Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gluten-Free Homemade Pasta (Test #1)

Gluten-Free Pasta? Yes!

Many of you know that my husband has a gluten intolerance, and as a result my family tries to limit our gluten intake.  The Holy Grail of gluten-free foods (at least for me, with a big Italian family) is pasta.  It's one thing on which I hate to compromise.  Since beginning to actively limit the gluten in foods my family eats, I've been searching for a pasta without gluten which comes as close as possible to the homemade pasta on which I grew up.  My mother makes her homemade pasta with all-purpose flour and semolina.  The flour has gluten already.  Durum semolina has lots of gluten.

What Is Gluten?

Google defines gluten as "a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with celiac disease."

The Problem With Gluten-Free

Gluten is the binder that keeps pasta from falling apart when it's boiled.  We've tried all kinds of prepackaged pastas, and so far, the only one we like is Wegmans Gluten-Free Pasta.  It's corn-based, and if you don't care for corn, you may not like it, but it's the most flavorful one we've found.  Trouble is, this pasta cannot be boiled too long, or (you guessed it) it falls apart in the water.  Anything gluten-free just isn't going to have that same binding capability of gluten-containing pastas.  This makes it difficult to use in casseroles or slow-cooked dishes which have lots of liquid present.  As a shortcut, it works fine and fills that need for pasta.  But it's definitely not the same as fresh, homemade pasta!

Testing a Theory

Recently, I discovered Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour.  On a whim, I picked up a bag, wondering if this might replicate Mom's recipe in a gluten-free form.  It's pricey - make no mistake.  I paid $12 for a five-pound bag ... but think about how many sorghum flour, rice flour, xanthan gum, etc. ingredients you'd need to make your own gluten-free flour.  I was looking for ease of use, and this multi-purpose flour can be used in baking.  I figured, "Baking, okay.  Let's try it for pasta!"

I based this test run on my mom's recipe and some information I'd found in more complicated recipes around the Internet.  Egg yolks, I learned, are key.  There's just not enough protein in a store-bought egg to give the dough its necessary elasticity.  So, based on that, we added yolks to the dough until it felt right.  Here's our test recipe for fresh lasagna sheets!

Gluten-Free Pasta Dough (Test #1)

5 cups Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour
5 whole extra large eggs
2 extra large egg yolks
5 teaspoons oil

Whisk five whole eggs and two yolks together. Add oil and about 1/4 cup water.  In large electric mixer bowl, add flour, and pour in wet ingredients.  Mix with dough hook until ingredients begin to ball together and lift the dry ingredients from the bottom of the bowl.  Add a little water at a time if necessary until dough is a little tacky but not wet.  Use a spatula to push the ingredients down from the sides of the bowl so they mix evenly.

On parchment paper, knead the dough into a ball.  Cut a small chunk and roll out one sheet at a time, as thin as possible.  This dough rolled out to about 1-1/2 millimeters thin before it began to break.  We learned the dough would not take well to working it through a pasta maker, so we rolled it out by hand and cut it by hand.  Flouring the surface of the table made the dough too dry, so we used parchment paper and only floured the rolling pin as needed.  The dough does begin to dry out after working it for a while, so you may want to keep a little water onhand to sprinkle on it if needed.  Keeping the dough a bit tacky helped us work it better.  I would hand-cut noodles rather than trusting them to a pasta machine, where they seem more temperamental.

Cooking Results (Test #1)

We test-boiled a few hand-cut noodles, and boiling them for three minutes seemed to be the magic number.  The noodles were a bit al dente, and salting the water provided some flavor to the dough's blandness.  The dough itself was not at all unpleasant in taste, although I expect flavoring the dough with herbs or some salt would improve the base flavor.

For lasagna, we used uncooked sheets and baked it as normal.  The sheets came out a little chewy, similar to a thin pie crust.  Next time, we'll try boiling them first or drying them a bit before use.  The basic flavor of this dough was excellent in lasagna, where the noodles picked up the flavors of the other ingredients.

We also froze the leftover fresh dough, both in sheet form and in ball form, to see if it can be worked as well after being frozen.  I'll keep you posted on how that works out.  If you alter the recipe and have success, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  Until then, happy cooking!

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