For better nutrition, choose whole grains. By Sylvia Tan
Gluten-free pasta with crabmeat, cherry tomatoes and dill. Photo: Marcus Tan / The Straits Times
I love pasta as much as I love noodles. Indeed, lunch during my schooldays was frequently konlo mee or Cantonese noodles, sold by an itinerant hawker.
I used to wait for him to pass by my house to buy a bowl every day.
Today, my granddaughter also loves noodles, Chinese or Italian.
She will even eat green pasta, intrigued by the colour. That is probably the only way she will eat greens, for she would otherwise pick out every pea on her plate.
The fact that green pasta, usually made with spinach, is now available points to the wide variety on sale now.
While we have always had a range of Chinese noodles, made from wheat, rice or beans, the Western varieties revolved around wheat, made with or without egg.
For a long time, that was all right with me, but I’m now gluten-sensitive. I cannot consume wheat in large quantities without digestive problems, so I read labels carefully.
I buy bread, noodles or pasta made from a flour other than wheat – kamut, farro or spelt, which are ancient grains, rice, maize, beans, buckwheat and even quinoa, which is a seed and not a grain from the Andes, rich with protein.
The common factor among them is that they are either gluten-free or low in gluten, a protein present in wheat flour and also in flour made from barley, rye and spelt.
Gluten helps dough to rise and gives a chewy texture to baked goods. There is gluten in spelt, farro and kamut, but it is more soluble, which makes it easier to digest.
While you should avoid all varieties of wheat if you suffer from celiac disease – a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food – I find that I can tolerate spelt, farro and kamut quite well and look for pastas and noodles made from these flours.
But gluten-free does not mean more nutritious.
For better nutrition, choose wholegrains and ingredients like beans in the pasta recipe, which means more protein.
This recipe uses rice and spelt pasta, which has some gluten, but in a more digestible form.
You could also use pasta made from the usual semolina or durum wheat, if you are not avoiding gluten.
This is a simple recipe that takes just minutes to turn out.
I like using fresh cherry tomatoes, which really sweeten the sauce, rather than tinned tomato, and also a handful of crabmeat thrown in at the end to enrich it.
You do not need to buy a whole crab for the meat. Peeled crabmeat sold in tins and tubs would do as well, especially if it is used with other ingredients.
One brand, Sea Prime, which comes in tins, offers different-sized chunks – colossal, jumbo lump or super lump, depending on the size of the pieces.
The meat is harvested from wild-caught crabs in Indonesia and you can buy it at the cake supplies shop Phoon Huat and its outlets.
I like chilli in my pasta and I also add fresh dill, which grows outside my kitchen door, as dill and seafood are an excellent match.
When cooking non-wheat pasta, be aware that rice and corn pasta take very little time to cook. On the other hand, if you choose wholegrain pasta, it takes longer cooking to make it silky, otherwise it will remain gritty to the bite.
I also cook my pasta differently to save time and energy. I boil a pot of salted water and when it is bubbling, I add the pasta or noodles and bring it to the boil again.
I then cover the pot, switch off the fire and leave it to sit for 10 minutes or less till everything softens. Break off a strand to test.
In this way, I save on energy and time spent watching the pot. And the results are just as delicious.
RECIPE: GLUTEN-FREE PASTA WITH CRABMEAT
SERVES FOUR TO SIX
•500g gluten-free thin pasta
•4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
•1 tsp red chilli flakes, to taste
•1 to 2 punnets cherry tomatoes, halved
•1/4 cup white wine
•300g peeled crabmeat
•Fresh dill leaves
•Salt and pepper, to taste
•Boil pasta. Drain.
•Heat olive oil in a pan. Saute garlic and chilli flakes.
•Add tomatoes and a pinch of salt and allow to soften.
•Add white wine to deglaze the pan, then add cooked pasta.
•Add crabmeat and toss lightly so as not to break up the meat.
•Serve with fresh dill to garnish and a swirl of olive oil to enrich.
•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
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