January 22, 2014

Now that gluten-free goodies are a booming multi-billion dollar industry, it’s no longer hard to find decent, wheat-free boxes of pasta at the supermarket. Even more exciting — it’s also possible to easily buy ingredients to make fresh, gluten-free pasta from scratch. Delizioso!

My daughter Gabi and I recently had a great time exploring this tasty world. We took a four-hour, “Gluten-Free Pasta Dinner” workshop at The Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. From 6 p.m.-to-10 p.m., we joined a dozen other “recreational” chefs (aka, fellow amateurs) in one of the professional cooking school’s kitchen classrooms on West 23rd Street. The other students came from as near as the Upper West Side and as far away as London, Texas and Utah.

Gabs and I signed up because we were in search of a bonding activity. After all, she’s become a college girl. I can’t boss her around (as much) anymore. So the class took us beyond a lifetime of acquired politics in our home kitchen. And we did well as peers! Together, we puttered around the stove and socialized in a completely unfamiliar setting.

At a cost of $115 per person, the class was worth it. Gabs and I shared many culinary firsts that night — neither of us had ever made sauces and pasta from scratch before. We also picked up some knife skills. Plus, we left with a total of 13 recipes that went into making eight dishes.

On the menu were four home-made pastas: Sweet potato gnocchi, regular potato gnocchi, ravioli and buckwheat noodles. Instead of wheat flour, we used flours made of buckwheat, brown rice, sweet rice and potato. The ingredients also included potato starch, tapioca starch and xanthan gum, which gives gluten-free dough its elasticity.

As for the nine sauces, the list covered everything from a simple brown butter sauce to bolognese, zucchini and red peppers, wild mushroom, white clam, vodka, cream, regular marinara and creamy marinara sauces.

Check out what we made. It was an outrageous spread:

Our marvelous instructor was Melanie Underwood, who began the session by reading through all the recipes with us, one at a time. Then she showed us how to properly hold knives to cut onions, garlic and other veggies. Next, she demo’d rolling and shaping gnocchi, cutting buckwheat strips and making ravioli.

To get everything done, we divided into three teams working at three different stainless steel tables. Melanie continually circled between each of our stations to offer guidance, which we really needed.

During the final hour, ICE staffers helped us clean up, washing dirty pots and pans. Once the tables were clear and the free wine was set out, we chowed down.

Here are photos of our team, my plate, and Melanie:

And here are before-and-after shots of the kitchen classroom, along with the rest of our classmates:

I appreciated that the class gave me a chance to test various store-bought brands, all at once. So during the class, I realized that I am not a fan of corn linguini; too brittle. But white and brown rice pastas are quite good.

The big problem in handling gluten-free pasta is that it falls apart when overcooked. You really, really have to watch your burners. Here’s a tip for managing gluten-free lasagna: After you cook and drain these noodles, save a cup of cooking liquid. Rinse the lasagna in cold water. Then leave them in a shallow pan with the reserved liquid. This keeps them from sticking together. Our team learned this the hard way when I forgot to float the noodles in the pan, haha!

Gabs and I agree that we never would’ve attempted any of these recipes at home. We needed the classroom support because pasta-making is so textural. Melanie showed us exactly how soft gnocchi dough should be — if you roll those pillow-y darlings too much, they cook up chewy. We were also surprised by the cardboard-ish feel of raw ravioli dough. Now that we know what to expect, we look forward to experimenting at home.

The most important discovery? As a mother-daughter bonding activity, cooking classes rock. We want to do this again. Soon.  <3

If you’d like more info…

This was my second class at ICE. For photos from my first class, click on: Chinese dumpling class with Kian Lam Kho.

Here’s a link to upcoming ICE classes. (Note: The class we took is normally taught by Michelle Tampakis. Melanie, who subbed, has many classes of her own at ICE.)

To read more about gluten-free product trends, here’s another link.

As for the benefits going gluten-free, I went this route 15 years ago. Never looked back. It cleared up my skin and allergies, improved my digestion and made me less bloat-y. You can find details on my blog post: Chinese medicine master Jeffrey Yuen’s essential health & beauty diet regimen.

Ciao for now and thanks for stopping by!  xo