Sometimes I forget how hard the transition from gluten-free (or even something as basic as paleo or just plain healthy) can be. It has been several years for me now, so I forget the struggles I once had. My gluten-free diet has evolved over the years and depending on my health at any given point may fluctuate as to how strict I want to be. I remember when I first started out, I only ate veggies and meat. Period. Unless I went to a restaurant that offered gluten-free pasta or sandwiches or pastries, that was all I made. Since then, I have experimented with flours and pastas and found which ones I prefer to use mainly because of taste and simplicity. This process never ends. My local store may start carrying a new product or as I have recently been unfortunate to discover may discontinue carrying a product I like. So far the store has discontinued carrying (and it may be that the company stopped producing it) my Pillsbury’s gluten-free cookie dough and it threatens to discontinue carrying several dry mixes for my gluten-free cheesy breads and cinnamon rolls. Sad times.
One of the struggles I hear from my friends often is making gluten-free pasta. If you have ever tried it, you know what I’m talking about. Usually the end result is a big pile of mush that is not at all appetizing, and the idea is promptly thrown out. Trust me, I have had my fair share of piles of mush. On more than one occasion. And once I had mastered the art of cooking gluten-free pastas I tried to combine them with crockpot meals or stove-top meals. Doesn’t work out too well either. All you get is a big pile of mush in your otherwise nicely cooked meals. Such a waste. It can be very disappointing.
All this to say, for this blog post I would like to share a tried-and-true way to cook gluten-free pasta that my family does enjoy eating with me. To be honest, I have cooked gluten-free pasta for so long now, I’m not sure I can cook regular pasta anymore. But I hope this is very enlightening and can broaden your meal-plans as it has broadened mine.
Oven-Baked Mac & Cheese
– 1 lb or 16 oz bag of Gluten-free pasta
– 1 tbsp of Olive oil
– 4 cups of Milk
– 4 cups of Shredded cheese
– 1/2 cup of Butter
– 1/2 cup of Gluten-free flour
– Salt and Pepper to taste
– 1 lb or 16 oz pkg of Kielbasa (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of water 3/4’s full. Turn down the heat so the pot doesn’t bubble over. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to water. Pour in the pasta. Keep heat to just under boil and cook pasta for at least 10 minutes. Make sure you stir the noodles every couple of minutes. I’ve added the olive oil to help keep them from sticking together, but you still will need to keep stirring them. The first couple of times you may notice that they like to stick together or to the pot. Just keep scraping the pot and breaking the noodles apart every couple of minutes. After the 10 minutes start testing the pasta to see if it is soft enough. You want the noodles to be soft enough to chew but firm enough to keep it’s shape. You may need to leave the noodles in for another minute or two until they are soft enough. But you want to catch them before they start breaking down. I promise that you will get the hang of it. Once they are at the right firmness strain the noodles immediately. You don’t want them sitting in water any longer than necessary or they will turn to mush.
– I would just like to note that the quality of the gluten-free noodles really does matter. Some will never keep it’s firmness after cooking. That is one of the most frustrating things about learning to cook gluten-free, you have to experiment with different brands until you find what works best for you. My favorite pasta to use is pictured below. I’m not sure if it is just from my region or if you can find it in your local stores too. But this one stands up to being cooked and I can add it to other meal dishes and it still keeps it’s shape after being mixed in. It even can be reheated after being in the refrigerator.
– I would also like to note that rice-based pasta seems to have the best taste and texture out of all the gluten-free pastas. There is a new ramen-type noodle that we tried from the store that is rice-based that tasted and cooked pretty well.
Now that your pasta is sitting in the strainer, use the same pot to cook your cheese sauce. Turn the heat to low. Melt the butter in the pot. Slowly add the gluten-free flour to the melted butter and stir until completely mixed. Start adding your milk but keep stirring. Once you’ve added the milk, add the cheese. Keep stirring as your add each cup of cheese. Salt and pepper the cheese sauce to taste. You can turn up the heat to medium/medium high to help melt the cheese but be careful not to turn the milk. Once the cheese has melted to your liking you can turn off the heat and add the noodles into the mixture. The noodles may still stick together from being in the strainer but they will break apart as you mix them into the cheese sauce. Using either one 9 x 13 pan or two 8 x 8 pans, spray non-stick cooking spray onto the baking dishes. Pour your cheese and noodles into the pans. You can also mix in any kind of sliced meat into your dish if you so desire. My family loves kielbasa, so we add that to just about everything. (Unfortunately the little princess doesn’t seem to like it as much so I have been avoiding it more lately). Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
My son still isn’t too fond of noodles, but he loved the kielbasa and cheese!
There are a couple of basic rules to remember when cooking gluten-free pasta:
1. Quality really does matter
2. Always have the water boiling first before adding the pasta
3. Stir constantly
4. When you test your pasta, you want it to be soft enough to chew but firm enough to keep it’s shape
5. Once the pasta is finished pull it out of the water immediately
I hope this has been helpful and you can begin to add pasta back into your gluten-free diets. If you want to add pasta to meals, always cook the noodles by themselves and never let them sit in a soup or stew. Anytime that I have tried this they have deteriorated. I have come to the point where I will keep the noodles separate from something like a chicken noodle soup until I add it to my personal bowl. But anything with a thick sauce like Mac & Cheese or Alfredo or Red Sauce seems to be okay and will hold up even to being refrigerated. It’s so nice to have a comfort food available again!
Let me know if you have found any other types of gluten-free noodles that work for you! I think once I’ve found something that works for me, I’m extremely hesitant to try anything else for fear I will ruin another meal. Do you struggle with that too? I’d love to hear your struggles and and stories as well!