Free From all’Italiana – authentic Italian dishes for special diets

Nothing gets my goat like lazy free from recipe writing – the sorts of articles and books compiled by those intent on making a quick buck from the growing ‘free from’ phenomenon by using the ‘replace all’ function to put ‘gluten free plain flour’ instead of ‘plain flour’ in the ingredients list with little regard for the availability or suitability of ingredients in the dish.

Any seasoned free from cook will have found through months and years of trial and error that it’s often not just as simple as replacing one ingredient with another. Good free-from recipe writing either requires starting from scratch and thinking about the flavours and textures that will work in harmony with your chosen ingredient; or if trying to recreate an old favourite, knowing the properties of the substitute ingredients and what to add or remove to emulate the original.

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Black bean pasta with seafood, pesto & chilli

Free From all’Italiana (Primi) is firmly in the Good Free From Recipe Writing category; and has begun my new love affair with all things gluten free pasta. Let me explain:

Previously the best praise I could have given a gluten free pasta is that it would pass for the real thing. My repertoire consisted of an unsympathetic pile of brown rice spaghetti under a variety of minced-meat & vegetable concoctions. Or at a push, sheets of brown rice lasagne between another minced-meat concoction! Experiments with many of the new rainbow-coloured and higher protein and fibre alternatives made from beans, pulses or roots were met with disdain from the whole family – and of course, they don’t taste like the ‘real thing’! I’ve just never given pasta as much thought and love as my cakes.

But once you start to work with the ingredients and their properties instead of trying to lob them into the old favourite – for example matching strong and tangy sauces with earth grainy textures – you see them in a whole new light. And this is the genius of this book by the doyenne of Italian food writing, Anna Del Conte and Free From pioneer Michelle Berriedale-Johnson. Combining a real understanding of what underpins Italian cookery in terms of letting the best and fewest ingredients really sing together; and combining them with knowledge of the newest free from products (black bean pasta, seaweed spaghetti); this book is the shortcut to the experimentation I’ll never have time to do.

I appreciated the honesty in the writing – like saying when only butter and real dairy cheese will do making a particular dish off-limits for my CMPA daughter, but delicious for us; and when it really is ok to use pesto from a jar, just like the Italians do. This makes most of the recipes quick and simple to prepare, with free from substitution suggestions in the ingredients lists, and so ideal for weekday family meals (if not a truly traditional multi-course affair).

It did challenge this experimental cook a little to use anchovies in dishes – but they work, and to not to add extra ingredients and flavours to each dish – I found the baked risotto (not quite like a standard risotto, so adjust your expectations) a little plain; but my 3 year old had seconds and thirds – sometimes it pays to leave a recipe alone.

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Baked risotto – simple flavours, unusual textures (for a risotto)

Pasta isn’t the only focus, though. In fact most of the book celebrates many of the naturally gluten free staples regularly eaten in the regions of Italy – including risottos, polenta, beans and potatoes – the things that make Italy such a joy to visit as a coeliac. I’m looking forwards to trying buckwheat in my polenta! My only wish would be for a few more pictures of the finished dishes so I know what I’m aiming for, I’m a sucker for good food photography. Hopefully my pictures here help you to whet your appetite!

Bring on ‘Secondi’ – although not sure if I have room!

For more information (and to buy) visit http://www.freefrom-italiana.com/ 

Disclosure: I was kindly provided an electronic copy of this book for review purposes, all pictures, ingredients, props and food styling are my own.

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