Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Traditional Italian Pasta Carbonara Recipe

I used to have a roommate named Rosaria who is from Naples. She really enjoys cooking and she was nice enough to show me how to make a few traditional Italian recipes. Pasta Carbonara was one of them.

Pasta Carbonara (also known as Spaghetti Carbonara) is a fast, easy, and extremely filling dish. It's basically bacon and eggs for dinner.  It's delicious.
Rosaria and I went through a few tries before we got this dish to work gluten-free. The trick is to use a pasta that can withstand a lot of handling after it's cooked. I recommend using either a quinoa pasta, a corn pasta or a white rice pasta. Both fresh pasta and brown rice pasta gave poor results. I used Ener-G brand white rice spaghetti for this meal, and it worked rather well. I have a full review of this pasta in another post.

Traditional recipes are very specific for Italians, meaning that if they call it pasta carbonara, they do not experiment with substituting ingredients or techniques when they are making it. (Sure they will experiment, but they will call it something else.) The recipe has already been perfected, and the only thing to do is to make the dish as perfectly as possible. Through making suggestions for changes with Rosaria I learned the following things:

- Pancetta cannot be substituted with prosciutto or another cured meat. However, you can, if needed, substitute American bacon for pancetta for economy or ease of purchase.
- You must use a high-quality Parmesano Reggiano.
- In other regions they may use garlic for this recipe, but in Naples they make it the right way, which is to use onions.
- Pasta Carbonara does not contain cream.
- You can't go easy on the salt.
- Spaghetti cannot be substituted wtih linguine or any other shape of pasta.

If you want to experiment with this recipe and add alternate ingredients, make sure you tell your Italian guests that it's "carbonara-like," (that is, not traditional) or they may raise an eyebrow.  I have not admitted this to Rosaria since, but I have tried experimenting with it since she left to return to Italy. None of my variations improved the recipe - rather the opposite.

Italians are very understanding of the gluten-free diet.  Rosaria helped me make several GF Italian dishes, including Eggplant Parmesan, one of my favorites. Last year I traveled to Italy and visited Rosaria. I found gluten-free pasta to be widely available, and some restaurants even served it. Everyone seemed to know about celiac disease, and there were always good things to eat.

The traditional Pasta Carbonara recipe is quick and easy, but it involves timing as much as ingredients. I will give you the original version of this recipe, however, if your gluten-free spaghetti takes longer to cook than the average semolina pasta you may need to adjust your timing. This recipe takes about 1/2 hour and serves 2 generous portions or three small portions.

Pasta Carbonara Recipe

First, cut into pieces:

1/2 onion

Turn on your burners to heat a large pot of generously salted water and a large skillet or frying pan big enough to accommodate all of the pasta once it's cooked. Add to the skillet:

3 Tbsp olive oil

When the olive oil is hot (use a medium setting), throw in the onion and saute. Don't let it brown too much. When the water is boiling, add:

10 oz pasta

At the same time, add to the skillet with the onions:

6 thin slices of pancetta, cut into pieces and separated to avoid clumping

a generous amount of salt

Saute the onion and pancetta, not letting it get too browned. When the pasta is al dente (still very firm), drain and rinse, if necessary, in hot water. Turn off the heat on the skillet. Make sure the spaghetti is well-drained after the rinse, then add all of the pasta to the skillet. Crack over the top of the pasta:

2-3 eggs

Stir the eggs into the pasta with a pasta spoon, chop sticks, or a fork, mixing the onion and pancetta into the pasta from the bottom of the pan. When the egg starts to look mixed in, add:

1/3-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Continue to mix the ingredients together until the egg starts to look like a sauce. You can turn the skillet on at a low temperature again if the egg is still too raw for your taste, but if done correctly it will be the perfect consistency at this point.

I served this with grilled red peppers and a salad with olive oil and salt.

Enjoy this simple dish with your favorite cheap Italian wine, white or red.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Gluten-free Weekend

I had a good weekend. Saturday morning I went to the Portland Farmer's Market, where I scored some great lamb steaks from SuDan Farm, ate some habanero caramel chocolates from Alma Chocolate, and bought some vegetable starts for my garden. Then I went to the Gluten-free Food Fair, which I heard about through the Gluten-free Portland website. New Cascadia Traditional was there, as well as numerous other vendors. The highlight was sampling the gluten-free pizza from Mississippi Pizza Pub, which I hadn't tried before. The crust was really good, kind of like an herby foccacia bread, but not too thick. I'll have to go down there and do a full review of the place soon. I hear they also serve GF beer there.

After the fair I went to Bob's Red Mill for the first time. They have a good selection of GF pastas and other products in the store. I bought some Ener-G White Rice Spaghetti that I'm excited to try, as well as some Tinkyada spinach spaghetti that looks good. I also bout a 25-pound bag of brown rice flour and another 25-pound bag of white rice flour. Both flours are certified gluten-free. Not only that, but they were only about $24 and $27 each! I estimate that I'm saving at least a dollar a pound getting these flours in bulk. At this price, the flour is about the same cost as whole-grain rice!
I celebrated all of this flour today by trying to make gluten-free pancakes for the first time. As my readers may know, my waffles are second to none. However, I haven't tried to make pancakes even once since I went gluten-free. I can't explain exactly why, other than that I just love my waffles so much that I just haven't ever craved pancakes.

I wanted to try out quinoa flour for the first time, too. I also wanted to create a recipe that I could post with all of the flour ingredients, instead of saying "use your favorite gluten-free flour mix" as I usually do. (My own GF flour mixes are still a secret).
Well, I failed. The pancakes actually had a really good flavor, but the consistency was way off. Oftentimes gluten-free flours just make a much thicker batter than wheat flour does. This batter was indeed too thick, so the flapjacks didn't cook right. It didn't help that I had the stove way too hot. I haven't cooked pancakes in so long I practically forgot how! After throwing most of them away, I finally got a few good ones toward the end, pictured above. I'll be working on some modifications to this recipe which I will post when I have it perfected.
I spent the rest of today planting some more vegetables in my garden, which is really taking form. I might build another whole garden bed later on if I get around to it, but I have the basics in already.
As you can see, I can stand to do a little more weeding.

I'm very content with my gluten-free weekend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Star Fish Gluten-free Crispy Battered Halibut (and Haddock) Product Review

This week for What's for Dinner? Wednesday blog carnival I'm doing a simple rice recipe and a review of some battered halibut and haddock from Starfish. For more dinner ideas go see Linda at the Gluten-free Homemaker.

Eric over at Starfish asked me to sample his new breaded fish products and let him know what I think. That's right - he gave me free samples, meaning that I've been bribed. In spite of this I will try to give you the most objective review I can possibly muster. After all, if someone tried to "bribe" me with inedible food I'd have something to say about that. As my fair readers may know by now, I take food very seriously.

There are two sets of instructions on the box: one for cooking in the oven, one for deep-frying. I appreciated the fact that there are no microwave instructions. Who wants to eat microwaved fish? In the name of science, I should have tried it anyway, but I couldn't bring myself to it. I'm more of an eater than a scientist.

First I tried the baking option. The instructions say to bake at 450 for 13-14 minutes or "until golden brown." The fish remained more golden than brown. I was surprised that the batter didn't brown more readily, considering that corn flour is a key component of the recipe. However, it doesn't contain any tapioca starch which would help in the browning department. I don't have any pictures of the baked ones. You'll just have to trust me on this one. They were kind of pale yellow, even when cooked through.

I liked the halibut best. They were made of whole pieces of fish, not shredded product, so they got points for that. The breading was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, just how I'd want it. The fish itself was moist and tender. The flavoring was just right - very classic deep-fried fish seasoning, without being too heavy.
The haddock was a little on the dry side. Haddock is a fish normally used as a filler or a generic white fish, so it makes sense that it was not quite as tasty as the halibut.

I also tried the deep-fry method of cooking. I don't have a deep fryer, so I wasn't sure about the temperature in my makeshift deep fry pan. I suspect that I didn't have it hot enough because the fish didn't float. However, it came out great. The batter turned a nice deep golden brown. Again the halibut was by far the better texture, but deep frying improved the haddock's texture quite a bit. I noticed that with both cooking methods the haddock became too firm and dry with even the slightest over-cooking. With the halibut I could over-cook it by quite a bit and it was still very good - especially with the frying method.

If I had one quibble I would say that it would be that the batter was not very thick. It wasn't too thin, though, so I can't officially complain. All in all, I'm not sure I would know that these were gluten-free if no one told me. I probably wouldn't buy the haddock for texture reasons, but the halibut was an excellent battered fish. This line of GF battered fish products, including codfish, will be available in Whole Foods across the country. You can read a review of the codfish version on the Gluten-free Portland site. They also have a response from Eric about how they prevent cross-contamination in their facility.

It was so warm I ate outside today.
I ran out of viable food options, so I had to resort to serving rice with the fish. While plain rice is fresher, lighter, and probably healthier to serve with deep-fried fare, I'm not really into those qualities in rice. Instead, I made it like my Costa Rican friend taught me while I was living there when I was in college. It makes a simple but very savory and hearty rice dish that you can serve with most meals or use to make other rice dishes.

If you are me, you will start this recipe by burning some onions until blackened, throw the whole concoction out, and start over from scratch. I recommend skipping this step - it's faster and easier, and better for your pans.

Heat in saucepan or in your ricemaker:

1-2 Tbsp olive oil

Chop into small pieces, then add to the hot oil:

1/4 small onion
1/2 carrot, julienned (optional. I didn't have carrot, so I ommitted this)

Sautee until brown. Add:

Several sprigs' worth of cilantro leaves

Sautee for 30 seconds then add:

1 cup rice
1 3/4 cup water salt to taste

Bring to a boil, then cook on low for 20 minutes. Serve!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lemon Scones with a Kumquat Glaze: a Recipe

I'm not into gimmicks when it comes to scones. I like my scones simple and straight-forward, and I like to be able to taste the flavor of the grains in my four mix. This recipe is none of these things. Nonetheless, it is my finest scone recipe to date. This recipe gives you a very tart, flavorful, citrus-scented scone. It's not even difficult. Simply combine in a small saucepan:
6-8 kumquats, sliced, with the seeds removed
the juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp sugar
Boil for 5 minutes, adjust the flavors to taste, then simmer until you are ready to top the scones. Use my scone recipe, opting for the lemon zest in the liquid component. You can go even heavier on the zest if you would like; the kumquat glaze will be very strong and will not be overpowered by the lemon zest. I made mini scones this time, which gives you a higher number of scones for the same recipe. I topped the scones with 1-2 kumquat slices per scone, then dripped a few drops of the glaze onto each scone as well. Alternately, the glaze can be applied once the scones are baked. Just be sure you keep the glaze hot until you're ready to use it or it will be too sticky to pour.
Do you crave more lemony recipes?  Go to the Gluten-free Homemaker's blog and check out her blog carnival.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recipe for Scallops in Butter Sauce on Quinoa

How I often pick seafood is by what looks good at the fish market. I create my recipes and ideas from the ingredients rather than forcing my shopping list to bend to the will of my recipes. This method proves itself over and over when selecting fresh fish. This week I found some really nice bay scallops that were very reasonably priced at my neighborhood New Season's.

I really like the taste and texture of fresh scallops. They really have a lot of inherent flavor that I like to accentuate in my scallop recipes. The trick to getting the texture right is to cook them with high heat, and not for too long.
This recipe was surprisingly fast to make. For once, I actually made the whole meal, including prep work, in the time it takes to cook the quinoa - about 20 minutes. Start your quinoa fist then prep the other ingredients, and cook. The quinoa can sit for quite a while in the pot if necessary after it's done, but the scallops are really quick to make and should be served right away.

I used the braising liquid that I had leftover from my braised rabbit recipe as well as some water for the liquid in the quinoa, which gave it a nice rich flavor. I will assume that you don't have something similar on hand. This recipe serves two.


Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid:

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup white wine
1 cup quinoa

Reduce the heat and allow the liquid to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.


Heat in a in a medium pan:

3 Tbsp olive oil

add in small batches, sauteeing as you go:

a handful of spinach or other greens, chopped
about 10 sprigs' worth of cilantro, stems removed
salt to taste

when the greens are just becoming limp, throw in the hot pan:

1/2 cup bay scallops

Cook, stirring or agitating often, for 1 minute. Add:

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Cook just until the tomatoes are hot, about another minute. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner if necessary. Add to the pan and gently stir to coat the vegetables and scallops:

2 Tbsp butter

When the butter has just melted, serve the scallops over the quinoa.

For more dinner ideas, or to join the What's for Dinner? Wednesday blog carnival, visit Linda at the Gluten-free Homemaker.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Recipe for Easy Chilaquiles with Chorizo (or without)

On weekends, I like to have some kind of hearty egg dish for brunch. As my loyal readers may have gathered by now, I love Mexican food. Combine brunch and Mexican food, and what you get is chilaquiles.

Similar to migas, chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish served in the morning using the leftovers from last night's cooking. It is pretty simple, and usually involves corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, cheese, and egg. I make it with tortilla chips instead of corn tortillas when that's all that I have around. If you do make it with tortillas, let them fry a bit in with the chorizo or in oil before adding the other ingredients. I don't really measure anything when I cook this, so all quantities are approximate. I tried to get a good photo of each step this time to give you a visual of the quantities. This "recipe" is one serving. The timing is more crucial than the quantities on this one, as you don't want the tortilla chips to be too cruchy or too soggy when you're done. Let me know if this method of conveying the recipe works for you.

You can use canned enchilada sauce, but I prefer to make my own. Enchilada sauce can be as simple as chile powder and water. youcan also use tomato juice, but I prefer using something that has little to no sugar. I just mix the powder with the liquid, adding more of one or the other until it comes to the right consistency. I used about 2 Tbsp of medium chile powder for this recipe. The spiciness is regulated by the type of chile powder you get.

I make my chilaquiles with chorizo, but it is just as legitimate to cook it vegetarian - just use some vegetable oil in the pan and skip the meat step.

First, heat up your large cast-iron skillet in medium-high. When it's up to temperature, cook up the:

Have all your ingredients prepped by the time the chorizo is almost done. Add to the skillet in this order:

a handful of tortilla chips, broken up a bit
chopped tomatoes (optional - and non-traditional)
2 eggs

3 Tbsp enchilada sauce

Immediately stir everything around. It should start cooking together right away. Add:

about 1/4 cup shredded cheese

Cook until the egg is done, the cheese is melted, and everything is combined. Serve on a warm plate.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Helpful Links for Food and Life

I'd like to share some blogs and resources I've found that have really helped me out in some way. Not all of these are specifically gluten-free resources, but they are all relevant to living the good life.

Green Baby Guide
: This blog is not just relevant to parents of small children. It has been a great resource for me to learn things like how to make a raised-bed garden, how to keep your milk and cream from going bad, or how to use less soap and water when washing dishes. The two authors of the website are very dedicated environmentalists, money-savers, and moms. I know, because one of the authors is my sister!

I have been really inspired by the GF Road Warrior. He travels every week for work and eats in restaurants for a good percentage of his meals. He has celiac disease, but that doesn't stop him from dining out. Read this great blog for travel dining ideas and business etiquette tips for going it gluten-free.

[No Recipes]: Marc is a die-hard gourmand. Strike that, Marc is a fantastic gourmet cook. He is not on a gluten-free diet, but his recipes are often naturally gluten-free. He frequently concentrates on fish, meat, and umami flavors - my favorites. If you want to know a technique for cooking steak perfectly every time or if you want to learn how to make your own horchata, this is the blog for you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ceviche: A Recipe

In Mexico, they serve ceviche everywhere on the coast. They serve it in restaurants, and vendors sell it from coolers on the beach (not recommended!) It is actually made without cooking the fish, but the lime and any other acids in the juice "cook" the fish in a chemical process without heat. As with any recipe, but especially when raw fish is concerned, buy your ingredients some place that you trust. I get my fish from New Season's in NE Portland or at Umajimaya in Beaverton. Both places have fish good enough to eat raw. If you want to do a shrimp ceviche, the shrimp should be cooked, but otherwise you can follow this recipe.

There are lots of variations to this recipe, but I tried to make it like they serve it on the Pacific coast of Mexico. This dish is usually considered an appetizer, but I could eat it all day. I am not going to give quantities for this one, as you can adjust the ingredients according to your taste. Start by buying the fish. About a quarter pound is good for appetizing 2-3 people.
First, cut into very small pieces,

halibut, halibut cheeks, or whatever firm white fish looks freshest in the store.

The smaller the pieces you cut, the faster it will be done. Place the chopped fish pieces in a non-metallic bowl big enough to accomodate the whole recipe later. It will be roughly double in size at the end. Cover the fish in:

fresh lime juice

I use a great citrus squeezer that looks like this to juice my limes:
Add a fair amount of:


Mix the lime, salt, and fish together, cover, and put it in the refrigerator. It will start turning opaque right away, but it will need at least 20 minutes to be done. In the mean time, chop:

tomatoes (roughly the same bulk in tomatoes as you had in fish)
cilantro jalepeno
I couldn't find a good one for this meal, but if you want you can also add:

chopped into chunks

Some people like big chunks of onion in their ceviche or salsa fresca. I avoid these pieces. However, I found out the hard way that the onion cannot be omitted. The salsa doesn't have enough flavor to it if you do. My solution for this problem was to mince the onion very finely, and I only used a very small amount - perhaps less than a tablespoon for the whole dish. I still got all the benefits of the onion without the big chunks. I suppose the same technique could be applied to any of the other vegetable ingredients that you are not overly fond of.

When you are done chopping veggies, check on the fish. It should look uniformly white and cooked. If it doesn't, stir it and give it a few more minutes. When it all looks white, cut open a piece and see if it's white all the way through - then it's done. Put the chopped/minced vegetables in the bowl with the fish and stir it all around. If there is too much liquid at this point, you can drain some off. How much liquid you serve it with is personal preference. Taste it to see if you need to modify any ingredients, but I'm sure it will be perfect at this point. Serve it with:

corn tortilla chips or tostadas

Any leftovers will still be good for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gluten-free Biscotti From New Cascadia Traditional

It's been a while since I've plugged the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery. This is our local gluten-free bakery in Portland, Oregon. I go to their kiosk in Nortwest or at the farmer's market at least once a week. They come out with new products pretty regularly, and I have recently started enjoying their biscotti. These look, taste, and feel like the wheat kind, and they soften perfectly in your coffee.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Product Review: Natural Sea Dairy-free Wheat-free Clam Chowder

I love dairy. When I was trying to figure out what my health problems stemmed from I was mortally afraid that it would be wheat or dairy, or both. I was actually relieved that it was just wheat. While there are grains galore that you can use to make muffins or scones, there is really no substitute for dairy. However, when I went off wheat I became temporarily lactose intolerant. This is common for people recovering from gastrointestinal disorders, including celiac sprue.

It was in this period of secondary lactose intolerance that I discovered a dairy-free New England style clam chowder. It was only later, after reading virtually every clam chowder label out there, that I realized that this is one of the few canned clam chowders in existence that is also gluten-free. The only other one I've found is Progresso brand, but that one has MSG (which is possibly not safe for celiacs - can anyone give me a definitive answer on this?)
Down to the nitty-gritty: I really like this soup. Imagine my surprise when I didn't really miss the cream. The soup is not creamy in the sense of having a dairy substitute. However, it does have a very thick and full potato base, like a smooth potato leek soup. The clams are not over-cooked, so if you heat the soup slowly you get a good texture out of them. The consistency is thick and chunky, and I mean that in a good way. The soup is definitely well-seasoned and hearty. I found this soup at New Season's.

My quibbles: this product contains soy. I wanted to share it with a gluten-free, casein-free friend, but he is allergic to soy. Why, oh why would you make a product specifically for people with food allergies and then add another one of the top eight allergens? It also contains corn starch, which a lot of gluten-intolerant people can't handle, but perhaps that can't be helped.

Have you tried Natural Sea DF WF Clam chowder? What did you think? Do you have a favorite GF clam chowder? Where do you find it? Please comment below!