Pasta for Everybody

The whole world eats pasta: spaghetti, luchen, udon, soba, fettucini, fideo, maifun. And everybody loves it! However, some people have a bit of a challenge in finding pasta they can eat. This includes people who have issues with diabetes, problems with gluten, or just want to eat more whole grains.

But there really is pasta for everybody!

CHALLENGE #1: High-fiber pasta (diabetic-friendly). A few years ago, in a nutrition workshop I learned that as chief cook for someone with diabetes, I needed to switch to pasta with high fiber content, like whole wheat or whole grain. Now, I love pasta and I was not at all happy to hear that advice. Up to that point, I had never met a whole wheat pasta that tasted better than the box it came in.  But hey, it was important, so I got to work in the kitchen and figured out how to make diabetic-friendly pasta.

SOLUTION #1: I tried a lot of pastas, and went with the brand I like best for standard pasta, which is Barilla.  Now I use Barilla Whole Grain and Barilla Plus, which has flax and omega 3 as well.

With this kind of pasta, it helps to add extra seasoning to the water, and be very careful to get the timing right.

And my secret trick: while the cooked pasta is draining in the colander, I put 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil back into the pan, and add seasoning to the oil.  This can be salt or salt seasoning substitute, and pepper.  My favorites are Adobo seasoning and McCormick Montreal Steak seasoning.  (You can season tires with that stuff and they would taste good.) Then I put the pasta back into the pan and stir it up.

If the dish is Chinese or Japanese, you can use a little soy or teriyaki sauce to flavor the noodles (instead of salt, pepper, and olive oil).

CHALLENGE #2: Gluten-free pasta.  A few years later, I discovered (by trial and error) that if I can keep my diet (mostly) gluten-free, then I can be (mostly) heartburn free, so I also had to explore gluten-free pasta options.  (NOTE FOR COOKS: for people who have celiac disease, there is no “mostly” avoiding gluten; their diet has to be “absolutely” gluten-free,  so ask questions, read labels carefully, and look for certification on the label that each ingredient you use is gluten-free.)

SOLUTION 2: This was a bit trickier than finding high-fiber spaghetti, because I had to find pasta without wheat.

After some trial and error, I found a line of pasta for spaghetti that I liked: Bionaturae Organic gluten free, made of rice, potato, and soy.  In my supermarket, I can find spaghetti, rigatoni, and elbow macaroni in that line.

Of course, there are lots of cuisines that use rice noodles anyway. Annie Chun brand makes a line of rice noodles for maifun and for pad thai.  But I like to make stir-fry with udon noodles, which are wheat, and I couldn’t find an alternative.

DeBoles makes rice noodles, including fettucini, linguini, and even angel hair pasta.  It is also in most supermarkets, and it is pretty good.But my favorite is a line called NottaPasta, which makes fettucini, linguini, and a wide noodle.  These are basically rice noodles made with some tapioca flour, which gives it a nicer texture.  I use NottaPasta linguine or DeBoles fettucini in place of my beloved udon noodles, and it works pretty well.

To cook gluten-free pasta, you have to follow the directions very carefully.  If it says to stir, they mean it!  If you don’t stir, your pasta may all stick together in a great big clump.  And watch the clock, and taste, taste, taste to get the “mouth feel right”.

As with the high-fiber pasta, I put a little oil and seasoning into the pan to flavor the pasta after it is drained.  If I am making stir-fry, I use gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free teriyaki sauce instead.  A tablespoon or two is enough to make a difference. It can be a little extra effort to work the sauce into the gluten-free pasta, but the payoff in taste is worth it.

DOUBLE-TIME PASTA: These days, when I make spaghetti, I sometimes make two kinds, one high-fiber (diabetic-friendly), and one that is gluten-free.  (I usually make one batch at a time,to keep the timing straight.) I keep the first batch warm, or even reheat, or just let the hot pasta sauce do the trick. But if you are organized and less easily distracted than I am, you can cook both batches at once, in separate pans, of course. But with some recipes, especially stir-fry, I just settle for one kind of pasta.

If you don’t want any carbs at all (perhaps someone’s blood sugar is through the roof at the moment), you can use a pound or two off haricot vert (skinny French green beans), trimmed and steamed or parboiled until they are ‘al dente’, and serve them with your spaghetti sauce.

And of course, you can learn to make your own pasta, but that’s a post for another day.

In any case, this is worth the trouble, because like the rest of the world, we all love pasta.

NOTE: All of the brands mentioned above are available in regular supermarkets, and each also has a web site.

ALSO NOTE: If what you want to make for dinner is a reservation, Macaroni Grill now offers gluten-free pasta.

The illustration is a pen-and-ink drawing called “Composition with Pasta” by Randa Dubnick.  All rights reserved.

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