Meatless Monday

Eat This: Quinoa Mac 'n' Cheese at Ruggles Green

You'd never know this creamy, cheesy indulgence was gluten-free.

By Katharine Shilcutt January 19, 2015

Ruggles Green makes a mac 'n' cheese that anyone can enjoy.

I'm not here today to make claims that quinoa pasta is better for you than regular, wheat-filled, non-gluten-free pasta. As far as I can tell, aside from the fact that the quinoa-based pasta is gluten-free, the two are actually nearly identical nutrition-wise with roughly the same amount of fat, carbs, and protein (though the extra amino acids in quinoa allows it to serve as a complete protein), and only minor differences in vitamins and minerals like iron or thiamine. This means that if you need—or, like a mounting number of Americans, just want—to keep gluten out of your life, quinoa/corn pasta is a reliable substitute for dishes that gluten-free folks may otherwise have to axe, like macaroni and cheese. 

Ruggles Green—which now has three locations across Houstonia, with a fourth opening soon in The Woodlands—uses a quinoa-corn blend elbow macaroni pasta from Ancient Harvest (or at least, that's what the guy who answered the phone at the Heights location told me) for its gluten-free mac 'n' cheese, which I order even though I could care less about gluten because it's just that good.

Of course, a standard bechamel sauce can't be employed here because that has flour in it. So in lieu of a creamy sauce, Ruggles Green simply melts a bunch of mozzarella into the pasta, combining it with a bit of Parmesan and sharp cheddar for flavor. It's garnished with a bit of basil and served in a bowl large enough to split between two people.

I'd challenge anyone to immediately notice that this mac 'n' cheese is gluten-free, or, furthermore, care. It's so good on its own—as are all of the Ancient Harvest pastas I've tried—that it's one of those rare exceptions in which I'd recommend a gluten-free version of a classic dish over simply enjoying all of the many, many, many foods and cuisines that are naturally gluten-free—especially here in Houston. (Hello, barbacoa tacos on corn tortillas. Hello, pretty much all Vietnamese food. Hello, Ethiopian feasts full of injera and doro wat.)

As with all the dishes at Ruggles Green, the gluten-free mac 'n' cheese is marked with color-coded dots: a green one for being a vegetarian item and a blue one for lacking gluten. This makes eating here exceptionally easy for anyone with food allergies or dietary restrictions (also look for yellow dots on the menu that indicate dairy-free foods and red dots to indicate dishes that kids love). Just don't mistake the mac 'n' cheese for a "healthy" alternative, despite the healthy vibe here—this is an indulgence, and one that anyone can enjoy.

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