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.
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,
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.
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