--- Catch the brand-new second season of Cook Like an Italian with Silvia Colloca at 8pm Thursdays on SBS Food and streaming free on SBS On Demand ---
At first, it might seem that you have to give up some of the best parts of Italian food if you’re not eating gluten: pizza and pasta and bread and more. But these days, there are lots of options.
“Italian home cooking is not instantly associated with many gluten-free options but if you think about it there are a lot of classic Italian dishes that are born gluten free. You know, take frittata, take risotto, or polenta. And even classic Italian dishes that are not born gluten-free can be adapted if you use the right ingredients,” says Silvia Colloca, who devotes an episode to gluten-free cooking in the new series of Cook Like An Italian. Colloca can eat gluten, but as someone who loves to cook for others, she likes to make sure she can cook for all those who come to her table.
That’s been an even bigger challenge for Italian-born Sydney chef Gabriele Taddeucci, who was diagnosed with coeliac disease in his late 20s – well into his career as a chef.
“It has been shocking indeed. Being an Italian chef cooking predominantly Italian food, it felt like this was the end of my kitchen life.
“I remember contemplating giving up a culinary career, to start something new. But I decided that I would find a way to overcome this challenge. I started to study gluten-free (GF) flours, their compositions and how I could mix them to create gluten-free preparations which also tasted great," he says.
“To begin with, it wasn’t an easy journey – there was a lot of trial and error and a lot of frustration. However, I slowly saw some good results. My menus started to include GF dishes and guests started to appreciate my food more and more. Today I can convert pretty much any kind of food containing gluten into GF.
“I have not stopped learning. I love to keep pushing myself and learn how to do new things. However, my style of cooking changed drastically, but most importantly it changed my perception around people with dietary requirements.”
As a chef, it’s important to be able to offer food that caters to all guests' dietary needs, says Taddeucci, who is currently Executive Chef of Sovereign (The Star Sydney).
What about cooking at home?
“My best advice when it comes to cooking gluten-free meals is to make sure you’ve got really wonderful ingredients to cook with that pack a lot of flavour,” Colloca says.
A great example: her red lentil penne with quick prawn ragu, one of the recipes she shares in Cook Like An Italian. “This is not just a gluten-free meal. This is Italian fast food at its best,” she says.
“What I love about this dish is that the fact that it’s a gluten-free dish stops being the predominant feature. It’s virtuous in its own right. But the real star of the show is the flavour of the prawns, of the lentils, of the beautiful tomatoes, the olive oil. It’s just a triumph of flavour.”
Taddeucci says to be patient, and keep experimenting.
"No matter what flour mix you put together or which binding ingredients you might use to help you (like xanthan or guar gum, psyllium husks), a gluten-free dough will never look like or feel like a normal dough when you are making it. And the secret is to not give up at the first trial because only if you keep doing it you can improve.”
He has some very helpful tips specifically for those who love making pizza and pasta.
“As you start GF preparations there are some basic tips that you can use to improve the final result of recipes.
“Talking about pizza, the hydration of the dough can’t be as high as in non-gluten-free pizza dough (gluten is what usually holds the water in a dough), and proofing time cannot go beyond three to four hours, as GF dough doesn’t have the strength and structure to go through 24 hour or 48 hours like certain non-GF pizza doughs. Keep the hydration around 50-55% and proceed with a single proof of 3 hours at room temperature
“In regard to pasta, you need to remember to add a binding ingredient to your mix, as this will allow you to stretch your dough into a thin layer.
“In my opinion, GF egg pasta is probably one of the easiest preparations to try to sharpen your skills, and the recipe is very simple."
“In my opinion, GF egg pasta is probably one of the easiest preparations to try to sharpen your skills, and the recipe is very simple.
“Mix 200 g of buckwheat [flour], 200 g corn starch and 100g of superfine polenta (or cornmeal) with 15 g of xanthan gum. Separately beat 5 whole large eggs in a bowl and sieve it through a fine colander. Add it to the flour mix and knead it with your hands or with a planetary mixer until the ingredients bind together. Let it rest for a couple of hours at room temperature and then use it as you please.”
He uses a wide range of flours, depending on what he’s making.
“When I bake bread, pizza or focaccia I mostly use cornflour and brown rice as the main base and then other flours such teff, millet or quinoa to add flavour and crispiness. For sweets and desserts, I use rice, almond and potato starch, while for pasta I mainly use buckwheat, fine polenta and corn starch.”
Taddecci says there is one dish that he was especially proud to make gluten free.
“Undoubtedly, focaccia. I could live on it! Stuffed with anything or simply eaten warm, dipped in some good extra-virgin olive oil.
Seeing the social media feedback I receive when I share a GF focaccia, it’s obvious I’m not the only person happy with the outcome. A lot of people like to snack with it. Focaccia is so versatile and so irresistible.”
Dough lovers can find joy in another of Colloca’s recipes from Cook Like An Italian, her gluten-free calzone. Using a special gluten-free pizza flour creates a stretchy dough that can also be used for pizza bases, and when baked, creates a golden, puffy calzone pocket.
Colloca starts the mixing in a bowl, before kneading the dough on the bench. “Start mixing this into a bowl because gluten-free flour is very powdery to work with and it’s a lot easier if you get the process started here and then you get onto kneading once it’s come together,” she explains in the series.
One of the joys of this recipe is that you can get as creative as you like with the filling - Colloca says whatever you’ve got in the fridge or into the pantry goes. You can also make one large calzone, or several small ones, and the dough could also be used as a pizza base.
The slow-roasted beetroots add a rich, captivating colour to this vegetarian risotto, which is topped with a generous sprinkle of soft stracciatella cheese.
Red lentil penne makes your next quick weeknight pasta dinner a touch healthier with more protein and fibre than regular pasta. Here Silvia's paired it with a classic prawn and cherry tomato sauce.
Some outstanding Italian dishes are naturally gluten-free.
One of the most popular recipes from the first series of Cook Like An Italian shows the sweet side of gluten-free baking: Silvia's Italian almond biscuits (ricciarelli).
“There's a lot of gluten-free recipes in Italian cooking,” Colloca says. “You know, when people think about Italian food they don't necessarily associate it with gluten-free options, but there's very, very many, including the export from my hometown Milan, which is the risotto.”
Her risotto with beetroot and stracciatella cheese is a vibrant example - or as she describes it, “this is one sexy bowl of gluten-free food!”
Find more than 1500 delicious no-gluten recipes in SBS Food’s gluten-free recipe collection.
Leftover parmesan rind is the secret ingredient that turns this soup into something very special, and skins from the potatoes are used like crunchy croutons.
Making the most of a few simple, fresh ingredients this homemade pesto pasta will fast become your new weeknight go-to.
Grated potato subs in for breadcrumbs in this meatball recipe and ensures they retain a nice tender texture.
Said to be a legacy of the Arabic occupancy of Sicily, panelle are still a very popular street food in Palermo.
This simple Italian pancake bread is made from chickpea (gram) flour, water and oil and, when cooked right, it is crispy on the outside with a warm and soft centre.
Polenta is a classic north Italian staple, typically served with rich hearty sauces such as ragù. I used to wake up on Sundays to my mum cooking polenta. It's not traditional to use pork sausage in ragù but it's delicious.
This is a very excellent recipe – it is very delicious, looks glamorous and is actually very simple and fast to make. It’s quite rich as opposed to sweet and goes very nicely with some creamy home made mascarpone. The mascarpone is very easy to make, the only complication being it needs a few days forward thinking. I find this can prove difficult at times so do feel free to just buy some if necessary.