Are you a cheese lover? What is your favorite? Cheddar, Mozzarella, Baby Bell, Gouda, Pepperjack, Swiss, Gruyere, Jarlsburg, or Brie? I could keep going down the list. Ever dream about Mac & Cheese, Pizza, or anything for that matter that has that fantastical melted and stringy rich cheese in every bite? I know there are Mac & Cheese lovers out there. I was going to make Mac & Cheese but decided to step it up a bit with Gluten Free Penne pasta, but macaroni noodles work great too! It’s my Gluten Free Four Cheese Pasta Bake. OMG! This is delicious. There is nothing like a rich and creamy cheese sauce paired with delicious pasta, every bite is like a little piece of heaven. Don’t be afraid to make this dish at home. It is super easy, I will walk you through each step. All you need to do is buy some cheese and some gluten free pasta and then from there it is a breeze!
Let’s start with the easy step. Pasta.
I get this question a LOT! What is the best gluten free pasta? Now 9 years ago when I started, I would have said Tinyada. Now that is still a good pasta, but some other companies have been stepping it up and making good pasta too. Just recently I found that Barilla had a few gluten free pastas, so I gave them a try, and I loved it. I cooked the penne version to al-dente and it didn’t fall apart or get mushy. We tried there spaghetti too and it was perfect too. It’s also certified gluten free and made in a separate facility so it is perfectly safe, woo hoo!!! Okay, here are my top 4 favorites in order. Now if you are a pasta company reading this and you think you have the best pasta, check out our gluten free product review page and you can send us some and we would happily do a review. This is my honest list and I have not been paid or invited to mention any of these brands.
Okay, I am torn between these two brands. Sam Mills has been my favorite for such a long time now, but I think Barilla has passed it up, but they are close.
#1 Barilla Gluten Free Pasta I was so excited when I saw this on the shelf right in the normal pasta section at my local grocer. It was affordable too! Most gluten free pastas on the shelf are over $4.00 a bag and close to $5.00. I think we picked this up for just a little over $2.00. My husband said lets give this a try and see how it works. We didn’t even check to see if it was made on the same lines as their normal pasta. I was delighted when I got home and saw on their website that they use a dedicated facility for making their gluten free line. Also, they are certified gluten free. I always look for certifications, because anyone can say gluten free, but being certified gluten free you know the product is safe and can feel safe feeding it to your family. Right now Barilla has 4 varieties, spaghetti, penne, macaroni and rotini. I have just tried the spaghetti and the penne which were both great. Cook to al-dente and you have a perfect pasta! It tastes good too and no you cannot tell its gluten free. I really like how the outer edges of the pasta are not mushy like on some pastas. It is just like the texture of regular pasta. I love it! I made the recipe below with Barilla Penne brand pasta and cooked the noodles to al-dente and then baked it for a half hour and the noodles still held up and were not mushy and did not lose their shape. It was a miracle! Okay, to sum up here are some quick facts: Certified Gluten Free, Dedicated Facility, Made of Corn and Rice (sorry corn free folks), it’s affordable, and it’s right in the pasta isle, no need to search all over the store for the gluten free section.
Gluten Free Penne from Amazon, Click Here
#2 Sam Mills Pasta d’ Oro Gluten Free It’s 100% Corn Free, so it won’t work for you corn free folks. The great thing about this pasta is that it doesn’t fall apart or get mushy. Now I guess if you really overcooked it, it would, but if you cook it according to directions you have a great pasta that holds together well and tastes good. It works great for cooking and then baking too, like pasta bakes and macaroni and cheese just be sure to cook to al-dente as over cooking will make it less successful, however even with overcooking this one holds up better than most. I also like the flavor, I serve this too my entire family and they don’t know it’s not gluten free. It comes in spaghetti, penne, macaroni, mini lasagnas, rigatoni and more. They have these cute mini lasagna style noodles that I love to use for pasta bakes and stroganoff! I love that I can buy this at a really affordable price at Walmart of all places. A lot of gluten free pastas charge over $4.00 a bag and I can pick this up for just about $2.00.
#3 Mrs. Leepers Spaghetti This is a 100% Rice Pasta. I really like Mrs Leepers spaghetti. It really holds up well in baking and my daughter and I love it. It also holds up well, cooked to al-dente and baked in a spaghetti bake dish. I have tried the spaghetti and the multicolored rigatoni. The rigatoni doesn’t hold up as well in pasta salads, it seems to fall apart a little, but it is still tasty. I think this particular rice pasta holds up better than the Tinyada and Trader Joes brands. The cons to this pasta is that it’s expensive. At my store it’s close to $5.00 a bag, so I really don’t buy it much anymore unless I am desperate and can’t get to the other stores that have the more affordable brands. If this brand was more affordable I would use it a lot more often. This brand has a huge line of gluten free pasta corn pastas, and pasta mixes that are gluten free. Unfortunately, they are not found in stores near me, but they are available on Amazon.
Spaghetti, Click Here.
#4 Tinkyada For the first 5 or 6 years of our gluten free life, Tinkyada was my number one. Now that they are number 4 on my list, please don’t think they aren’t good. They are still my favorite for fettucini noodles. They taste great and they have a great variety of choices to choose from. They dropped to number 4 on my list because with over cooking or not carefully watched cooking they can get a little mushy, and the outer edges sometimes are mushy. The macaroni noodles and penne noodles have a hard time standing up to double cooking, meaning boiling and then baking. If you cook them just right to just at al-dente they will hold up better. The lasagna noodles are my least favorite as they just don’t hold up well in boiling or baking. They fettuccine noodles are my favorite and I love fettuccine, so we keep a pile of these in our cupboards. As far as other varieties, I still buy them and keep them in my cupboard as staples, especially when I find good sales. Tinkyada is great because it is made with rice (great for corn free folks) and brown rice (great for whole grain folks) and they have a lot of varieties to choose from, lasagna, spaghetti, fettuccini, rigatoni, macaroni, penne, shells and more. You can get these at most health food stores, many stores who have a gluten free section and on amazon. It is a little on the expensive side, unless you find good sales.
Fettuccine, Click Here
I have tried several other brands, but they just haven’t met my expectations. I am open to trying new brands, so if you have a favorite let me know!
Okay Now on to the Cheese!
In this dish I have combined four of the best tasting cheeses that combine well for a pasta bake or macaroni and cheese, but don’t limit yourself to these flavors. You can try other flavors you like too, just make sure they are good melting type cheeses. In my dish, I combined cheddar, because cheddar is just great in mac & cheese type dishes. Then I combined Gouda, it melts good, has a mild nutty flavor. If you don’t have Gouda you could use Jarlsburg or even a good quality Swiss. I really love the flavor of Gouda and it really makes this dish shine. Then I used Gruyere. If you want a rich, flavorful dish that has anything with cheese, mac & cheese, scalloped pototoes, quiches, and stratas, then you want to use Gruyere. It offers a rich flavor, little on the sweet and salty side and is a great melting cheese. You may have had it before if you ever had french onion soup. Then I used Parmesan cheese. What can I say Parmesan cheese is just an amazing cheese to add to anything, I use it often in just about everything, from pizzas, to quiches, pastas and more. The combination of these four cheeses just melted so well together and made such an amazingly delicious cheesy pasta bake.
Cheeses can be very expensive, especially when you graduate to the more gourmet cheeses like Gruyere, Jarlsburg, and Gouda. I highly recommend getting them at Costco or Sams club. They come in large sizes so you can make lots of cheesy dishes and they are affordable.
Okay, now to make the dish.
First, preheat your oven to 350º then boil your water. Once the water comes to a complete boil, pour in your pasta. Turn it down to about medium high heat, so it is a soft boil. Don’t forget to salt the water. Set your timer. You don’t want to over cook your pasta. Most gluten free pastas are done after 7 minutes. Check it at 5 minutes, 6, minutes and 7 minutes. You are looking for an al-dente texture, which means it will still be slightly firm when bitten into. Drain the noodles an immediately rinse with cold water, so that they don’t continue cooking.
Meanwhile, while the water is heating up and noodles are boiling we need to make our cheese sauce. For the cheese sauce, we need to make a roux. I first want to saute my onions so they are soft in my dish rather than crunchy. So melt the butter and saute the onions in the pan until the onions are soft and translucent. Add your salt, pepper and garlic. Stir to combine. Then we want to add the flour to make the roux. We make the roux to help thicken our cheese sauce. Stir in the flour and mix it in with all of the butter and juices in the pan. It will become very thick, this is what you want. Then pour in your half and half a little bit at a time, mixing well after each addition until all of the half and half is mixed in well. Now if you don’t have half and half you can use milk, it just won’t be as rich, or you can use cream or half cream and half milk.
Once your cream sauce is made, we add the cheese a little at a time until each addition is mixed in well. Then simmer over low heat until all the cheeses have melted together and made a nice creamy sauce. After your cheese is melted, fold in your fresh basil.
Pour your cheese sauce over your noodles and toss to coat. If desired top the pasta with sliced tomatoes. Then place in oven until the top gets slightly brown, about 30 minutes. Then enjoy the most delicious cheesy pasta! Enjoy! Let us know what you think.
Four Cheese Gluten Free Penne Pasta
- 1 package Barilla Penne Pasta or gluten free pasta of your choice
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup minced onion, fresh
- ¼ cup Mama’s Almond or Coconut Blend Flour
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper (White pepper if you have it)
- 2 cups half and half (or 2 cups milk or 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream)
- 4 oz. or 1 cup shredded Gouda cheese
- 4 oz. or 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 4 oz. or 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
- 4 oz. or 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped fine
- sliced roma tomatoes, if desired
- Preheat oven to 350°. Boil water for pasta. Add about ½ tsp. salt to your water. When water comes to a boil add pasta and turn heat down to medium high, so it’s a soft boil. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Check at 5 minutes, 6 minutes and 7 minutes. You want to cook only til al-dente, where it still has some texture when bitten into. Drain and rinse with cold water immediately.
- Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce. In a large sauce pan, melt butter with minced onion until onions are soft. Add salt, pepper and minced garlic, mix to combine. Reduce heat to medium low.
- Make the roux by stirring in flour, make sure to mix the flour into all of the butter and juices into the pan. The roux will be very thick. Then pour in half and half, a little at a time, mixing very well after each addition. Continue until all half and half is mixed in.
- Add cheese one at a time, mixing well after each one. Stir over medium low heat until the cheeses are nicely melted into the sauce. Stir constantly. Then fold in chopped fresh basil.
- Add pasta to desired baking dish. Pour cheese mixture over noodles and toss to coat. If desired top with sliced tomatoes.
- Bake at 350° until cheeses begin to brown, about 30 minutes.