Monday, April 8, 2013

Pasta Substitutions

Pasta is such an easy dish to make that it's always been kind of a bummer that myself and my daughter can no longer have it. For anyone else in the same boat, here's some ideas to substitute for your pasta dishes, posted from my 'dead' buffalo blog.

Pasta substitutions

Foods you can use instead of pasta in recipes that ask for it. 
Processed GF pasta – A no-brainer, right? These are becoming more and more available, even in some regular grocery stores. Price can be an issue, however, as these typically aren’t cheap. And for those of us avoiding grains, obviously these aren’t going to be useful.
When I make a processed pasta for my son, I use Tinkyada rice pasta. I’ve liked it the best so far out of the pastas I’ve tried.  For those who can't have rice, however, there are now other options like corn pasta, quinoa pasta, and buckwheat pasta. I'm sure there must be more, or recipes for how to make pasta from other grains out there.
1.When cooking rice pasta, I have liked the flavor best if I cook it in the sauce itself, with extra water added. I typically add sauce enough to almost cover the pasta, plus half again that amount of water. If you don't add enough water, the pasta won't absorb the liquid well. But with just enough, it's much more flavorful.
2.With GF pasta, it’s even more important than ever to remember that pasta keeps cooking after you take it out. So take it out a little early anyway, or rinse it in cold water right after you drain it if you just cooked it in water.
3. A little added olive oil to plain pasta, just after draining, can help keep the pasta from sticking together as badly.
4. One thing I notice with GF processed pasta is that it is pretty nasty the next day if it’s not in a sauce – dried out, even in sealed containers. If you can plunge it briefly (for a few seconds to a few minutes) into boiling water, or reheat it in a sauce that covers all of it, that can sometimes bring it back from being a dried out pasta mummy.

Spaghetti Squash – For those who haven’t tried it, this squash has a very mild sweet taste and, if you scoop it out with a fork after it’s cooked, it separates automatically into little spaghetti-sized strands that are a nice look and texture for a pasta dish. It’s also pretty darn cheap.
It’s easy to nuke this sucker in the microwave. Just cut it in two, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds (you can save these and roast just like pumpkin seeds). Get a microwave safe dish that is flat and has a lip, and fill with maybe 1 inch of water. Put one half the squash in the dish, cut-side down, and nuke that puppy until the rind outside is soft and squishy to the touch. Then do the same for the other half of the squash. I usually cook it about 5 minutes at a time between checking to see if it’s done. It can be baked in an oven, instead, if you don’t like the microwave.
Tomato sauces taste pretty good with this. Pesto sauces not so much, in my opinion. That mild sweet taste comes through too much in sauces with a lot of contrast, but they blend well with other sweet sauces, like the tomato. So a sweet bell pepper sauce might work well too, though I haven’t tried it.

Root Vegetable Noodles – I got this idea from various raw foodies. One big plus for this is that it’s among the cheaper options, depending on the time of year and which root veggie you pick.
Get a yellow squash, a zucchini, a carrot, or probably any other kind of root veggie that holds together well when slightly heated. You can peel the skin off or not, your choice. Then, get a specialty peeler that peels lots of small, long strips from a veggie, like a julienne peeler. Something that’s going to produce pasta-like shapes. Or just chop the thing in half length-wise and use a regular peeler to get egg-noodle width strips.
Peel the entire veggie, from top to bottom. Sometimes, if it’s too seedy in the middle, I’ll stop and use the middle as something to chop and use in soup later. Let the peelings sit in the open air, uncovered (in the fridge), for a few hours if you can. It’s optional, but it seems to improve texture if you do this, as it makes the peelings more floppy. Then, just before you are serving your pasta dish, plunge your peeled root pieces into boiling water. A minute or two is good for squash and zucchini, but you might need more for the carrot. When you like the texture of them, remove from heat, drain, and use as pasta!
These are surprisingly nice. I really like the yellow squash ones with sweet sauces (like yellow/ red bell pepper based sauces), and the zucchini works well in any sauce that HAS zucchi, or with tomatoi. The flavor is hidden more that way by the sauce (’cause, you know, I’m not real big on the whole zucchini flavor thing, personally). I have yet to try the carrot noodles, but I imagine they might be very nice in something like chicken soup, added to the bowl just before eating.

Whole Grains – If you can have whole grains, some of these can do well in certain dishes instead of pasta. Soups that use noodles for added bulk often do well with rice. Soups that use barley might do well with whole grain quinoa or buckwheat. Meat and sauce dishes can do just as well over rice, millet, quinoa, and so on.

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