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Anna del Conte

Introduction

Anna:

For a long time, Michelle kept  asking me to write a book  on gluten-free Italian  food, but I refused because I didn't like the idea of having to exclude my beloved pasta  from anything I wrote.

Then one day, Michelle sent me a large  package. 'What  is it?' I thought. I started unpacking, and  out came bags  and bags  of different pasta: pasta  made with rice fiour, with cornfiour, with beans... I was stunned, but I was even more stunned  when I began to cook and  eat  them.  'Not bad,' I thought, 'not bad at all. Actually, some are very good.' I was hooked, and  this book  is the result.

In some of the recipes  you will find that  we suggest the use of Socia'  pesto  or other Socia'  Free From sauces. As anybody who knows me and has read  my books will know, I am not a cook  who relies on any sort of prepared food  -I like to make it all myself. But, sometime even I am short of time, and I certainly know  that  many  of my readers  are often short of time. So I tried some of those sauces and thought, 'Well, they  are really rather  good.' So, when  time is precious ...

I know  that Socia'  sauces are all made in Italy. I have been to their factory in Asti many  times and  also tasted the raw products. I have  also been to the fields where  the basil for the Socia'  pesto is grown. They are on the border of Piedmont and  Liguria, just the right spot to get the breeze  from the sea, tempered by the drier climate of the inland.

There, under  a huge walnut tree, we sat down to the most delicious  trofle  a/ pesto alia  Genovese I have  ever had. I was chatting to Sandra, one of the growers, and  asked her if she makes her pesto in the mortar or in a food  processor. She looked at me, laughed and  said 'Ma,  veramente, I simply unscrew  a jar of the pesto. It is just as good as it saves such a lot of time.'

I feel this is the best accolade, and I leave the final judgement to you.

 

Michelle:

I have indeed been trying to persuade Anna  to write a book about freefrom Italian  cookery for years. So I am really delighted that  she finally tried some of the very exciting gluten-free pastas now  on the market- and  that  she actually liked them!

However, this book is not just about gluten-free, but also about the wider  territory of freefrom. Freefrom lactose and milk products, yes, but  also free from many  others of those 14 major  food allergens  that need to be highlighted on all food  products. We have only fiagged the recipes  as being free from gluten, milk or lactose, but in fact  many  of the recipes  are also free of soya, egg, nuts, peanuts,
sesame and mustard.

In fact, much Italian  food  is naturally freefrom. Polenta, made from corn  or maize, and rice are as common in Northern Italy as pasta; olive oil is used as often as butter as a cooking medium; while meat and  fish dishes are usually simply prepared with herbs and  vegetables, without the need for thickeners  or cream. Nonetheless, pasta  does remain the backbone of Italian  cuisine outside Italy, so the development of good alternative, non-wheat-based pastas was crucial, if Freefrom a/1'/ta/iana was ever really to take  off.

Gluten-free pasta

You can  now buy pasta  made from a huge range of gluten-free ingredients: corn, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, soya beans, chick  peas, black beans, low-calorie konjac and  even seaweed- although strictly speaking you do not make  seaweed pasta  at all, you just harvest it!

Some of these- especially corn  and rice-based pasta  -come very close to the texture  and  fiavour  of a durum wheat pasta; although of course, they will never  taste exactly the same because the base ingredients are different. For some of the dishes in the book  (such as the fennel  and  anchovy sauce  on page 00), that is what you need: a relatively  mild, smooth  pasta  that  will not overpower the delicate fiavour of the sauce.

Others- the pulse based pasta, for example- can  be coarser in texture  and stronger in fiavour, but that  does not at all invalidate them  as a base for the sauce. It just means  that  you have  to devise different sauces that  suit them, which  is exactly what Anna  has done.

Some, such as the konjac or seaweed, bear very little resemblance to classic pasta  at all- they have much chewier and  chunkier textures- but still make an excellent and unusual base for the right sauce.

Milk-free and lactose-free

Confusingly, milk and lactose are not the same thing.

'Milk'  on a food label  refers to any milk-based food: milk itself, buttermilk, whey, cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and  any food  which  uses any of these. If you have  a problem with milk-based foods, you can be allergic- this means  that  you can have a potentially life-threatening immune system reaction to it. Or you can be intolerant, which means  that  you may  feel ill- sometimes  seriously ill- but it will not be life-threatening. Whichever it is, you need to avoid all milk-based products.

Although all animal milks share many  characteristics, they  are not identical, and  there are some people who  cannot tolerate cow's milk but can tolerate sheep's  or goat's milk. Although parmesan is made from cow's milk, pecorino (used in several recipes)  is a sheep's  milk cheese, so those people who are only sensitive to cow's milk may be OK with it.

Lactose is the sugar is found in all animal milks, including human. If you are lactose intolerant it means that  you do not make enough of the enzyme  lactase to process that  sugar; as a result it ferments  in your gut. However, while there are relatively high levels of lactose sugar in 'straight' milk, as the milk
is processed into butter, yogurt  or cheese so the lactose sugar is broken down by the fermentation process. The longer  the cheese matures, the less lactose will remain. This means  that really mature cheese such as parmesan or Pecorino Romano (the cheeses used almost exclusively in this book)  will be suitable  for someone on a low-lactose diet.

Anna del Conte