Nyt Article On Cooking Gluten-Free For Dinner Parties
Posted 05 December 2012 - 08:45 PM
Removing ‘Sacrifice’ From ‘Gluten-Free’
By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS
Published: December 3, 2012
I WAS gluten-free before it was cool to be. In 2000, a doctor told me I was allergic to wheat, barley and rye, and said that avoiding gluten was the only way to end my stomach pains and chronic lethargy. So I had to give up tagliatelle, Belgian-style ale, granola and — I feared — cooking for friends.
Back then, I had been the rare 20-something New Yorker who loved to bake for roommates and give dinner parties for 12 people crowded around a long table. I didn’t want to stop entertaining. So I started defanging potential critics by announcing a dish was gluten-free, thereby lowering expectations. For dessert, I’d say cheerily, I used rice flour for the peanut-butter brownies (code for: sorry, they are a bit gritty.) Sometimes I settled for second-rate: zucchini fritters that tasted of the chickpeas in the gluten-free blend that I substituted for wheat flour.
That was then. These days, gluten-free entertaining doesn’t have to be a drag, as long as you’re willing to spend some time in the kitchen. Armed with superior ingredients like Schär bread crumbs and finely ground flours, it’s easier to pull off a feast that won’t disappoint the wheat-eaters at your table. And inspiration for gluten-free gluttons like me isn’t hard to find anymore, thanks to all the inventive cookbooks and instructive blogs with gorgeous recipes tempting enough to draw a crowd.
To prove that gluten-free was no longer synonymous with subpar, I set a challenge for myself: I would present a dinner party and not disclose the secret until the end. Goodbye, crutch.
The no-more-excuses crowd is growing. The rallying cry for the blog Autumn Makes and Does is, “No substitutions or good-enoughs here, just damn fine food that happens to be gluten-free.” Carol Kicinski, founder of Simply Gluten Free Magazine, which had its debut this month, said her bar was no longer set at whether it was good enough for gluten-free. “It’s just ‘Is it good?’ ” she said. In the past, Mrs. Kicinski, who has been gluten-free for 20 years, admitted to making pies and dinner rolls with wheat because she didn’t want to risk seeing disappointment at her dinners. “Whenever I had guests, I would feel insecure,” she said.
So could I pull off a feast so good, my guests wouldn’t be able to tell it was gluten-free?
I spent the summer inviting unsuspecting guinea pigs to see which dishes furrowed their brows and which succeeded as culinary Trojan horses. I hunted down cookbooks from chefs who were cheerfully (not militantly) gluten-free, like Aran Goyoaga, whose hearty, inventive fare is so marvelously presented and festive that few would guess it’s free of the elastic protein that helps make bread springy.
In fact, Ms. Goyoaga didn’t even want to put “gluten-free” on the cover of her cookbook, “Small Plates & Sweet Treats,” published last month. But her editor convinced her that the time was right. “A lot of people are looking for a cooking style that happens to be gluten-free that can be beautiful,” Ms. Goyoaga said. “You don’t have to feel deprived.”
Certainly there’s a big audience. People who have celiac disease have to avoid gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley that can damage their small intestines. But going gluten-free has become faddish, too, winning over athletes, celebrities and fashionistas, some of whom think it’s healthier or a way to lose weight.
For my party, I wanted an entree that guests wouldn’t expect could be wheatless. No shock in roasted chicken with balsamic glaze, after all. I had settled on Ms. Goyoaga’s ricotta gnocchi with an improbably bright watercress pesto, until I made her quinoa spaghetti with garlicky squid and niçoise olives. During one of my test-runs leading up to the big night, my friend Kate, as she tucked into this intricate dish sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs, swore in appreciation. Her boyfriend Nick said simply, “mmmmm.”
As for the guest list, I invited a couple, Alex and Amy, fund-raisers who have spent time in Italy, making them a discerning audience for pasta. My husband and sister were both in the know. But Victoria, a furniture designer, wasn’t aware that the evening would be gluten-free; neither were a couple I hadn’t seen in months: Mike, a teacher, and Dune, a reporter.
For appetizers, I served a surprise (a savory shortbread) and then a must-have morsel (mushrooms stuffed with spicy sausage and cheese).
Mike and Dune arrived first. After she was served a whiskey sour, Dune bit into a shortbread with a fig center and exclaimed, “What is this stuff?”
didn’t add that cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead is gluten-free. Instead of using wheat flour, I had substituted a cup of Gluten Free Mama’s almond blend, which I buy online (8 pounds, $30.58). I had long assumed that wheat flour was king. But some dishes are better with alternatives. I used almond flour, for example, for my crab cakes, which didn’t weigh down the lump meat.
I hoped the biggest surprise would be the quinoa spaghetti. Though I made everything else from scratch, the pasta came from a box. There is plenty of gluten-free spaghetti on the market whose texture is up to snuff. I went with Andean Dream, which is slightly earthy but delicious al dente.
I thought the entree passed with flying colors. Victoria liked the spicy kick. Dune wanted more toasted bread crumbs, Alex wanted less. But then Alex announced: “Something’s different here. What is that?”
I played dumb. “It’s spaghetti,” I said nonchalantly, and we moved on. The truth had to wait until after the cheesecake with hazelnut crust, drizzled with caramel. I had done a test run, eating a slice just as it cooled (light, airy) and then after a night of refrigeration (rich and moist) to see which way wowed. The recipe called for Cup4Cup, a gluten-free blend that was developed at the French Laundry in 2010 and now is sold online and at Williams-Sonoma (3 pounds, $19.95).
The blend was created by Lena Kwak, the president of Cup4Cup, who wanted a flour mix with a neutral taste that could pass for wheat, so she didn’t use bean flours. Instead, Ms. Kwak wanted people to be able to eat the same gluten-free dish and, as the slogan goes, “never know it.” “Food is such a social thing, breaking bread, sharing off a plate,” she said. It’s lonely if “your options none of your family members want to share.”
I decided to serve cheesecake I had made the morning of the party, because the lightness offset the hefty nutty crust. Also, my sister, usually a woman of restraint, once ate a quarter of the just-cooled version.
Thumbs up all around for the dessert: praise for the crust (“so good”) and for the surprisingly airy cake (“you expect it to be dense”).
Fortified with blueberry liqueur, I braced myself for criticism as I took guests aside to disclose that the meal had been gluten-free.
First, Alex and Amy. “The only tell was the pasta,” he said solemnly, then he added with borderline glee. “There was something different!” Sigh.
Amy said the pasta stuck out because “it was trying too hard.” The first course “didn’t have that doughiness that befalls all crab cakes,” she said. “They were moist on the inside, and crispy on the outside.”
Dune, Mike and Victoria were more surprised. Victoria liked the blue-cheese savories, but suggested making each cookie smaller — not because it crumbles, but because it overpowers the fig’s sweetness. Dune said everything delighted, but the pasta’s “consistency was off.” Read: mushy. Victoria, who sometimes eats gluten-free for long stretches, offered a defense on my behalf: “It’s not really subpar quality. This pasta just has a different consistency.”
Part of me lamented that I had not made the pasta, using the recipe from “Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef” by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern. Next time, I might serve RP’s fresh gluten-free linguine, which is available online and at some Whole Foods stores.
But Mike made me want to run a victory lap. “You made a complex pasta that had like seven ingredients,” he said. “If it was a simple pasta dish with only salt, I might have been able to tell, but I had no idea.”
Since the dinner, I’ve been savoring his parting words: “I couldn’t tell it was gluten-free.”
Hazelnut Cheesecake With Salted Caramel Glaze
Adapted from Lena Kwak
Almond Flour Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli
Adapted from Judy Haubert, Saveur
celiac, hypothyroid, hereditary hemochromatosis
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users