One of the first things that people ask upon learning that I cannot eat gluten is, “What can you eat?” Being gluten free automatically disqualifies anything made with wheat, barley, rye, as well as a surprising array of additional options from one’s diet. It’s hidden everywhere, disguised in various additives, lost in the unpronounceable list of ingredients in nearly all processed foods. I found out the hard way that even soy sauce–of all things!–contains gluten. It turns out wheat is the second ingredient. Wheat? Yes, wheat.
Going gluten free has certainly been a learning experience, however, it hasn’t been the nightmare of deprivation that I think many people assume it to be. Yes, it has eliminated many things from my diet, but I have felt better knowing that I can’t pick off the brownie tray that occasionally materializes in the office kitchen and that my afternoon snack can no longer consist of one of the many packaged goodies that used to beckon around 3pm. I mean, don’t get me wrong–it’s not all fruits and veggies….
For nearly everything that you can imagine that you would miss, there is a GF alternative. Or one can be created. Since eating this way graces me with so many other benefits, perhaps I am a bit biased when I say that many of these alternatives are equally as good or better than their non-GF counterparts. My own prejudices aside though, the gluten-tolerant in my life, including the man for whom I make dinner every night, tend to agree.
It probably also helps that I love to cook and have since I can remember. Cooking has always felt to me as natural and fulfilling as actually eating, perhaps even moreso. I cook from instinct, with creativity and enterprise. It is meditative. After a long day at work, I relax into my kitchen, where I know exactly where everything is, and lose myself in the rhythm of creating dinner. And as Hallmark-greeting-card-gooshy as it sounds, I put love into everything I make. I can’t help but smile to myself as I conjure up a recipe and realize the single ingredient that will show someone that I have thought of them. I revel in the delicious sounds of delight or fully-engrossed silence that accompanies a well-received meal.
Eliminating gluten from my kitchen has forced me to think outside the box (literally in some cases) and opened possibilities I may have never known existed. We have not felt deprived since.
My food-loving, Italian boyfriend and I used to eat pasta several times a week–and thanks to many, wonderful GF options, we still do. This was last night’s (and tonight’s) dinner:
Turkey n’ Bacon Pasta Bake
1 lb ground white meat turkey
5 strips of smoky bacon, chopped
1 28 oz can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 12oz package GF penne (or other short-cut pasta)
½ lb ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/4″ thick
(you can also use smoked mozzarella to echo the smokiness of the bacon)
1 cup ricotta
½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
3 cloves garlic, minced
6-7 leaves basil, chiffonade
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon EVOO
Kosher salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 375.
Heat a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Start by adding the chopped bacon (isn’t bacon always a good place to start?), cooking until the fat has rendered and the bits are crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Drain all but approximately 1 tablespoon of the bacon renderings.
Return the pot to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic and allow to cook for about one minute or until fragrant. Squeeze in the tablespoon of tomato paste (I prefer the tomato paste in a tube). Allow the paste melt into the drippings and lightly stain the garlic. After a few moments, turn the burner off and add a splash of dry, white wine. Restore the flame and cook over medium heat, allowing the wine to reduce and the flavors to concentrate.
Next, crush the whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes by hand directly into the pot, removing any skin and the small, hard bits where the stems once attached as you go. Pour in the remaining tomato juices from the can. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer.
Separately, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small skillet and add the ground turkey. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently work the turkey into smaller and smaller bits, allowing it to brown on one side, turning to brown on the other, and breaking it up as you go. Once the meat is just cooked through, add it to the tomato sauce. Allow to cook until thick. Within the last 3 minutes or so, turn off the heat and stir in the basil chiffonade.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a fistful of salt and the penne. Cook until just a minute or two shy of done, so that the pasta still has a worthy bite to it. Reserve one half cup of the pasta water and drain.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and the parmigiano reggiano with the bacon bits. Season with salt and pepper. Add the reserved pasta water, stir into a thick sauce, and toss the pasta with the cheese and bacon mixture.
Ladle a small amount of the tomato sauce into an empty baking dish, just enough to lightly cover the bottom. Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into the dish and cover with the remaining meat sauce. Top it all off with wet, round slices of fresh mozzarella and an extra sprinkling of parmigiano reggiano for good measure. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Instructions for reheating: Bake at 375 degrees, covered with aluminum foil (add a small amount of water to the dish if you have any concerns that it may dry out), for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.
That is, of course, if you have any leftovers to reheat.