Before we went gluten free four years ago, my children’s favorite meal was pasta and so I knew that I had to learn to make good gluten free pasta. My first attempts at making gluten free pasta were really awful! The pasta was mushy–even “goopy”. I had to throw many batches down the drain. As I continued making GF pasta, my results were so inconsistent. One day the pasta would have wonderful texture and flavor and the next time I tried, it was mushy. It was frustrating!
Four years later, I think I’ve finally figured out how to make perfect gluten free pasta. The biggest hurdle to get over is that you can’t cook gluten free pasta just like you cook wheat pasta. There are important differences that make the world of difference. I’ll share a few very important tips:
TIP #1: Start with a GREAT dry pasta
I know it sounds so silly to mention but from experience, the brand of gluten free pasta you use makes a huge difference. From what we have available here in Hawaii (which I’m sure is limited), my favorite brand of brown rice pasta is Tinkyada and my favorite brand of white rice pasta is Schar. When I first started cooking gluten free pasta, I would try all of the blended grain pastas out there. Many of them had a strong flavor that my kids didn’t like and others were just mushy–not matter how well I cooked them. If I’m making a dish where pasta is the “star”, I always use my preferred brands–no matter what.
TIP #2: LOTS of water and LOTS of salt
Gluten free pasta releases a lot more starch than wheat pasta and so it’s essential to use a lot of water. I use a full pot of boiling water (at least 6 quarts) for one package of pasta. I add at least 1/3 cup of kosher salt to the water. It might sound like a lot, but you don’t have to worry about the pasta being too salty because it will be rinsed. (more about that next) The salt makes such a wonderful difference in the taste of the pasta.
TIP #3: DO NOT OVERCOOK!
This is probably the most important tip to emphasize. While you can sometimes get by with slightly overcooking wheat pasta, there is no getting by with overcooking gluten free pasta. As a rule, I look at the package directions and set the timer for at least 2 or 3 minutes less. When the timer goes off, I start hovering over the pot–stirring and tasting until the pasta is not chewy and hard, but has turned just firm–to an al dente texture. To me, tasting is the only way to ensure that you have cooked your gluten free pasta perfectly.
TIP #4: Rinse with cool water
This is the biggest difference between making gluten free vs. wheat pasta. You HAVE TO THOROUGHLY RINSE the pasta IMMEDIATELY AFTER it’s done cooking–even if you are going to immediately throw it into some sort of sauce. Rinsing gets off all of that excess starch and somehow tightens the pasta into a wonderful al dente texture. After you rinse, drain WELL and then throw it into your sauce.
I guess the true test of gluten free pasta is to give it to NON gluten free eaters and see how they like it. My daughter recently had her friend over for dinner and besides being a bit of a picky eater, her friend’s favorite meal is spaghetti. We all watched in wonder as she ate three servings of our gluten free pasta! Another test was when my son’s class was making soup and I made gluten free pasta to add in. The class ate every bit of the pasta and thought that it was the best part of the soup!
So I hope that these tips help others who are getting started on the gluten free journey and hopefully will help avoid the many mistakes that I made. Honestly…gluten free pasta really CAN be delicious!