Mini list of things I’m obsessed with: corgis, 2000s telenovelas, and Panera Bread’s cheesy pasta. Enter this recipe for healthier stovetop mac & cheese, just as creamy and tasty as your favorite restaurant’s, only gluten-free and much more nutritious! This easy meal comes together in less than 30 minutes, and makes for a perfect weeknight dinner or side dish!
The inspiration for this dish comes straight from Panera. I’ve always been a mac and cheese fan, but only the baked kind. But since Panera has become my go-to destination for “healthier” fast food, I’ve grew to love their stovetop version. It’s just sooo creamy, so dreamy, and oh so comforting!
Now, you can enjoy this classic comfort food with a little less guilt. My version has more protein and is made completely gluten-free with chickpea pasta (that’s right) and almond flour for the cheese sauce!
Were you a little weirded out when I said chickpea pasta?
I get it. At first, I was too, but let me just tell you that this Banza brand chickpea cavatappi takes 90% like the real thing, with a slight and pleasant nuttiness to the bite. After tasting this dish, you just may never go back to wheat pasta!
So, ven conmigo and dive right into this bowl of cheesy coziness!
What is chickpea pasta?
It’s simply pasta made from garbanzo (aka chickpea) flour. It’s a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I highly recommend the Banza brand. It tastes great and really holds its own in a sauce.
Is chickpea pasta healthy?
Yes, chickpea pasta is quite nutritious! The cavatappi noodles used in this recipe have 22 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. Chickpeas themselves have tons of health benefits. They’re a great source of vitamins and minerals, and can possibly aid in improving digestion.
How to make a gluten-free cheese sauce
The secret to a perfect gluten-free cheese sauce? Almond flour, y’all!
I could sing the praises of almond flour all day and night. In my opinion, it’s the best gluten-free option because A) you can usually substitute it 1:1 with wheat flour and B) it has a neutral taste that works with pretty much every recipe.
Our cheese sauce starts with a roux, which is basically just butter and flour cooked together on the stovetop until it becomes a puffed up mixture. First, add your butter to a pan on medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted, add the flour. With a wooden spoon, stir the mixture using a figure 8 motion for about 5 minutes, or until lightly puffed. Next, add seasonings and cook for another minute, then pour in the liquids. We’ll let this cook on medium high heat for about 5 minutes more, until the sauce has thickened slightly.
This last bit is very important: remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool for a minute before adding the cheese. Otherwise, you risk a lumpy, curdled cheese sauce (I’ve been there and it ain’t fun!)
How to make healthier stovetop mac and cheese from scratch
This is a pretty straight-forward recipe that will have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes:
- Boil the pasta to al dente. According to the Banza package directions, you need to rinse the pasta with cold water after straining.
- While the pasta boils, make the sauce. After it has thickened, remove from heat and let cool for a minute before stirring in the cheeses.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, then fold and stir until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasonings to your taste, then serve!
Tips for making healthier stovetop mac and cheese
- Use cheeses that melt well: Feel free to switch up the kinds of cheese used in this recipe; just make sure it’s one that melts well.
- Taste and adjust at the end: Depending on your taste, you may want to adjust certain seasonings. Do this at the end, after you’ve added the pasta to the sauce. Also, if you’re using a particularly salty cheese (like the parmesan used here), be careful with the amount of salt you add to prevent it from being too salty.
- Prep before you start cooking: This recipe moves quickly, so be sure your seasonings are out and your cheeses are shredded/grated before starting.
- Use enough salt in the pasta water: PSA, you’re probably not using enough salt to cook your pasta! I’ve found that 1/2 tablespoon of fine sea salt for the pasta water works just fine.
- Don’t overcook the pasta: It only takes around 8-10 minutes to cook pasta until al dente. Anything more than that is asking for mushy noodles.
- Avoid pre-shredded cheese: I know it’s more convenient, but they contain preservatives that prevent the cheese from clumping in the bag, but that also means that they don’t melt as well. For better taste and smoother texture, always buy solid cheese, and shred/grate it yourself. It’s a good arm workout!
Check out our other dinner recipes…
Healthier Stovetop Mac & Cheese
- 8 ounces chickpea cavatappi (I use banza)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup (28 grams) almond flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper plus more to taste
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese shredded
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese grated
- In a large enough pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Add at least 1/2 tablespoon salt to the water. Once boiling, add the pasta and stir, cooking to al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Expect to see foam in the pot. Once finished, strain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
- While the pasta boils, make a roux by melting butter on a pan over medium heat, then adding flour. Stir with a wooden spoon in figure 8 motions until puffed slightly, aout 3-5 minutes. Add seasonings, stir, and cook for another minute. Pour in milk, half and half, and dijon mustard, then bring the stove to medium high heat. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 5-8 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and let cool for about 1 minute before adding the cheeses. Stir until smooth and combined, then add the pasta, folding until it's all coated with the cheese sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve warm with toppings, if desired.
- Nutrition facts are an estimate.