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Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese {gluten free}

Noodle nirvana. Comfort food. There’s nothing like a dish of hot bubbling macaroni and cheese to make you feel warm and cozy. Penne pasta, plenty of sharp cheddar cheese and a surprise topping—sunflower crusted macaroni and cheese.

Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese. Simply a casserole of grated sharp cheese melted into sauce, stirred into hot cooked noodles, and baked with something crunchy on top. It’s basic sustenance—and easy to make from scratch.

When the world has got me down and I need something gooey cheesy—I head to the kitchen and whip up homemade mac and cheese. Especially this one. I feel better even before it starts to bubble in the oven.

Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese

Growing up, macaroni and cheese showed up on the dinner table menu many a Friday night. We observed meatless Fridays, abstaining from meat following the rules of our religion. On occasion breaded fish sticks made an appearance, direct from the oven by way of the freezer, but more often than not, on Fridays we dined on Mom’s homemade, not from a box, macaroni and cheese.

This recipe is very much like the mac and cheese I ate as a kid. Same technique–except with gluten free brown rice pasta. Typically, there’s a layer of buttery breadcrumbs on top–Mom put wheat germ and butter on hers. I may be biased, but I think my coating of toasted sunflower seeds trumps both—it makes the macaroni and cheese even more gooey and soul-foodie–and keeps it gluten free.

ingredients for Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese

Can you call it a white sauce if the liquid is vegetable broth instead of milk? Traditional white sauce, the base of Mom’s macaroni and cheese, is made by stirring milk into a butter and flour roux. In this recipe, the liquid is vegetable stock. Of course you can go with milk—though I think you’ll agree that vegetable stock based “white” sauce has more flavor. And when you stir in all the cheese… nirvana.

I switch out three ingredients to make this macaroni and cheese gluten-free.

  • The pasta: Trader Joe’s sell an excellent gluten free brown rice penne pasta that holds together when cooked, unlike some gluten free pastas that break apart when they get near boiling water. Unless you read the label you would never know this product is gluten free. (see note)
  • The roux: Brown rice flour blends with butter and thickens a sauce the same way as all purpose flour.
  • The crust: Simply sunflower seeds, toasted and ground in the blender. Unbelievably scrumptious—gluten free or not–you want this as the topping on your mac and cheese.

Mom seasoned macaroni and cheese with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a little bit of garlic powder. With the vegetable broth base you don’t need either, though if you decide your mix needs salt—try garlic salt. I’d add the Worcestershire, except I read the label–now they put freeking corn syrup in it. What for—to make the anchovies taste better?

Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese

My kitchen is all torn apart. Every door and drawer is missing the front and there’s masking tape all over the place. It’s getting transformed with paint and antique glaze– thanks to my awesome handyman husband. When it’s finished, I’m getting in there and making us a big hot dish of sunflower crusted macaroni and cheese.

Note: Don’t live near a Trader Joe’s? This penne pasta would be a good substitute—same ingredients—just brown rice and water.

Wishing you a fabulous week–get in the kitchen and cook something delicious!

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5 from 1 vote
Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese
Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
35 mins

Hot bubbly macaroni and cheese, food that comforts the soul—yum! Serve with a mixed green salad. For dessert—how about a couple of pieces of dark chocolate? Serves 3 or 4 persons.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keyword: macaroni, cheese, sunflower seeds, vegetarian
Servings: 4 servings.
Author: Letty's Kitchen
  • 1 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus some to grease the pan
  • 2 tablespoonls brown rice flour
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 8 ounces brown rice penne pasta
  • 8 ounces white cheddar cheese grated
  • Pinch cayenne
  • sea salt if needed (see note)
  1. Rub a 2-quart casserole dish with butter.
  2. Grind the toasted sunflower seeds in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  4. In a saucepan, melt the first 2 tablespoons of butter.
  5. Stir in the rice flour. Over medium flame, cook and stir, letting the butter and flour bubble a minute. Gradually whisk in the vegetable broth, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens a bit, not quite the thickness of heavy cream.

  6. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the grated cheese about ¼ at a time. Stir in the cayenne, a small pinch or larger pinch—to your taste. Taste for salt, adding if needed. Set aside while you cook the pasta.
  7. Stir the pasta into the boiling water. Cook until the pasta is tender, but with a bite, al dente. (Be sure not to overcook as the pasta will plump a bit more with the sauce when it bakes.) Drain. Stir into the cheese sauce. Pour into the prepared pan.
  8. Spread the ground sunflower seeds on top. Dot with the remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, about 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling through the crust.
Recipe Notes
  • Depending on your vegetable broth, you may or may not need to add more salt.
  • If you don’t add the cooked penne to the sauce immediately, rinse well to keep the pasta from sticking together.


  • I’m headed to TJ’s today! And love the idea of a sunflower crust- nuts and seeds for the win! Reply · 21 October, 2014

    • Letty

      Thanks Kelley! We are lucky to have that TJ store (fairly) close by. And I thought they would never come–liquor laws. So they don’t sell 2 buck chuck–who cares. Reply · 21 October, 2014

  • Dennis Halloran

    Makes me want to wander in the 219 Kitchen Reply · 21 October, 2014

    • Letty

      It’s a great recipe–thanks Mom! and Denny! Reply · 21 October, 2014

  • I know it’s not polite to tell someone what they should do, but… you SHOULD totally enter that recipe into a contest. I’ve seen a lot of mac and crack recipes and have never seen anything sound so innovative and scrumptious. KUDOS!! Reply · 23 October, 2014

    • Letty

      Thanks Jenny!!! Now I gotta find that contest….
      It’s polite as all get out to send someone kudos and should suggestions– I appreciate it! Reply · 23 October, 2014

  • It’s good to update the classics and keep them in our (ever changing) diets. There’s always room for Mac & Cheese. GREG Reply · 24 October, 2014

  • […] P.S. You might want to try this Green Salad with Beluga Black Lentils, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese and Curry Vinaigrette. Or my gluten-free healthified Sunflower Crusted Macaroni and Cheese. […] Reply · 2 April, 2015

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