Welcome to contributor Chef Amy Fothergill, author of The Warm Kitchen and blogger at Amy the Family Chef. This gluten-free macaroni and “cheese” recipe is a favorite that she has adapted to fit her family’s tastes.
When we started down our journey of gluten-free and dairy-free living 7 years ago, I was in shock as I felt my culinary training only included those types of foods. Once I got out of my funk and started experimenting, I was able to recreate most of our favorite dishes with other ingredients; all except one. My daughter was never satisfied with my dairy-free cheese sauce.
I tried cheese substitutes, almond milk based slurries, spices, and many more flops. I would make things that my husband and I liked, and that my son tolerated but my 6 year old turned her nose up at. I took it upon myself, as a chef and mom, to be on a mission to try every combination and/or potential ingredient that could pass for a cheese sauce. We finally found one and I have my friend Sarah to thank for it. She introduced me to a cashew-based recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz that was originally posted on Post Punk Kitchen.
Isa’s recipe was a little too spicy for our taste so I have made some adjustmentsm using gluten-free macaroni and reducing certain sauce ingredients while increasing others. At the end of the day, it might not be the sauce for everyone, especially with a nut allergy, but it’s certainly worth a try for most. I even made it as a sauce for a steamed cauliflower-sauteed ground beef dish which I called paleo cheeseburger helper!
Also, if you are gluten-free, make sure to read my notes about cooking the gluten-free macaroni. It really will help. As I always say, “eat well and live well.”
Gluten-Free Pasta Cooking Tips
These tips are from my gluten-free, family-friendly cookbook, The Warm Kitchen.
- Make sure there is plenty of water when cooking pasta. Use a stock pot not a sauce pan. A large amount of water ensures that the pasta cooks evenly and does not stick. Don’t add oil; it’s a waste of money.
- Use a cover to bring the water to a boil quickly and most efficiently.
- Italians add a lot of salt to the boiling water when they cook pasta. I’ve come to use almost a tablespoon when I’m cooking a pound of pasta. However, be careful when you add the salt because the water might spit a bit and burn you. It flavors the pasta and helps it to be absorbed better by the sauce.
- Once you add the pasta to the water, stir the pasta with a large spoon or fork. Continue to stir every 2-3 minutes or the pasta may stick to the bottom of the pan. Stay near the stove and use a timer for cooking.
- Test pasta after about 8 minutes, regardless of what the package says (test after less time if the pasta is small). If it’s not done, continue to test in 1-2 minute increments until pasta is cooked to your liking.
- Once cooked, don’t over-stir or the pasta will break apart.
Special Diet Notes: Chef Amy’s Gluten-Free Macaroni and Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan / plant-based, and vegetarian.
- ¾ cups raw cashews, soaked in warm water for at least 2 hours and up to 5
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion, rough chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ¾ cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1½ tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch or arrowroot starch
- 1 ½ tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1¼ teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground mustard
- ½ teaspoon turmeric (add 1 teaspoon if you like a slightly spicier sauce)
- 1 roasted red pepper (jarred or homemade)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 lb gluten-free macaroni pasta
- While cashews are soaking, prep the other ingredients. This way, once the soaking is done, the sauce can be make in under 10 minutes.
- In a medium to large pot, saute onion in olive oil until soft and golden, being careful not to burn. Add a little salt if the onions are looking dry. Once the onion is almost all done, add the garlic and cook 30-60 seconds. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Save the pot to use later. Note: If you are going to make the sauce later, this is a good step at which to stop. Once the onion is cooked and the other ingredients are measured, the sauce comes together quickly.
- If you are going to use the sauce for pasta, start heating the water now. Place a large pot of water on the stove with a cover. See tips below for cooking gluten-free pasta.
- Drain and rinse the cashews, and add them to a large food processor or blender (I have found a high powered blender makes this sauce very creamy and smooth).
- Add the remaining ingredients, except pasta, along with the onion and garlic mixture. Process or blend mixture until smooth and creamy, about 2-3 minutes. If using a food processor, scrape down the sides after 1 minute.
- Taste sauce. It will be a little gritty from the starch but check for flavor. Add more salt if it tastes “flat” or more nutritional yeast if you want more of a “cheesy” flavor.
- Transfer the sauce to the pan which was used to saute the onion and garlic. Place on stove and heat over medium, stirring every few minutes. The sauce needs about 10-15 minutes to heat up and thicken. While the sauce thickens, cook the pasta al dente (see gluten-free pasta cooking tips in the post above).
- Once the pasta is cooked and the sauce is thick enough, place the pasta in the same pot which was used to cook it. Slowly pour in the sauce, stirring in between, until pasta is well coated but not “swimming”.
- Simmer sauce and pasta together, then serve. Add more sauce to the pasta if needed. Remaining sauce should be place in the fridge and should be used within 5 days.