Pasta, the staff of life. They say it’s bread, but I don’t think so. Does bread come in over 350 shapes, colors and sizes? Does bread have never-ending sauce options? Can you eat bread alone every single night? Maybe, but I bet you’d rather eat pasta.
Unless you’re allergic to it, of course. In fact, if you’re one of the more than 12 million Americans with Food Allergies, you’re probably avoiding one or more of the following foods; wheat/gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, or sesame. Given that pasta dishes are generally comprised of wheat/gluten, dairy, and eggs, and sometimes tree nuts, or fish and shellfish, eating pasta may seem like an impossibility. Not so! By switching to gluten-free noodles and using a little ingenuity with sauces, pasta will be the centerpiece of your summer table.
Finding a good wheat-free, gluten-free pasta takes a bit of patience. As an experiment, I set about testing all that I could get my hands on. Luckily, the industry has come a long way in meeting public demand for gluten-free pasta. Only a couple of years ago, there were very few options, and most gluten-free pastas would disintegrate into a mushy gloopy mess. Al Dente was unheard of, never mind twirling a long strand of spaghetti around a fork.
Not true anymore. While you still have to avoid a few brands that have not moved beyond a product that cooks into some sort of gruel, the following are some GREAT brands of pasta.
As far as I’m concerned, Tinkyada is the gold standard of rice spaghetti. It has a firm texture, and lovely taste. It is made with whole grains (brown rice, and rice bran), in a factory that produces only rice pasta, eliminating the risk of cross-contamination with other grains. Tinkyada is available at most health food stores and many regular grocery stores. Pastariso also has excellent texture , but I detected a faintly bitter aftertaste. Pastariso makes potato pastas as well, and is also produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Lundberg, the grandaddy of rice pastas has a great flavor — be sure to check out their short pastas (spirals, penne).
I was less enthusiastic about Mrs. Leepers, an Italian brand of rice pasta. To avoid the noodles turning to mush, I had to cook them for less time than instructed. However, they do make multi-colored vegetable spirals, which is appealing to kids. Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta was weird, to say the least. Though I cooked it to the maximum suggested time, it seemed completely underdone. I drained it anyway, because the instructions warn against overcooking, and after a few minutes, the texture improved. The next day, however, the leftovers were as hard as a rock, and completely inedible.
After my rice pasta adventures, I moved on to other gluten-free pastas, containing corn, or quinoa. DeBolescorn pasta, the most accessible gluten-free pasta at supermarkets and grocery stores, had good flavor but the noodles didn’t hold their shape, with the spaghetti/linguine looking more like shredded egg noodles. My favorite gluten-free pasta isQuinoa Corporation’s Ancient Harvest Quinoa Linguine. A blend of corn flour and quinoa flour, it has the best texture, a lovely pale yellow hue, and never got the slightly slimy coating that can accompany rice pasta. Even better, quinoa is an ancient grain with complete protein, (read:super-nutritious).
With pastas out of the way, I moved on to creating the sauce. For inspiration, I looked to the Italians, who know to rely on basics for flavor — ingredients like onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes, rich chicken or vegetable stock, white wine, fresh herbs, olives, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, sausage, prosciutto, or bacon (try nitrite free). Just a few of these flavorful ingredients combined gave me a great sauce, and you can do the same at home. During these summer months, look to your local greenmarket for fresh veggies, like zuchinni, yellow squash, fresh peas, and leeks, which add both color and texture to your dish. And remember to skip the cheese! While we have become so used to adding parmesan to our pasta, many sauces don’t require any cheese, and in fact are better without it.
What’s your favorite pasta shape? Mine is linguine….