Life can be tough if you’re not able to tolerate gluten. Some great tasting foods are totally off the menu. And then there’s having to explain you’re not just doing it for a ‘trend thing’ or being fussy. Gluten is a set of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. For some people, like those with coeliac disease, there are some pretty severe health implications if they consume these proteins. As one of my siblings has coeliac disease, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be.

Making gluten free pastaEven if you don’t fall into the bracket of being gluten intolerant, considering alternative grains or pseudocereals is a really good way to build a varied diet. Many of these alternatives, such as quinoa, are a fantastic source of protein, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans. They also taste great if you cook them well. Of course a lot of normal unprocessed foods, like fresh fruit and veggies, don’t contain any gluten. The tricky bit is when you start looking for gluten-free substitutes for gluten-filled foods, like bread and pasta.

If you’ve ever looked closely at the ingredients of many pre-prepared gluten free or ‘free from’ foods, you’ll see a long list of incomprehensible and mostly unpronounceable ingredients. These are not things the normal home cook tends to have in their cupboard, which always sets alarm bells ringing for me. One way to avoid an unnatural mix of gluten free nasties is to have a go at making your own gluten free products.

With this in mind, I booked myself on the Gluten Free Pasta Masterclass at Cantina Del Ponte restaurant in central London. I’ve made some buckwheat pasta at home before, but really wanted to hone my skills. The class was introduced by health blogger and food writer Stephanie Seege. Stephanie has extensive experience of preparing allergy-friendly food following her own battles with eczema, allergies and asthma. Our main tutor for the day was pasta expert and Cantina Del Ponte head chef, Marco. I loved his relaxed approach to teaching, encouraging everyone to have a go, and to “never make pasta in a bad mood” (it will affect the end result in a bad way!).

 

Making gluten free pasta

 

My hands were soon covered in the egg and flour of the gluten free pasta ingredients. The first type of pasta was a buckwheat flour / polenta mix with eggs and olive oil; a really simple set of ingredients. The idea was to massage the ingredients to the point that they held together. We added liquid (oil, egg or water) in small amounts if the dough felt too dry. There was no need to be gentle as it took a bit of working to get a good ball of elastic dough, which was then mine to take home.

The other main pasta for the day was gnocchi, based on cold mashed potato with rice flour. I used a gnocchi paddle for the first time which was a bit more sophisticated (and fun) than my normal fork shaping approach to gnocchi. It had a double use; one was to chop a sausage shaped piece of gnocchi dough into pieces, and the second to then create the gnocchi curls. This is done by rolling the chopped pieces down the ridged back of the paddle with your thumb, giving the pasta a lovely lined effect. This was going to be lunch later. Marco also prepared another dough using a bright orange pumpkin puree and parmesan, with a little polenta added towards the end. This was cooked at the training table so we could see different examples of pasta shapes.

 

Making gluten free pasta

 

Working with gluten free flours is a little different to working with normal flours as kneading is less important (this is what helps gluten develop when using regular flour). The resting time for the pasta dough is also a bit longer at 2 hours, rather than the normal 30 minutes. Marco encouraged us to taste the dough as we went so we could understand what it should taste like at the different stages. The other area Marco emphasised was getting the humidity, or liquidity, of the mixture right. There needs to be enough fat and liquid for the dough to hold together and taste good. This is normally a combination of egg and oil, and sometimes cheese or a little water is added. In the case of any egg allergies, it’s okay to use just oil and water. This is also why it’s best to use cold mashed potato in gnocchi. If the potato is too hot, the mixture will be too liquid and won’t hold together.

The class was topped off by a gluten free feast for lunch. The gnocchi was served with a rich butter and sage sauce, plus a generous sprinkling of parmesan so that it all melted together in a golden liquid. The team at Cantina Del Ponte had also prepared some gluten free cheese bread, grissini and chestnut bread, along with large plates of colourful marinated and pickled vegetables. Marco included some shop-bought gluten free pasta in a rich roasted tomato sauce so we could compare it to the handmade gnocchi.

 

Making gluten free pasta

 

After such a lunch, I can very much confirm that it’s possible to make great tasting gluten free pasta at home. Although you won’t be able to recreate the full range of normal pasta shapes, there are still plenty of options available. With a few simple ingredients and not too much work, you can prepare a nutritious and tasty dish that everyone, including gluten intolerant friends and relatives, can enjoy.

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