In my kitchen, pasta is short for everyday quick. So when a friend started sharing the benefits she’d realized by cutting out bread and noodles, I listened up and decided to decrease the wheat-based foods in our diet. Who better to help me make this culinary turn than Robin Asbell, author of the “Big Vegan” (and five deliciously alternative cookbooks). She can make any diet of “No” taste good.
So it is with her new “Gluten-Free Pasta” cookbook (Running Press, 216 pages, $20). With more than 100 recipes for low and no-carb options, this thoroughly researched, thoughtfully compiled selection sheds new light on crafting fresh and dried pasta dishes that are gluten-free and packed with flavor. What endears me most is Asbell’s eye for Asian, African and Caribbean dishes where rice or soba noodles are de rigueur.
Cooking gluten-free isn’t new to this chef, cookbook author and food writer. “My mom realized she had a wheat allergy about 30 years ago,” Asbell told me recently. “We didn’t have the options available now, so I began to work with rice noodles and rice wrappers for spring rolls and experiment with the different whole grains. Since then, there has been an explosion of wonderful gluten-free pastas, some indistinguishable from those made with wheat.”
Creating a good-tasting fresh gluten-free pasta was the biggest challenge Asbell faced when she began the manuscript. “I knew that if a cook was going to the trouble of making gluten-free pasta from scratch, it’d better be worth the time and effort,” she said. Doggedly researching food chemistry, she realized the importance of protein to the pasta’s texture, so added whey protein to her fresh pasta mix. The result was so successful, her neighbor noted, “It’s the best pasta we’ve had since touring Italy last year.”
For the less ambitious (that would be me), Asbell provides a cook’s guide to the range of gluten-free pastas on the market today and includes brand names for dried and frozen rice, buckwheat, quinoa and corn options, as well as suggestions for stocking a gluten-free pantry with assorted flours (rice, sorghum, millet, etc.), tapioca and arrowroot starch, and binders. “Gluten-free pastas are generally as easy to cook as wheat pasta. You just need to be more vigilant. There’s a little more bandwidth with wheat pasta. Most of the gluten-free varieties will overcook in seconds,” she warns.
The chapters are organized by sauces, appetizers, salads, soups, hot dishes and casseroles. The recipes are clear, straightforward and flavor-packed. Asbell does not hold back on hot chiles, curries or sweet and sour tastes. There are also plenty of familiar Italian and European favorites. The fact is, you can substitute any pasta (wheat or gluten-free) in these recipes and the book would still be a winner.
Beth Dooley is author of “Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook.”