In my Facebook feed, someone's status update proclaimed that the gluten-free diet wasn't for him because he loves pasta too much to live without it. In the same update, he called folks on the gluten-free diet "glutards." Ah, a combination of bad facts and name calling. Awesome.
At least once a week, I read that the gluten-free diet doesn't include pasta, pizza, or bread. Wrong. We eat those foods; they're just made from gluten-free grains, like rice, quinoa, and corn. And, like wheat-based foods, some are awesome and some are awful.
But back to the pasta comment. The thought of giving up pasta makes me cringe, too. I've put together some tips on how to cook dry gluten-free pasta, so that if you're gluten-free, you don't need to live without pasta in your life.
Use a large pot. With growing concerns over arsenic levels in rice, I apply the FDA's cooking guidelines for rice to my brown rice-based pasta: I cook it in excess water. Use five to six quarts of water for one pound of pasta. Also, no matter the shape or what it's made from, gluten-free pasta loves to stick together. A large pot gives you plenty of room to stir the pasta during cooking without making a mess.
Salt the water. On its own, gluten-free pasta tastes pretty boring. Salting the water really makes a difference to its flavor profile. Use about one tablespoon of salt per pound of pasta.
Stir the pasta. To prevent the pasta from sticking together, stir it! As soon as you drop the pasta into boiling water, begin to stir. Keep at it for about thirty seconds or until the pasta no longer settles on the bottom of the pot. Then stir the pasta occasionally as it cooks. The first three to five minutes are the most important for stirring. This when the pasta is releases the most starch and is the stickiest.
Taste it. The cooking time on the back of the bag or box never, ever seems to be right. After about 10 minutes, check your pasta. You want it cooked thoroughly but not mushy. Bite into the pasta and look at it. If it's hard and dark near the center, it's not done. The texture and color should be the same all the way through.
Check it. When overcooked, gluten-free pasta becomes mushy. After the initial tasting, check it every two minutes. This ensures the pasta won't overcook.
Reserve some cooking water. Reserve some cooking water to loosen the sauce.* Before you drain the pasta, ladle out about one cup of hot cooking water into a heatproof bowl. Use this water to loosen your sauce as needed.
*If making rice-based pasta, you might want to discard the cooking water to reduce the arsenic level.
Drain but don't rinse.* Rinsing pasta washes away starch and cools it down. Neither are desirable for a hot pasta dish. Simply drain the cooked pasta and sauce it. The starch from the pasta helps the sauce to cling to the noodles. If needed, add a splash of reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce.
*Unless you are using the pasta for a cold dish. For cold pasta dishes, go ahead and rinse the pasta.
Pasta cooking tips adapted from my cookbook, How To Cook Gluten-Free (Lake Isle Press, 2012)
About the author: Elizabeth Barbone of GlutenFreeBaking.com joins us every Tuesday with a new gluten-free recipe. She is the author of Easy Gluten-Free Baking. and "How to Cook Gluten-Free".