Gluten Free Baked Pesto Penne Recipe
The very first “classic” recipe I recall setting out to learn was Béchamel or white sauce. I was a teenager at the time and it just seemed like a good thing to know how to make.
One of the five “mother sauces” of French cuisine, Béchamel is really versatile and can be the base of so many other fabulous things such as cream soups, spinach gratin, and cheese dip (not to mention mac and cheese!) Personally I love Béchamel so much I can just eat it off a spoon and when no one is looking, I do just that.
Béchamel is nothing more than butter, flour, milk, salt, and pepper. Sometimes the French heat the milk with an onion studded with cloves and the Italians add in nutmeg but in essence with the help of some heat and whisking, those four ingredients transform into something much greater than the sum of their parts.
Béchamel starts with a roux – equal parts butter and flour cooked together until it forms a sort of paste. Since Béchamel is a white sauce, the roux is not browned as it can be for other things such as jambalaya; the flour and butter are cooked just long enough to cook out any flour taste.
This brings me to a very important point for us gluten free peeps, the flour. You can, of course, use an all-purpose gluten free flour blend or you can simply use sweet rice flour (sometimes called glutinous rice flour). Sweet rice flour has just the right amount of starchiness to it and is neutral enough to make it perfect for gluten free Béchamel (or gravy for that matter.)
What you are going to use your Béchamel for and how thick you want it is all about how much milk to roux you use; for a thin, pourable sauce (such as cream soup or sausage gravy) one tablespoon of butter and flour per cup of milk is used, a medium-bodied sauce (think mac and cheese) is two tablespoons butter and flour per cup, and for really thick sauces such as the base of a soufflé, 3 tablespoons per cup.
Don’t be afraid of Béchamel, it is so simple to master and once you do, you will find a zillion ways to use it!
One of my very favorites is in this Gluten Free Baked Pesto Penne recipe, where I combine Béchamel with gluten free penne pasta (I like to use Pastariso Brown Rice Penne) and one of my other favorite sauces – pesto. I layer it all up with some extra parmesan cheese, bake it up and the end result is heaven in a bite.
- 1 pound gluten free penne pasta
- 4 cups fresh basil packed
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup sweet rice flour or all-purpose gluten free flour
- 4 ½ cups milk
- Kosher or sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep dish lasagna pan.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the penne according to the package directions. Reserve about ½ cup of the starchy pasta water and drain the penne.
Put the basil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, and 1/3 cup of olive oil in a blender or food processor. Process until a smooth paste forms. If needed add a little more olive oil.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk the flour and butter as it cooks for a minute. Add about 1 cup of the milk and whisk well to dissolve any lumps. Add the rest of the milk, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the temperature and simmer the mixture until thick, about 15 minutes. Ladle about ¾ cup of the béchamel into the bottom of the prepared pan. Stir the penne into the rest of the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, stir in some of your reserved pasta water.
Layer half the pasta in the pan, spread half the pesto on top and sprinkle on ½ cup of Parmesan cheese. Repeat one more time. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper on top and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the pasta is bubbly and the top is beginning to brown.
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