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Gluten-Free Cooking – Italian Style!

March 8, 2010

If you have Celiac disease, you probably thought you would never be able to enjoy your favorite Italian dishes again.  Hopefully by now you now that’s not true – you just have to make them yourself and do it at home!  Recreating some of your family’s favorite recipes for the Gluten-Free diet is surprisingly easy, and the joy of cooking at home is that you’ll spend more time with your family, while saving money!

Of course, the big issue with most Italian dishes is pasta.  Gluten-Free pasta has a terrible reputation!  If you’ve tried what’s out there, you probably know that many Gluten-Free pastas are either crumbly, mushy, or mealy.  While this is true, there are delicious pastas on the market that have a taste and texture almost identical to that of traditional pasta.  You will hardly notice the difference at first, and soon you’ll forget all about those gluten-filled and blood sugar-spiking noodles you used to eat.

Our favorite brand by far is Tinkyada.  Made in Canada on dedicated equipment in a dedicated gluten-free facility, these fine rice pasta products are available in most natural and gourmet markets like Whole Foods.  You can also find them in a growing number of mainstream grocery stores – though sometimes you have to look in the Diabetic foods section.

Almost all of Tinkyada’s products are made with brown rice, and some with added rice bran for extra fiber.  These noodles are so delicious that you won’t know the difference, and even those with added rice bran have a delightful al dente texture that rivals traditional semolina pasta.  They also come in all the different shapes you need for your recipes, including Lasagna and Jumbo Shells!

Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta is a close second, and in our opinion, vastly better than most other rice pastas on the market.  The downside is that it only comes in a few shapes.  It is not made in a dedicated facility, but it is of consistent quality and very economically priced.

If you’re a Gnocchi lover, take heart.  They are hard to find, but Il Riso Beretta’s Gnocchi di Riso are truly delicious!  Try ordering them online.

A few other tips: Use brown rice flour or your favorite Gluten-Free flour blend for dredging meats.  Try tapioca flour for thickening sauces.  Make or buy yourself some Gluten-Free Bread Crumbs and make meatballs!  Re-discover Risotto – a dish that is astoundingly easy to prepare and so versatile that it can be enjoyed in seemingly endless variations.  And prepare yourself mentally for making your first pizza, crust and all, from scratch.  It’s not that hard – more on that in a future post.

So dust off your Nonna’s sauce recipe, and get creative.  It’s time to reclaim our favorite Italian recipes.  In the meantime, here is a simple and easy recipe for a family favorite of ours…

Gluten-Free Chicken Piccata

Ingredients:

Chicken Breasts – I prefer thin-sliced breast fillets, about 4-8 depending on numbers & appetites!

Brown Rice Flour or Gluten-Free flour of your choice

Unsalted Butter (or just use olive oil if you can’t tolerate dairy)

Olive Oil

1/4 cup minced scallions or shallots

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice (more or less to your taste)

2-3 tablespoons nonpareil capers, drained

Salt and Pepper to taste

The key to getting the chicken breasts right is a high heat and a good skillet.  You want the heat to be so high that it almost burns the butter and/or oil – but not quite.  Have a plate ready with flour spread on it, turn your oven on low (no more than 200), and get out a shallow baking dish.  Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken fillets, then dredge them in the flour.

In a large, heavy skillet, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, over medium high heat, until fragrant and beginning to turn a nutty brown color.  Add an equal amount of olive oil and blend together.  Arrange your chicken pieces in the pan without crowding them, and quickly fry them, keeping the oil and butter as hot as possible without burning, no more than 4 minutes each side.  As long as your chicken breast fillets aren’t overly thick, this should be enough to cook them through.  They will also continue to cook slightly after removing them from the heat.  Remove them to the baking dish you got out, and then pop them all in the oven to keep warm when you are done frying them.

Whatever  you do – don’t wash out that skillet!  It holds the key to the goodness of this recipe.  If you have a lot of oil left in the pan, try to drain off all but a tablespoon or so, without disturbing any of the brown crispy goodness all over the bottom of your pan.  Heat over medium heat and add the scallions or shallots.  Stir and cook them for a minute or two.  Increase the heat to high and add the chicken stock.  Bring it to a boil while scraping the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon.  All the flavor and crunchy bit left over from frying the chicken will dissolve into the sauce, infusing it with a rich and savory flavor.  Add the lemon juice and capers, then allow the mixture to boil down, while stirring occasionally.  Reduce it by about half – or until you lose patience and just have to have it now.  Remove it from the heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, stirring until melted.  If you can’t tolerate dairy, try Earth Balance Spread.

Remove the chicken cutlets from the oven ASAP.  Plate them, serving with rice or the GF pasta of your choice.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve at once.  Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or the grated cheese of your choice.  Buon Appetito!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2010 7:43 am

    What I love about Chicken Picatta is that it is simple, yet elegant enough for a dinner party!

    My favorite recipe is for a Cabernet Risotto by Michael Chiarello: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/risotto-al-cabernet-recipe/index.html

    I use Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock, it is low sodium and tastes great (plus it’s GF!)

  2. March 9, 2010 8:38 am

    Yummy! I love Chicken Picatta, I will have to try this recipe, thanks for sharing it! I agree on the Tinkyada pasta, there just isn’t a better GF pasta on the market in my opinion. It holds up just as well as traditional wheat pasta, even as leftovers.

    Cabernet Risotto is sounding good right now!

    • March 9, 2010 8:04 pm

      Thanks Heidi! I have made this recipe so many times, and it is one of my all-time favorites. What’s your favorite Risotto recipe?

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