How to cook gluten free pasta

GF Pasta jpeg.jpgFresh from my Italian holiday and with an entire suitcase filled to the brim with gluten free pasta, I thought I might share some tips on how to cook it like a pro. 

First you must start with some good pasta and the very best I've tried to date is a brand called Le Veneziane made in Italy by a company called Molinodiferro.  This is the first gluten free pasta that I've eaten which is like "the real thing". It is available via mail order  in the UK, through an Irish distributor but unfortunately I have misplaced their details.  Anyway, if you can't get this brand, then Sainsbury's own brand is the next best favourite.  Prior to this, Sainsbury's used to stock a brand called Salute which was very good, but this seems to have disappeared off the shelf, and I am guessing here, it will have been something to do with the euro and margins.

Apart from the brand, shape is the second most important feature.  Penne is the most consistently reliable shape.  It cooks evenly and tends to hold it's shape during the cooking process.  Spaghetti can be a little less reliable and you really need to pay careful attention during the cooking process or it will congeal into a large mass.  More on this later.  Fuisilli, is by far the most difficult shape to cook.  Even with the best brands,it cooks unevenly and tends to fall apart.  If you can find elbow macaroni, this usually works well. Tagliatelle is very hard to find and also tricky to cook without it disintegrating. 

To cook gluten free pasta start off by bringing water to the boil in a large pot. The volume of water is important and the ratio is generally 100g of pasta  to 1 litre of water.  The larger the pot the better as you need to make sure you keep the pasta moving, so that it doesn't all stick together. As the water comes to a rolling boil add 1 tsp of salt (sea salt is best).  Add the pasta and stir it with a metal spoon.  You do not need to stir it continuously but certainly every few minutes, give it a good stir.  After 6-7  minutes, begin to test the pasta.  It should be tender to the bite but not hard.  Most pasta will take 10 -12 minutes but the timings will be down to the brand and the shape and size of the pasta.  When the pasta is cooked, drain immediately. Never let gluten free pasta sit in the water as it will absorb the water and turn to mush.  Pasta is always best served immediately, so have your sauce ready to go.  As soon as your pasta is drained, add the sauce and serve.  In Italy, they tend to save a little of the water the pasta has been cooking in, to thin down the sauce and to add a bit of extra flavour. In Italy they choose the shape of the pasta to match the sauce.  So a rich meaty ragu is best with penne or a shell shaped pasta.  A thinner sauce would be better with spaghetti or linguinni or tagliatelli.

The myth about adding oil to the water to stop the pasta sticking together is something that I grew up with and I am sure that it is still how many people cook pasta.  I can tell you that adding oil makes no significant difference and will not stop the pasta from clumping together.  Cooking it in a  large pot, with lots of water and stirring it often will stop the pasta from sticking together.  Maurice Sirkin, a good friend and a lover of all things Italian, let me in on this secret many years ago and I can never cook pasta without thinking of him.  Weirdly enough, he was a fellow Coeliac, but we didn't know it at the time as he didn't follow a gluten free diet.  I guess he loved his pasta too much and was not going to compromise on something inferior. I wonder if I would have been able to pull a gluten free fast one with La Veneziane?

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