There are more GF brands than ever at the grocery store, but how to cook gluten-free pasta properly at home remains a pain point for many of my readers on a gluten-free or low FODMAP diet. Fear not! This fan favorite post contains tips for how to avoid any missteps and cook perfect gluten-free pasta every time. Plus I have plenty of gluten-free dinner ideas to put your noodles to use!
Allow me to briefly throw my significant other under the bus.
My husband, Charlie, and I eat a lot of gluten-free pasta as a quick (semi-lazy) weeknight meal. But when he cooks it, the end result never tastes as good as when I do. This is not simply a matter of my day job versus his. Steak and fried eggs? No problem. But something as simple as pasta foils him Monday after Monday.
I can see this frustrates him. And secretly, it frustrates me. Because even from the other room—where I try to sequester myself during my other half’s cooking ventures, so as to not become a backseat chef—I can see where Charlie goes wrong.
Seeing how other people cook is a secret weapon for those of us who develop recipes for a living. It’s why Ina Garten has an assistant with minimal cooking experience who tests her recipes right in front of her. It’s also one of the reasons why I like teaching cooking classes so much. My students constantly remind me of the intuitive kitchen tasks that I take for granted. And as I’ve witnessed during my own casual at-home case study, cooking gluten-free pasta is not as easily as boiling water.
Store bought gluten-free pasta brands have come a long way from the disintegrating fusilli of yore. But no matter which box you’re using, if you cook the gluten-free noodles wrong, the results can be just as soggy and sad.
Without a classroom to offer a “safe space” for feedback, I’m going tackle some of my significant other’s pasta faux pas right here, in hopes that I can save all of us from consuming the aftermath of similar missteps.
Read on for some frequently asked questions about GF pasta, how to cook gluten-free pasta perfectly every time, and some gluten-free dinner ideas for using up your noodles. Also make sure to pop by the comments section if you have some tales and tips of your own!
With health and hedonism,
Frequently Asked Questions About How To Cook Gluten-Free Pasta
What is Gluten-Free Pasta Made From?
While traditional pasta is made from wheat derivatives, gluten-free pasta uses other types of grains. In Italy, gluten-free pasta tends to be made from a combination of white rice flour and corn flour. There are also higher protein varieties on US supermarket shelves that are made from quinoa, lentils, or chickpeas.
Does Gluten Free Pasta Taste Different?
When it comes to what gluten free pasta tastes like, brands have come a long way in the last decade to mimic the flavor profile of traditional noodles. In particular, pastas made from white or brown rice, quinoa and corn tends to be the mildest and easiest to pass as regular pasta. Sometimes the corn flour can add a very slight sweetness.
Legume-based pastas tend to taste a bit richer and buttery—chickpea pasta has its own base flavor that is harder to mask with a sauce, though not unpleasant.
If you want to learn how to make gluten free pasta taste better, read on for the tips for cooking gluten-free pasta better below.
7 Mistakes People Make When Cooking Gluten-Free Pasta
1. They substitute ounce for ounce.
Gluten-free flours have a different density than regular all-purpose white flour. This is one of the reasons why gluten-free baking is not as simple as subbing cup-for-cup (and why Thomas Keller is a genius for figuring out a special blend where you can). The same is true for gluten-free pasta. If a recipe calls for 1 pound of regular pasta, the cooking the gluten-free equivalent is going to be far too much. And that means all the other quantities—sauces, add-ins–will be off as well.
For example, Bionaturae’s GF pasta weighs 12 ounces, while the same bag of regular pasta is 16 ounces. This ratio varies depending on the brand and what gluten-free pasta is made from (usually rice, corn, quinoa, or a combination), but gluten-free pasta brands tend to be around 12 ounces.
The best rule of thumb I can offer is to go by servings. One package of pasta is usually 4 servings, regardless of whether it’s gluten-free. Most recipes are also scaled for 4 people. So using the entire package of gluten-free pasta tends to be the correct amount to use in the dish regardless of weight.
2. They overfill the pot.
Gluten-free pasta tends to be starchier than regular pasta, which sometimes creates a lot of foam on the top of the pot. This can easily boil over and create an annoying mess on your stovetop. Also, as we discussed above, gluten-free pasta tends to expand more than regular pasta. The solution to both problems: when cooking gluten-free pasta use a big pot and only fill it 2/3 of the way with water to give you more wiggle room.
3. They under-salt the water.
Your pasta water should taste like the ocean. This is a general rule of thumb for all pasta making: if you don’t salt the cooking water, it’s hard for the end result to ever taste properly seasoned. But gluten-free pasta can be particularly dull without salt. If you’re wondering, does gluten free pasta taste different? It commonly does as a result of under-seasoning the water.
This is a violation I often experience at the hands of my significant other, who maintains that he always salts the water. Guys, you want to use at least two tablespoons for every box of gluten-free pasta. Otherwise, it’s not enough.
4. They don’t stir.
Because of the starch, gluten-free pasta noodles tend to cling together. Add a glug of olive oil to the water and make sure to run a spoon through it to redistribute every 30 seconds during the first few minutes of cooking. Once the pasta has begun to plump you don’t have to worry about it as much. Again, this is an important pointer for cooking any pasta, but ignoring core techniques tends to make the end result even worse when you’re starting with gluten-free pasta.
5. They overcook the noodles until mushy.
This is the gravest mistake of all fettuccine fails. Gluten-free pasta tends to be less forgiving than regular pasta and can go from hard in the center to mushy in a matter of minutes.
The cook time on the back of the package isn’t always accurate. To cover your bases, set a timer for 2 minutes shy of the time called for. Taste a few noodles at this time. You want to drain them at the point that they’re al dente—the pasta should have a slight bite but not be overly stiff. Remember that the pasta will continue to steam slightly as it cools, and especially if you’re throwing it back in a pot with some sauce, you’ll want to air on the side of caution, i.e. undercooked.
I adding gluten-free pasta to hot liquid, like my Jewish Chicken Noodle Soup, you also want to make sure to undercook the noodles, as you won’t be draining them from the hot liquid and they will continue to cook even off the stove.
6. They let the pasta hang out in the colander.
Not only does letting the pasta sit in a colander put you at risk for continued cooking and eventual Mushtown, USA, but it’s also the second stage when your pasta is most likely to stick together. Transfer it immediately back to the pot (or, preferably, a mixing bowl), and add the sauce. At the very least, toss it with a tablespoon of olive oil if your sauce isn’t ready yet.
7. They don’t use enough sauce.
Starch is a natural thickener. If you notice when cooking gluten-free pasta that your finished dish always seems dry (and you haven’t committed the ounce-age offense above), it could be because you’re not using enough sauce.
As the noodles cool, they’ll absorb some of the gluten-free sauces. But the starch will also cause the remaining sauce to thicken. To combat this, you can either a) reserve a little cooking liquid before draining, b) try not to shake out too much of the cooking water from the colander (dump, then immediately transfer to a bowl) or c) have extra sauce at the ready and potentially add more right before you serve–ideally, I advise all of the above.
When cooking gluten-free pasta, I’ll often wait until the noodles have cooled slightly before adding the sauce and try to eat it right away. Here is one of my favorite low FODMAP pasta sauce recipes.
8. (BONUS) They eat it cold as pasta salad.
You might salt your water and cook your noodles perfectly, but believe it or not, your gluten-free pasta could still taste like cardboard…if you eat it cold. Brands have come a long way in engineering flour combinations that cook just like the real thing. But these noodles reveal their true gluten-free nature after a trip to the fridge.
For whatever reason, gluten-free pasta needs to be actually cooked to become edible again, even if you don’t end up enjoying it warm. If you’re making gluten-free pasta salad, simply let the pasta come down to room temperature on its own. If you’re brown bagging some leftovers, make sure you give it a little nuke before packing them away if you won’t have the opportunity to do so at your destination. There is no one brand that is the best gluten free pasta for pasta salad, the trick is not to refrigerate your dish once cooked.
The Best Gluten-Free Pasta Recipes
Now that you know the do’s and don’t for how to cook gluten-free pasta, I hope you’ll put your new skills to work! Here are some fabulous recipe ideas to get you started. You can find the best gluten-free pasta brands here.
Have you made any of these mistakes? Or had any other unpleasant results with gluten-free pasta? Got any more tips to share? Let me know in the comments section!