6.12.2008

Guide to Gluten-free Pasta

One of the things that you’ll probably miss most quickly is the ease and convenience of cooking pasta. Take heart! There is an ever growing selection of gluten free pastas, many times in your non-specialty grocery store. Tom Thumb, Ralph’s, Albertson’s, Von’s, and other major chains now seem to carry a small selection. It might not be located directly with the other pastas, so make sure to check the ‘specialty food’ or Asian food section of your store.

Gluten free pasta is one of the easiest transitions into gluten-free life, so let’s get started!

Buying:

There is quite a large selection available in non-gluten pastas. The most common are made of rice flour, corn, quinoa, and buckwheat (buckwheat, although it has ‘wheat’ listed in the name it does not contain gluten). I’ve found that most pastas can be broken down into two categories:

  1. Traditional Asian noodles which don’t naturally contain any wheat since wheat is fairly new to Asian cooking
  2. Western pastas (think Italian) that are traditionally made out of gluten materials but have been modified to be made out of other flours to make them gluten-free

I’ve found that most Western gluten free pastas aren’t as good because they are trying so hard to mimic their traditional gluten roots. I have yet to find pasta that tastes like “the real thing.” There is always a texture difference.

Now to cook gluten free pasta, you have to know how gluten works in food. The gluten provides the elasticity that you normally think of in pasta, so don’t be surprised when your pasta doesn’t cook or feel the same. Any Western pasta that you’ll purchase will usually be harder in the middle and has a tenancy to fall apart if you overcook it (because there isn’t gluten in it to ‘hold everything together’).

Rice flour pastas are the most common because they mimic wheat more than any other of the flours. I think that they also taste the best (both in Asian noodles and in Western style). Since there are multiple websites that address Asian style cooking, we will focus on the Western gluten free pasta cooking here.

Like always, make sure to read the ingredients in whatever product you’re buying. Many times “rice pasta” will contain little amounts of wheat flour, so be careful. There will rarely be ‘hidden food’ labels like maltodextrin or dextrose, so you don’t need to worry.

Cooking pasta:

  1. To start cooking, put a pot of water on the stove. Now, make sure to not fill the pot as full of water as you traditionally would with gluten pasta. The pasta will have a film on the outside of it that will come off when you cook it. This film will make the water bubble more than you are used it and will make your pot overflow. Filling the pot half way full of water is a safe bet, especially for your first time.
  1. Make sure to put in a teaspoon of oil in the water. This will make the pasta not stick to itself and will make the film not stick to the inside of the pot (which helps in the clean-up process).
  1. Once the water starts to boil, place the pasta in water like you would traditionally. Since the temperature of the water will decrease fast, it will drop the boil down. Don’t adjust the temperature, it won’t take long for it to heat back up. Make sure to stir the pasta so it coats a little bit in the oil and doesn’t clump together.
  1. You need to stay close by the pot to make sure that the pot doesn’t bubble over. It will take longer than normal to cook gluten free pasta, so make sure to leave enough time. I usually turn down the temp once the water is boiling again because the bubbles from the rapid boil will beat harder against the pasta and make it break apart. The water will be murky from the film on the outside of the pasta, so don’t be alarmed.
  1. The pasta will be done right when the middle is starting to soften. You don’t want to leave the pasta in much longer than that because the pasta will start to fall apart.
  1. Once it the pasta is ready, pour out the hot water. I normally keep the pasta in my pot instead of transferring into a colander because the film on the pasta sticks really badly to it and makes clean-up more difficult. Now, run a little bit of cool water over the pasta. This will make the last of the film come off of the pasta and cools it slightly so it doesn’t fall apart as much.
  1. Now the pasta is ready to be served!

Note: Left over gluten-free pasta is usually gross. It does not heat up well and once it cools down it hardens. So only make as much as you need for that meal.

4 comments:

carrol said...

I want to share a great place where I always shop for organic and gluten free products. WholeAndNatural.com. They have lots of great stuff.

Me said...

Thought you might want to know that The Old Spaghetti Factory has a Gluten Free Menu! It is not hugely extensive, but if you ever find yourself with a group craving Italian,you would be totally safe there. :o)
<3 sassafrassj

J.J. said...

Interesting. I did some research and people seem to have mixed opinions on it. Below is a link to a discussion of the place on the gluten free forum:

http://www.glutenfreeforum.com/lofiversion/index.php/t28664.html

I would be hesitant to eat there because of CC issues. The only place I've trusted for pasta is Disneyland since they have such high standards of CC issues. Thanks for the suggestion though. Also, thanks for posting... we always need a little sass in our day. ;)

Anonymous said...

We love the quinoa/corn blend pasta. I think it has a great flavor, but I have not seen anyone comment about it online.