Gooey. Gelatinous. Congealed. This is generally how most of my gluten-free pastas turn out when I attempt making a Cacio e Pepe at home—a pot of starch completely stuck together in one big clump. Even though I’ve been gluten-free for some time and have mastered several hacks for living a wheat-free life, pasta still stumps me. But when solid gluten-free pasta is cooked well, or rather, right, it can be a revelation—one that you want to replicate at least once on a weekly basis.
Denver’s much loved (and always packed) Nowhere do they cook gluten-free pasta better than Tavernetta, a stylish open-air kitchen and restaurant serving Neapolitan dishes and gluten-free bread and pastas that could fool even the most ardent of wheat lovers. This is a restaurant sent from the gluten-free gods (try the GF bread, seriously), which is why I spoke to Tavernetta’s Chef di Cucina Ian Wortham to find out what the hell I’m doing wrong. Below, he gives us wheat allergic, gluten-free pasta lovers some tips on how to cook gluten-free pasta the right way (and even tells us which brand we should all be buying). Also, don’t throw out the water.
Timing Is Key
Wortham says that generally everyone’s biggest mistake is how long it takes to cook gluten-free pasta. “Overcooking gluten-free pasta is definitely a no-no,” says Wortham. “It will start to break down after too much time. It sounds obvious, but pay attention to the cooking instructions for time, because the shape and kind require different amounts of cooking time. Also, keep trying it as it cooks. That’s the best indicator of when it’s done.”
Brands DO Matter
Not all brands are created equal when it comes to gluten-free pasta, but Wortham is pretty loyal to one brand in particular called Granoro. It can only be purchased online through the company’s website. “It’s made in Italy, so it’s an imported gluten-free pasta with a mix of quinoa, corn, and rice flours,” he says. “I’ve used corn only in the past and those usually aren’t as good. The quinoa based one has been pretty nice and consistent.” As for the cooking time of the Granoro pasta they use at Tavernetta? “A nine minute drop.”
Get the Right Shape
Wortham insists there are definitely specific shapes of pasta that work best for gluten-free versions. “We use either casarecce or a fusilli. They’re short shapes so they stay together nicely and cook better.”
Always Season Your Water
“Season the water that you cook the pasta in, just a touch, not too heavily to where you can taste it too much,” says Wortham, who also advises using the same water to enhance your sauce. “Gluten-free noodles do have starches, it’s just a different kind of starch, so cooking the pasta water into the sauce adds to the viscosity of the pasta and gives it some body. If you add butter or olive oil, you’ll see how the starches kind of start to permeate, as well.”
Related Reading: 8 Gluten-Free Breads That Are Worthy of Any Sandwich
Consider an Alternative
“You know, a lot of people are going down this gluten-free road either for a health choice or something they have to do, but there’s also so much food out there that is inherently gluten-free that’s super delicious and kind of fulfills the same cravings that maybe a pasta does,” says Wortham. “My personal preference, if I couldn’t have pasta anymore, I’d use risotto instead. There’s also so many things in the world of Italian cooking that you can make!”
However if you DO have a pasta craving a risotto won’t scratch and can’t get your hands on a very nice brand of gluten-free pasta, Wortham recommends making pasta from scratch. His favorite brand of gluten-free flour to use for this? Cup 4 Cup.
Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour, $11.47 on Amazon
Certified gluten-free, kosher, and made with non-GMO ingredients.
“I’ve used that as a straight swap in flour and dough recipes and it works very well,” says Wortham. “It might take some experimentation because many recipes will call for different types of flour and water levels.” Making the noodles yourself helps your dish keep the authentic pasta vibe Wortham described as, ‘what makes pasta, pasta’—carbs made with thought, time and love.”
Get more tips from the expert (and see a first-timer’s personal experience) about how to make gluten-free pasta from scratch.
Related Video: How To Avoid Dense Gluten-Free Batter
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