winning recipe? Yes! But this didn't stop me from tinkering with it. One time I reduced the amount of whole milk and bumped up the chicken broth. Another time I swapped the ratio of Colby to cheddar, using more cheddar because I like its sharper flavor. Finally, because as much as I like macaroni and cheese, I don't need a 9x13-inch pan of it; I reduced the recipe by half.
Sauce: Replace the chicken broth with gluten-free vegetable broth for a vegetarian macaroni and cheese. If you want a rich sauce, omit the broth and use all milk; for a (slightly) lighter-tasting sauce, use reduced fat (2%) milk. Skim milk doesn't work as well.
Pasta: When cooking the pasta, boil it until it's al dente or it will overcook and become bloated and mushy in the casserole. Look for your pasta to be firm but yielding. If it crunches when you bite into it, cook it a little longer.
Cheese: The combination of cheddar and Colby provides great flavor and creaminess. If you prefer to use all cheddar or all Colby, go ahead. Or use any combination of the two.
Topping: You'll sprinkle gluten-free breadcrumbs over the macaroni and cheese before baking. If you don't have gluten-free breadcrumbs on hand, replace the breadcrumbs with grated Parmesan cheese.
Adapted from Cook's Country Magazine.
- 8 ounces gluten-free elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced or put through a garlic press
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
- 1 1/4 cups chicken broth, homemade or reduced sodium
- 1 cup whole milk
- 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
- 4 ounces extra sharp Colby cheese, grated
- 3 tablespoons cup dried gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.
Fill a medium (3 quart) pot 3/4 full with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. When water reaches a boil, add one teaspoon salt and pasta. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon during the first few minutes of cooking. Set a colander in the sink drain the pasta.
In a large (5 1/2 quart) pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and mustard. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is translucent, about one minute
Switch to a wire whisk. Add sweet rice flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until thick and light brown, about three minutes.
In a slow and steady steam, add chicken broth and milk. Whisk until mixture thickens. Cook until mixture is thick and beings to bubble. Turn off heat.
Check pasta. When it’s almost tender, drain and return to cooking pot.
Finish making the sauce. Turn heat to low. Add cheese, one handful at a time, until incorporated. Stir gently using a wooden spoon until cheese melts. Sauce should be smooth.
Add pasta to sauce. Stir to combine. Pour into an 8x8-inch baking pan. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese evenly over the top of pasta.
Bake until sauce is bubbling and edges are starting to turn golden brown, about or 25-30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.