This looks like a perfectly normal plate of Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. But in fact it is not, because these homemade tagliatelle have been made without gluten. A friend who suffers from celiac disease was coming over for dinner, and I decided not to take the easy way out (by simply eliminating baked goods and homemade pasta by cooking an Asian dinner for her) but to give her a full Italian dinner like I prepare for all my friends and family. Since I had never experimented with gluten free baking and pasta making before, I wanted to experiment a little beforehand to make sure that I would be able to serve something decent. And so I experimented with gluten free bread and gluten free fresh pasta dough.
As a nice paradox, in the process I learned a lot about the effect of gluten on dough. Gluten is what gives dough its strength and elasticity. When working with wheat flour with gluten, I am used to choosing low protein flour (i.e. low gluten flour) to make shortcrust dough, which is supposed to be flaky and is not supposed to shrink. When I make pizza, I prefer to use a cold-fermented dough that has not been kneaded, as the gluten that would be developed by kneading make it very difficult to stretch out the pizza dough (it keeps retracting). When I make homemade pasta dough, I knead it until it is elastic. I knew that this was all related to the gluten in the wheat flour, but working with gluten free dough has given me a deeper understanding of this.
This may sound like stating the obvious, but when I worked with gluten free dough it really dawned on me what it means that it does not contain gluten. I could knead the gluten free pasta dough for as long as it wanted, but it never became elastic. After trying three different gluten free mixes for pasta dough, my conclusion is that it is not difficult to make homemade fresh gluten free pasta dough, as long as you don’t expect it to behave (or to taste) like regular pasta dough. It won’t be as strong, it won’t be as elastic, and it will have a different flavor. You have to handle it more carefully, as it will break more easily. But it certainly is possible to make delicious gluten free homemade fresh pasta dishes!
I tried three different recipes for the dough. Usually for fresh pasta dough I only use flour and eggs, nothing else. For gluten free pasta dough you have to add something to make up for the missing gluten. For this reason I added additional egg yolks, olive oil, and psyllium husk. The first mix I tried was 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 75 grams white rice flour, 75 grams fine polenta (cornflour), 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp psyllium husk, and water as needed. I used this mix to make ravioli stuffed with cheese.
As you can see in this picture, the dough is not as strong, flexible and elastic as regular fresh pasta dough, but by handling the dough carefully I could still shape the ravioli. It takes some getting used to the fact that the dough won’t stretch at all — it will just break when you don’t handle it carefully. On the other hand it does keep a shape much better and doesn’t retract back like dough with gluten.
The polenta really helped to make the dough stronger, but it also gave the pasta a stronger flavor and a different more sturdy mouth feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to take into account.
I tried to make the second mixture lighter in flavor and texture by replacing the polenta with wholemeal rice flour. This recipe was 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, 75 grams white rice flour, 75 grams full rice flour, 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp of psyllium husk, and water as needed.
Also cooked the tagliatelle were less strong than regular tagliatelle and I probably should have cooked them even more briefly than I did, but it did work out as I intended: the pasta had a lighter texture and flavor than the first mixture.
I didn’t think the second mixture was strong enough to make ravioli, so for the actual dinner party I decided to add polenta back into the mix but less of it, and to give in and add some xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a thickener that is often used as a replacement for gluten, but as an initial thought I wanted to try and avoid it. This mix was 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 50 grams fine polenta, 50 grams glutinous white rice flour, 50 grams potato starch, 1 tsp psyllium husk, 1 tsp xanthan gum, 1 tsp olive oil, and water as needed. Contrary to what I expected, this dough was not stronger than the first mix and the resulting ravioli were very similar. I didn’t notice a difference between regular white rice flour and glutinous white rice flour, but too many variables changed between the two mixtures to be sure that there actually isn’t a difference.
As a conclusion, I would recommend the first mixture for ravioli (as it is simpler than the third and seems to work just as well) and the second mixture for tagliatelle.
In the remainder of this post, I will describe how to make the dough.
The dough will not be flexible and elastic like regular pasta dough, but it should be smooth.
When rolling out the dough, you will notice that it won’t stretch as easily as dough with gluten. Use the widest setting to start with as usual, but shape the dough into a wider shape than usual before you start using the thinner settings.
On my Atlas/Marcato pasta machine with setting 1 as the widest and 9 as the thinnest, I could only go down to setting 6. (With regular pasta dough with gluten I go all the way down to 9 when I make ravioli.) As you can see, the edge of the sheet of dough is more ragged and not as smooth as with regular pasta dough.
I won’t make gluten free pasta dough unless I have to, but it ended up being easier than I expected. I hope this post can help people with celiac disease to figure out how to make fresh pasta at home, because I don’t expect there to be many other possibilities to enjoy ravioli.
Once in a while I like to go all out and cook a Japanese meal, which is always a lot of work but also very tasty. Two years ago I made Japanese Fried Chicken, Drenched Daikon and Noodles in Broth and I remember it was delicious.