It's cheesy. It's creamy. And, for most people (my sister, cough cough), Mac and cheese is certainly dreamy. Even before my celiac diagnosis, however, I wasn't a huge pasta junkie. So, for nearly two years, Mac and cheese left my plate and my mind. Until a cold windy night a few weeks ago when the idea of a dairy and gluten free Mac and cheese transformed into a craving. And then a reality.
Like a modern Frankenstein, I researched several recipes, picking apart aspects and combining them until I created the ultimate cheesy treat. The creamy sauce melts on the ingredients (and your taste buds). The recipe is easily adaptable (being Paleo, vegan and low fodmap friendly!) and quick to prepare ahead and whip up after a busy day of work or college classes. And, unlike Mom's traditional Mac, mine is packed with multiple servings of vegetables to create a healthy splurge!
To begin your trip to Mac and Cheese heaven, gather up the ingredients below (with unnecessary components marked as optional).
Servings: 1-2 (depending on desired size)
For the "Pasta":
1/2 cup of pre-cooked gluten free pasta (OPTIONAL: for Paleo, replace pasta with more zoodles)
1-2 cups of vegetables sliced lengthwise into thin strips (I typically use lots of zoodles/zucchini strips, squash, green beans, snow peas, and carrots)
Handful or two of kale/spinach/greens of choice
Cooking oil OR Vegetable/chicken stock
Precooked meat/fish/protein of choice (optional)
Pesto (favorite recipe - my homemade nut-free version is here)
Pumpkin seeds (optional, may be replaced by other seeds/nuts)
For the Cheese (Adapted from this recipe):
Few handfuls of daiya mozzarella cheese shreds
1/4 cup of dairy free milk (I use rice)
1 tbsp of flour (I use a homemade mix of buckwheat, millet, rice and tapioca but any earthy tasting one should work fine)
Spices of choice (I like thyme, oregano, mustard and turmeric)
To begin, first preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (or the maximum temperature your baking dish(es) can withstand, if lower). Then, prepare your pasta of choice following the boxes' instructions, as well as your protein, if desired or not already cooked.
While those are cooking (or as your first step), cut your preferred vegetables into thin strips. I prefer a 3:1 vegetable to pasta ratio, but you can adjust your veggie amounts according to how much pasta you like or how many servings you want to make. Once all of the vegetables are sliced, throw them in a medium sized pot to saute. Sometimes I use oil to cook them, but recently I've used double the amount of chicken stock instead. Not only does the lower the oil, but it also punches up the flavor. Either way, add your liquid and cook your vegetables on high heat for a few minutes. Then lower the heat to medium/low and add your greens, putting on the pot lid so the ingredients can steam/saute. When the vegetables become tender, turn off the heat and set the pot aside.
While the vegetables are cooking, you can prepare your cheese sauce. You are welcome to substitute daiya for your favorite dairy free cheese, or the sauce for your own recipe altogether, but this is the one that's won over my taste buds. Start by adding your milk, spices and flour to the pot, keeping the heat on high until the mix boils.
Then, toss in a handful of daiya cheese shreds and lower the heat to medium. Be sure to stir continuously as you add the cheese in order to properly incorporate all the ingredients. The daiya shreds may resist melting into a smooth sauce initially, but keep mixing and add more shreds until you obtain a thick, creamy sauce.
At this time, add your optional pasta and your cheese to your vegetables. I recommend adding the cheese sauce gradually, mixing everything together and test tasting versus dumping the entire sauce in. I often end up with extra sauce, which keeps in the fridge well for a few days and can be reheated on the stove top (perfect for making another quick individual serving of veggie macaroni later that week!).
Once you've reached your desired degree of cheesiness and distributed all the ingredients evenly, pour the mix into as many baking dishes as needed. I like to toss a few extra pasta noodles, spinach leaves, a sprinkling of flour, and daiya cheese shreds on top to form a kind of crust in the oven. I'm sure the Mac and cheese would taste delicious right off the stove top, but I personally like the combination of creamy middle and crunchy topping!
Pop your cheesy treats into the oven, and bake until the cheese starts bubbling and a crust forms (usually 15-30 minutes). While it cooks, I like to clean up the dishes (housewife in the making?) and prepare a lemon side salad to accompany. It's as simple as throwing mixed greens on a plate and, once the main course is ready, tossing them in a few squeezes of fresh lemon and drizzles of apple cider vinegar. Even more vegetable goodness!
To finish off the baked mac and cheese, though, I'll top it with a dab of pesto, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and, if I have it handle, a leftover fillet of fish (salmon is especially delicious)! Then, all you have to do is grab a fork and dig in!
Mac and cheese and I were never best (culinary) buds, but this recipe has turned our relationship all around! Now, whenever leftover pasta sits in the fridge or I'm craving a cheesy dinner, my taste buds demand this creamy sacrifice. There are worse addictions, I'd say!
Are you a Mac and cheese person? Do you like mixing creamy and crunchy? Comment below!