Product Review: Van’s Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne

Van's Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne
Van’s Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne

Product: Van’s Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne – $3.99+

I am a do-it-yourself kind of girl these days when it comes to pastas.  Not so much making my own gluten-free pasta noodles (I haven’t gotten to that level yet), but I prefer to make my own pasta meals instead of buying the boxed stuff…just because I get some say into what goes into my meal.  That being said, sometimes…I make exceptions to this rule.

Such an exception came to pass awhile back, when on a rare trip to Walmart, I discovered that Van’s had come out with a small line of gluten free pasta sides (or meals in my case).  Seriously!  I think I knew that the gluten-free pastas were around, I had just never seen them in my area out in the wild.  Apparently, braving Walmart does have it’s advantages.  I won’t lie…my Walmart has a rather extensive and impressive gluten-free section.  So it was really no wonder I found these there.  I just never go to Walmart…so it was a nice coincidence in the end.

Prior to this one, I reviewed the Van’s Gluten Free Creamy Herb and Garlic Pasta, which I dished up to not just  my roommate, but my good friend and roomie’s sister – Amanda.  Now, Amanda doesn’t get exposed much to gluten-free foods…unless I subject her to them.  And she loved the Creamy Herb & Garlic Pasta when we enjoyed it for dinner one night.  That left two other gluten-free pasta dishes in my pantry from Van’s.  And last night, after a long week, I just wanted a brainless meal to prepare and enjoy.  Something warm and comforting, as it was a rainy night to boot.  I went to the pantry and spotted the remaining two boxes of Van’s Gluten Free Pastas: Ultimate Cheddar Penne and Rotini and Red Sauce.  I had my roommate make the final decision…and knew before I even asked that she would go cheese.  When I ask her anything and one items involves cheese…that is the one that will be selected.  No problem though.  Totally game.

Van’s Gluten Free choices have never disappointed me.  Never.  Never ever.  That’s a lot to live up to, mind you.  But Van’s puts a lot of love and care into their packaged foods.  And Van’s does believe that nutritious is delicious and that’s why they make their gluten-free pastas with whole grain brown rice, delivering more than a full serving of nutrient dense whole grains.  The cheese sauce over a perfectly cooked pasta…that’s love to me.  Seriously.  And, you can always add in some vegetables or chicken (if you eat meat…which I don’t…) in order to bulk it up.  But as my roommate and I take something that serves three and split it between the two of us…it’s the perfect amount in the end.

Van’s Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne is a breeze to prepare.  Seriously.  Simply boil 6 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Add the pasta and allow it to return to a medium boil for about 8-9 minutes, until it is al dente.  Stir occasionally though, so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.  Very important.  Oh…and DO NOT overcook the pasta.  Rice pasta can go from perfect to mush in a moment.  So keep an eye on it.  Drain the pasta and give it a rinse.  In the pan you cooked the pasta in, add 3 tablespoons of fat free milk (I used unsweetened almond milk) and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance), and allow it to melt together over a low heat.  Then whisk in the cheddar powder until it is smooth.  Then, add the pasta back into the pan and stir them together.  Serve.

Oh…this was good.  Think Kraft Mac & Cheese…but better.  WAY better.  The pasta cooked up perfectly.  It didn’t take too long, but it had that right bit of al dente-ness to it.  I think I just made up a word there…but go with it.  The sauce though…that’s where the magic happens.  No…this sauce is not vegan.  Yes…it has milk in it…but by using the dairy alternatives for the butter and milk, I cut back on the dairy I was consuming. It worked.  The lactose intolerance was there, but it was mild because there isn’t a lot of dairy in this little box of cheesy pasta goodness.  I know, my homemade gluten-free (and dairy free) mac and cheese rocks, but when I don’t have time to do all the prep work and baking that goes into it…this is a definite contender to have on hand in my kitchen for nights where I want a big bowl of comfort food in a snap.  Deliciously creamy, cheesy noodle-y goodness.

One thing that Van’s proudly states is that they use only ingredients that they are proud of.  And that is definitely evident when I read over the list of ingredients they use for the Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne.  These ingredients are gluten-free penne pasta (brown rice flour, white rice flour), aged cheddar cheese seasoning (cheddar cheese nonfat milk, salt, shey, sugar, buttermilk, rice flour, natural flavors, annatto extract (for color).  Nothing too spooky or weird there, right?  That’s right.  Van’s Gluten Free Ultimate Cheddar Penne is gluten-free, kosher, egg free, contains no trans fats, and has no artificial flavors.

So, how about the nutritional value of a big bowl of gluten-free cheesy pasta noodles?  Actually…not too bad.  Not at all.  Before it’s prepared, the with butter and milk (of your choice), a serving (with 3 per box) contains 210 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.  A serving also has 5 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, and 3 grams of sugar.  One serving will also give you 48 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.  It will be filling, even as a side.

Once again, Vans Gluten Free has lived up to its standards and name.  These little boxes of pasta are not only convenient, but easy to make and delicious too.  No one would guess they were gluten free if you didn’t tell them.  Yep…when I am in a pinch, these might be my go-to meals.  Super impressed once again!

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