Well, there was this sale on cheese at the store…
I had actually planned to write about macaroni and cheese, between one thing and another. But then when we picked up the planned cheddar, but also Swiss and Mozzarella (because the sale was too good to pass up, and we can always use cheese) I thought it would be fun to bring the recipe up a notch. But you can use just one kind, if that makes more sense…
The other part of the story is that I have finally cooked gluten free macaroni that I am willing to eat. Pasta has been a real issue for us, since we like it with a very firm bite, and that texture is all about the high gluten durum wheat traditionally used in Italian pasta. I’ve always been willing to eat a slightly softer macaroni, but that’s “slightly softer” not “Downright mushy, once it’s in sauce” which is what I was getting…
But I seem to have gotten someplace with a new method. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add macaroni, return to a boil, and boil just two or three minutes. Then turn off the heat, and let it stand… The directions I saw said to let it stand for fifteen minutes, but I found that we liked it after barely five! Obviously, try every few minutes until it is done to your own taste. When it was cooked – and just a touch underdone for this recipe, since I would then bake it in sauce – I rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking, and set it aside.
And obviously, if you are perfectly happy with your method of cooking whatever macaroni you like, then use that. I wrote this for gluten free macaroni, because that’s what I eat, but once that’s cooked, none of the technique in the actual recipe changes whether you use gluten free or wheat. Up to you. Same for the Roux Cubes I call for – of course I use the gluten free ones I just wrote about, but if you do eat wheat, and prefer it, you can make and use the wheat based roux cubes I started with, three years ago.You didn't know how fast and easy - and delicious! - gluten free mac & cheese can be! Click To Tweet
See, macaroni and cheese can be really easy and delicious – and you can add a step or two to make it even better without it taking much more time or effort. I just went with the cheese, but you can add all sorts of things to vary it – a little ham is always good, or cooked sausage, some vegetables… We ate this as a meal for two, but adding a little meat would easily let you feed three, and as is it can be a side dish for four…
So, first, cook half a pound of macaroni with your preferred method of cooking macaroni (and if you don’t have a preferred method for gluten free, try the one above!) Rinse it to stop the cooking, and set aside.
Then you just need a simple cheese sauce. First, select your cheese – I used three ounces each of a sharp cheddar and (domestic) Swiss, and two ounces of mozzarella. You can use less cheese, especially if you add meat for protein – but it just won’t be as creamy and cheesy… If I were concerned about amounts (I know people who have to limit cheese for one issue or another) I would serve smaller portions as a side dish, rather than cutting quality of the final product. Cut up the cheese into chunks to melt easily.
Heat 2 cups of milk in a pan over medium heat. Now, I use a pan that is large enough to then mix the macaroni right in it, so I don’t need to use another bowl – that’s up to you. Stir in three roux cubes, stirring both so they melt evenly and more so the milk doesn’t scorch… As the sauce starts to thicken, stir in one tablespoon prepared mustard – I used a sharp, grainy one – and (if you like it) a teaspoon of prepared horseradish. I like the balance of the hot, sharp flavors with the creaminess of the sauce. Then start adding the cheese, a little at a time, stirring as it melts in.
Once you have a nice smooth sauce, remove it from heat, and stir in your macaroni. And now you have Choices!
OK, so you can eat it right now, and it will be good. (Well – keep it over the heat another couple of minutes to reheat the macaroni…) Nice and creamy, so much better than the blue boxes so many of us grew up with, pretty fast… I’ve certainly done that, and you can, too. Or you can turn it into a baking dish, and bake at 350° for 15 minutes, which improves the texture and gives you nicely browned cheesy bits. Or, before baking, sprinkle bread crumbs or crushed tortilla chips on top – even better – for a lovely crunchy brown topping. Which is what I planned to do…
Pro note. If you intend to use the last handful of broken chips at the bottom of the bag, tell your family so they don’t efficiently eat them and toss the bag (since there was only a handful left from that big bag.) Oh, well… (I’d skipped that step in the last test run, so there was no reason that Rich would even think about it as a possibility.) I did want the pretty brown topping in the picture, and it is nice and crunchy!
The first time I made real macaroni and cheese – not from a box – I served it to my grandmother, who ate some, sat back and sighed… “This is just like my mother’s!” I told my own mother this, and she looked at me with respect. “My grandma made the best macaroni and cheese in the Heights!” Well, I’m certainly not going to guarantee that this will be the best in your neighborhood – I think Grandma had a bit of nostalgia working, there, since she never made it herself – but it’s remarkably good as a weeknight dinner. And it’s particularly good in spring as a foil for glorious fresh vegetables – while it is in the oven, grill your asparagus, or saute broccoli rabe… a wonderful combination!
Yields 2 main dish, 4 side dish servings
You didn't know how fast and easy - and delicious! - gluten free mac & cheese can be!
15 minPrep Time
15 minCook Time
30 minTotal Time
- 8 oz gluten free macaroni
- 3 oz cheddar cheese
- 3 oz Swiss cheese
- 2 oz mozzarella
- 2 c milk
- 3 gluten free roux cubes
- 1 T prepared grainy mustard
- 1 t prepared horseradish
- 1/2 c gluten free breadcrumbs or crushed tortilla chips (opt.)
- Cook macaroni, drain and rinse, and set aside. Cube cheese.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Heat milk in a heavy pan while stirring in gluten free roux cubes until they melt and the sauce begins to thicken. Add the mustard and horseradish, and stir.
- Add the cheese, part at a time, stirring (to prevent scorching) while it melts smoothly.
- Once you have a smooth cheese sauce, remove from heat, stir in the macaroni. Then turn it into a one quart baking dish. Sprinkle crumbs (if using) over the top.
- Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.
If you like, stir in extras with the macaroni - cooked ham or sausage, cooked or frozen vegetables.