WHAT’S MORE EXPENSIVE THAN STEAK OR LOBSTER OR CRAB MEAT? GLUTEN FREE PASTA!
Do U Miss Pasta? You don’t have to just because you’re gluten free. There are great options: here is my pasta report.
A buyers guide to gluten free pasta and noodles.
What makes great pasta? Little Flavor – Perfect Texture
Great pasta has very little distinctive flavor-it is a vehicle for the sauce. Gluten has no flavor so that shouldn’t be an issue, except that other grains may have too much flavor and some of them do.
What Great Pasta Needs more than anything is Great texture: not mushy, not crunchy what we call al dente-‘to the tooth’. Is this delivered by gluten? NO, it turns out, it is not!
What does al dente actually mean? It means that you can’t really tell when the pasta is cooked until you bite into the pasta, the way it feels ‘to the teeth’ is the indicator, you can’t tell by the way it bends, the way it smells, even by how many minutes it says on the box (BTW start timing the pasta after the water returns to a boil, not when you put it in the boiling water) you don’t really know it’s done until you bite into it. It should have some body left to the pasta while being soft and firm. You need to consider if the sauce is going to continue heating the pasta, thus cooking it, and you take if from the water that has been salted to mimic the ocean, a little crunchier or sooner than you would for a raw sauce (one of the pesto sauces or raw tomato sauce).
The price of gluten-free pasta? Well that’s truly unbelievable! My first boxes of Italian imported gluten-free pasta (Rustichella d’Abruzzo) were over $8.99 at the restaurant supply store, I hadn’t had pasta in years and fell prey to the urge, and when I got home and realized it was 8.8 oz. (a little more than half a pound!!!) I had to appreciate that my pasta was now about $18 a pound before I put a sauce on it! It cost more than lobster! BTW Italy has the highest rate of gluten intolerance in the world and they’ve been working on replacements for a long time, I tend to like the Italian imported brands the best. AND BTW the Rustichella d’Abruzzo brand pasta is great, G R E A T and I bought many more, because there simply was nothing else on the market yet and because they were all great. Now this brand and many more of the really good ones are available on-line. And there’s a flood of products to choose from at the supermarkets and they range from great to absolutely awful, and the price has nothing to do with it. So I’m going to share my years of shopping through the explosion of gluten free pasta lines and hopefully save you time and aggravation. Because it’s all about the sauce, and you don’t know where your meal stands until you taste it with the sauce, which is always an investment in money and more importantly: in time.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo and more available is SCHAR which is my favorite brand, I have come to realize that it contains an element of wheat that has had the gluten removed, so this is not the choice for those with wheat sensitivities. But this pasta has passed as ‘normal’ in every situation. I have used every shape that they make including the lasagna-which I made the modern way without pre-boiling the noodles.
Fifteen years ago when the new ‘no-cook’ lasagna came out my guy, Guy, at the Fusco Brothers Italian Market on Bleeker Street told me that all lasagna was ‘no-cook’, “just make the sauce loose and add plenty on top of the filling layer and under the noodles. Run a knife through to be sure it’s cooked through.” WoW! This cut an hour off my cooking time and the pain of cooking the noodles in olive oil so that they didn’t stick together and then handling them out of the pot to dry without clumping was the WORST!
Of course when I replace the ricotta with tofu I was concerned that the last of moisture in the cheese would affect the noodles, it didn’t. see link under picture above. I also make it with penne pasta layered with the tofu/ricotta filling and it’s just as good and easier to serve!
Lindberg Family brand has organic brown rice pasta’s that are very good.
Ancient Harvest puts out a line that are quinoa based with bean flours added which won’t work if you’re going Paleo but the shells are good as are the elbows.
Barilla has penne made from a corn and rice blend, with an Italian rice, that works well with corn, better than just corn alone, for texture and flavor.
Andean Dream produces quinoa based pasta that also hole up their shape and texture without an unappealing flavor.
I also love Asian Rice noodles, fetucini cut, found in the Vietnamese section of Asian Markets, Asian sections of restaurant supply stores; Sprouts; Whole Foods; Local Supermarkets. Sometimes packaged with an Asian sauce. The broad rice noodles work really well and hold up their shape, even in soup or heavy tomato sauces and even when reheated. There are even fresh gluten free noodles at my Asian market now, which makes me very VERY HAPPY. These are new to me and some come packaged with a gluten free soup packet!
These Fresh Asian Rice noodles hold up to coconut milk soup.
READ THE LABELS:
The best pastas are made from arborio or carnaroli rice, used to make risotto. If you think about it, risotto is creamy and a little sticky, it makes sense that this is a glutenous rice (although it doesn’t cause the allergic reaction that wheat does) and it makes just the right consistency in pasta that is al-dente.
Asian imported pastas are the least expensive. The ones from Thailand are especially good, it’s part of their traditional cooking, more rice fields than wheat fields. Remember: there is a theory that Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy from China, so maybe noodles were originally from rice.
SHAPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE:
You know that in Italy certain sauces are only eaten with certain shapes, and there is a good reason for that, some sauces are too heavy for some shapes and some add-ins are perfect for the shape (Beans and Shell shaped pasta for example). I have found that certain shapes in gluten free pasta work best with certain sauces too. (duh)
Corn pastas are a little weird to me, they can get mushy and I only like them with beans and vegetables, but the texture is good in a little shell shape.
The Heartland brand pasta is a corn and rice blend: hate it. Comes with broken pieces in the box, never a good sign and continues to loose it’s shape while cooking.
Chickpea pasta is new on the horizon, and although I use chickpea flour a lot, I don’t like chickpea pasta with tomato sauce but it is great in the squiggly shape with chickpea sprouts and fresh lemon slices (photo on left). Gets firmer and a little tough when reheated. But you can see the difference of the corn/rice blend on the right that is so mushy that it’s shape is compromised. That one has Italian canned tuna, capers, lemon and fresh cherry tomatoes.
Green noodles with tomato sauce are amongst my favorite, these are Asian pasta seasoned with green tea and I get them in the Asian section of supermarkets and in Asian markets. Reheats beautifully. This sauce has chicken and olives in it.
Vegetables can be a substitute for pasta or pizza, I make portobello pizza with the mushroom acting as the base, my favorite toppings and non-dairy shredded mozzarella on top under the broiler.
Although I know that spaghetti squash is good for you and can be eaten as a substitute for spaghetti, I have always found it to be closer to straw than pasta, but last year I got into shredding zucchini cooked in tomato sauce or blanched zucchini ribbons with pesto and please don’t tell my 8 year old grandson (that I call Donut) that it’s not pasta, because it’s his favorite pasta and as he hates squash he would be taking this off the top of his list. I’m hoping that when he’s 9 he’ll be opened to knowing that he has loved zucchini all along.
Quinoa pastas are good, Ancient Harvest do great quinoa based pastas, as quinoa is a grain that is high in amino acids (protein) it’s actually much better for you than traditional wheat-based pasta and this even reheats beautifully:holds a good texture and has a slight wheat-like flavor that works with tomato sauces:
Penne is a great shape for heavy sauces, Trader Joe’s has a good Rice Penne, that holds up to sauces that contain ground meat or tofu cream cheese.
Knowing what sauce goes with what shape is the heart of the Italian kitchen.
On the right is Fisilli with figs, sage and pine nuts. Shells are really hearty and can hold up to vegetable cubes or hot tomato sauces.
These are glass noodles, Angel Hair Style. I don’t appreciate their slimy and yet tough consistency.Don’t even like them in soup but there was a time that this was a rare rice noodle in a gluten free barren market. Mai Fun are rice noodles and can be ordered at most Chinese restaurants, but bring your own gluten free soy sauce because regular contains gluten.
This squiggly rice pasta with vegetables added for flavor and coloring is a ‘tre-colore‘: spinach, tomato and rice…doesn’t hold it’s shape well (especially in a hot sauce) so I put it with a cold-raw sauce. I blanch tomatoes in the pasta water before I put the pasta in. Then I peel them and chop them with olives, capers and this one I added Italian canned tuna so that it would be a complete meal, but beans would have worked as well. It’s delicious and great for lunch or a light dinner and even better after it’s been refrigerated for an hour.
There are Asian noodles that require nothing more than hot water poured over them for a few minutes, love those! So Quick and Convenient! Rice noodles from Asia can also be dressed with tomato sauce or anything else.
I hope that this helps you get your pasta fix, because there just is a time when nothing else will do but that comfort food that you’re craving. Or so you think~! try one of the vegetable dishes dressed like pasta and see if it doesn’t do the trick for you, cause really it’s all about the sauce.