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Pasta Sauce with Shiitake Mushrooms and Gluten Free Fettucini, copyright 2013, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

The other day, Whole Foods offered a great price on Shiitake mushrooms, and it made it into my shopping basket. The flu had already visited our family (an unwelcome visitor to say the least) and since so many health experts have credited shiitake mushrooms with immune strengthening abilities,  I wanted to include them in an easy to prepare dish. I also selected fresh thyme and oregano.

Before sharing this recipe, I should probably digress a little and share that I have not always been fond of mushrooms.  Raised in Germany, our family was not particularly familiar with mushrooms and certainly never collected any ourselves. To my knowledge, no one that I knew was very familiar with the types of mushrooms that would be safe to eat. During those days, mushrooms were not easily found in grocery stores. When talked about, mushrooms always seemed to have an air of danger attached to them. Probably too many images of toadstools in fairy tales.  A distant aunt apparently knew quite a bit about how to forage safely, but sadly, I never had an opportunity to go along on one of her forest walks. I would encourage anyone to take someone along that is very familiar with the varying types of fungi growing in the forests. This post will not teach you how to forage for mushrooms, since that lies beyond my level of expertise, but in researching this a little over the years there are quite a few valuable sites on the web that offer some interesting insights. You can even grown them yourselves, especially if you live in a moderate and relatively moist environment. Slightly more challenging, if not downright impossible, when you live in the High Desert of the Southwest. If mushroom cultivation is of interest to you, Rodale offers some interesting insights in how to go about it, and you can find additional information and even purchase growing medium kits at this Washington State site, as well as here. There is also a fun video on YouTube , created by Sergei Boutenko, showing how chantrelle mushrooms are collected in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. By the way, he also has a very useful Wild Edibles App on iTunes, demonstrating the safety of all Wild Edibles. Please note, that we have absolutely no affiliation with any of these sites and are mentioning them only because they caught our interest.

While living in the Pacific Northwest, we were introduced to many different and unfamiliar foods – shiitake mushrooms being one of them. A little time went by before I had the courage to try out these intriguing looking mushrooms for myself, after a Naturopathic Physician had suggested that they might be a valuable addition to our diet because of the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and generally immune strengthening properties.  After that initial slow and cautious  introduction, shiitake mushroom have become a staple in many of our dishes ranging from salads, quiches and pasta dishes to toppings for pizza. They are so versatile and easy to incorporate in so many dishes.

Pasta Sauce with Shiitake Mushrooms and Gluten Free Fettucini, copyright 2013, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

With this particular purchase of shiitake mushrooms, I decided to create just a simple rice pasta dish, since we already had some Tinkyada Fettuccini pasta in the pantry. You could, however, also serve this pasta sauce over some raw zucchini pasta, which is equally delicious. This dish is gluten, dairy, corn and soy free and makes about 4 good size servings.

You will need the following:

  • 6 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms (you can use dried, just re-hydrate them ahead of them), thinly sliced.
  • 1 medium sized onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • pinch of Himalaya salt
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. of coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • several springs of thyme, stems removed
  • several springs of oregano, using the leaves only
  • 1 can (15 oz) of organic whole peeled tomatoes
  • a few watercress leaves to top each serving
  • 1 packet of Tinkyada gluten free rice fettuccini pasta

Directions:

Prepare the pasta according to the directions, adding a little extra salt to the cooking water. While the pasta is cooking, in a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil and add the onions and garlic cloves and cook until translucent. Add the shiitake mushrooms and combine with the onions. Turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for a few minutes. Add the turmeric, salt and pepper. Add the peeled tomatoes to a separate bowl, and gently crush the tomatoes. Add all of this to the cooking mushrooms, together with the fresh oregano and thyme. Combine all the ingredients well, allowing for the herbs to infuse the sauce. Cover and let simmer for a few minutes on low heat.

Pasta Sauce with Shiitake Mushrooms and Gluten Free Fettuccini, copyright 2013, gfcelebration.com, Al rights reserved

Meanwhile drain the pasta. This particular brand of pasta does not require rinsing, unlike some others that are quite starchy. Serve the sauce over the pasta and top with the watercress leaves.

Whether or not you are in a position to safely forage for mushrooms yourself, or, like us, take advantage of good price options at Whole Foods or your favorite market, mushrooms do offer us another alternative to meat, filled with goodness and immune strengthening qualities.  In our case, we chose it in addition to green smoothies, lots of fluids and soups to fight off and ward of the flu.  We are all on the mend now and very happy about that. This dish is one of our favorite ‘quick go to meals’  any time of year, that can be easily prepared after a long day’s work, when long preparations are impossible. It also makes for a very satisfying quick lunch. The shiitake mushrooms lend an almost meat-like texture to the sauce. It is truly delicious.

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If you have ever watched a cooking program in which fresh pasta is being made, I’m sure you know what an intricate art form it can be. In fact, not that long ago, I even saw a book exploring and photographing nothing but the complex geometric shapes of pasta; some so intricate that up close they appeared to resemble the insides of flowers and sea shells.

Orecchiette Ravioli by F.P

The world over, nearly ever culture has its own variation. Comfort food for many, high cuisine for some, countless books and recipes exist, solely to chronicle people’s love affair with pasta. Spaghetti, linguine, spirals, bow ties, raviolis, or dumplings, everyone has their own unique version.

For this, our next entry in our gluten free count down to the holidays, we decided to post our further experiments with the art of making gluten free ravioli.

Ravioli by fugzu

Several months ago, we posted a blog entry all about the history of ravioli and tortelloni, and our attempts at making a gluten free version; if you would like to read the post, please click here.

Making pasta in general is quite a delicate and time consuming art, as we found out, though not particularly difficult if you have the right recipe. The dough needs to be rolled out thin enough to create a casing for the ravioli, but not so thin that it breaks. Our version lends itself especially well,with just the right amount of elasticity to save it from being too dry, and allow it to be easily worked with. This is a fun recipe to experiment with, even if you are not an experienced cook, especially around the holidays where you can join everyone together to share in the fun of creating a wonderful meal.

In the spirit of the season, with everyone celebrating the abundance of readily available root vegetables, we decided to make this version of gluten free ravioli with a pumpkin filling, though we have made other versions in the past stuffed with greens and cheese. I absolutely adore pumpkin. Pumpkin soup, stew, pumpkin pie, pudding, muffins or ravioli, it lends it self to so many recipes that the possibilities are almost endless.

As a side dish, or a vegetarian main course gracing your thanksgiving table, this recipe provides an elegant and surprising alternative to many well known holiday favorites.

Gluten Free Ravioli

For the dough:

2 large eggs

2-1/2 cups gluten free flour consisting of:

1 cup tapioca flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup sweet rice flour

1/2 tsp. guar gum

1/2 tsp. Himalaya salt

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup coconut milk

For the filling:

1/2 can organic pumpkin (approx. 7 1/2 oz.)

1/4 cup cottage cheese

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, stems removed

3 Tbsp. fresh chives, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. Himalaya salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Method

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, sift together the dry ingredients with the water, coconut milk, and eggs. Pulse until all the ingredients are well mixed, and form a ball of dough. While this recipe can be made by hand, a food processor does bring a cohesiveness to the dough much faster, while also adding lightness. Set the dough aside while you make the filling.

2. To make the filling, mix together the canned pumpkin, cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and finely chopped herbs until a creamy filling is created. Set aside.

3. Divide the dough in half for ease of rolling, and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Roll out until a roughly even square, or rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, forms. Don’t worry about it being perfect, as the edges can be trimmed to create a more even shape.

4. Cut the square of dough into 1-1/2 inch wide strips, dividing each long strip into small rectangles, which when folded over, will form the individual ravioli.

5. Place about 1/2 tsp. of the filling mixture on one half of each small rectangle of dough. Fold the other half over the top, pressing the edges together to create a small filled pocket. Repeat this process until all the dough has been rolled out and filled. This recipe should make 28 to 32 ravioli, depending on how big you make them.

6. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add in 4 or 5 ravioli. You will know that the ravioli are cooked when they begin to float to the surface of the water. Remove and place in a lightly oiled baking dish, set in a warm oven, continuing to add the rest of the cooked ravioli, along with a few drops of olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

7. Once all the ravioli are cooked, serve with your favorite pasta sauce or pesto. Because there was extra pumpkin filling left over, we decided to cook it up separately to see how it would turn out if used as a pasta sauce. YUM!! I think, for myself, this pumpkin sauce has now become a new favorite, which I will try with any sort of pasta dish from now on. We also tried a much more classic marinara, as another sauce option, and decided that it also tasted nice, creating an interesting contrast with the pumpkin filling.

Well, what do you think? Will this recipe convince you to be daring and try making gluten free pasta for yourself? I hope so. It is really quite fun, and very easy once you get the hang of it. Please feel free to send us your thoughts and comments as you try this recipe, and develop new variations of your own. Maybe this will become a new favorite, gracing your holiday table for years to come.

Ed. Note:  Please excuse our poor photography in this post and please, don’t let it be a reflection on the excellent quality of this recipe. Updated photography coming very soon. 

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Over the past couple of weeks the “test kitchen” here has been extremely busy, as we have been steadily working on developing and perfecting several different, new and exciting gluten free recipes. As a result, lots of new and interesting posts will be appearing on this site in the coming days and weeks (just to leave all of you devoted followers with something to look forward to  ;)  )

Ravioli and Tortellini

Homemade gluten free pasta is something that we have been wanting to explore for quite a while. Some commercially available options, while mostly adequate, often leave something to be desired. They can work really well for a basic, quick spaghetti dinner, but sometimes turn out completely overcooked, or gluey. One variety, to be edible, actually has to be thoroughly rinsed with cold water after cooking to remove the somewhat slimy, starchy film that it develops. This just should not be the case! We knew it was definitely time to experiment. What is the result of our adventures, you are no doubt asking???  A very convincing, nearly indistinguishable from the gluten containing variety, vegetarian ravioli / tortelloni.

Ravioli by fugzu

Ravioli is a very popular type of Italian filled pasta, made with either ground meat, cheese, vegetables, herbs, or a combination of all of them, sealed between two very thin layers of dough. Loosely related to many similar dishes around the world, including Chinese wantons and German Maultaschen, the earliest references to ravioli seem to appear in the  middle ages, in letters of an Italian merchant in the 14th century, Francisco de Prato. Writing to his family, from business trips away to other towns, he describes an interesting meal, specifically a pasta dish, filled with green herbs mixed with an egg and fresh cheese, simmered in a broth; clearly a forefather of the pasta known around the world today. Ravioli, and many other types of filled pasta, all definitely appear to have their roots in the middle ages, becoming quite well known, favorite recipes over time, eventually even crossing the globe with the many immigrants who came to America, sharing the rich culinary knowledge from their homelands.

Making and Drying Pasta

Thanks to a thriving trade between the British Isles and Italy at the time, pastas like ravioli and tortellini became very popular in the 14th and 15th centuries in England, even appearing in a well known early cooking and medicinal recipe book of the day, titled “Forme of Cury,” written by the head cook of King Richard II. In it, he includes recipes for everything from healing poultices to a multi-course banquet fit for the King. The recipe for a type of ravioli like pasta, almost completely unrecognizable in Middle English, is called “ranioles.” Click here for more interesting information about this.

Now the recipe that we made is closer to a tortelloni than a ravioli, actually a neat blending of the two. This recipe being gluten free,  we were not sure at first, whether it would hold up to being turned and twisted into the shape necessary for classic tortelloni, so we decided to just leave our pasta in a triangular shape. However, in the end, we did realize that it would be very easy to create almost any shape pasta with our gluten free dough, and we will definitely be able to make classic tortelloni next time.

Tortelloni

Tortelloni are also an Italian stuffed pasta, a cousin in a sense to ravioli, shaped similarly to round tortellini, only slightly larger. Exactly as in the version we made (which was actually very traditional without us even realizing it), tortelloni are usually stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese and leafy greens, or herbs. Many other variations also exist, where the greens are replaced with stronger tasting ingredients such as mushrooms and walnuts. Another very common filling is made with pumpkin puree and spices. Different from ravioli, which are traditionally served in a broth, or light sauce, tortelloni are usually served with either a ragu, or melted butter and sage leaves.

Like ravioli, tortelloni also have a colorful history surrounding its creation, populated by several different legends. Originating in either Bologna or Modena, depending on which story you read, the pasta owes its shape to either divine inspiration, or the extraordinary architecture of the surrounding area.

One of the main canals in Bologna

One story, originating in Medieval Italy, tells how the Roman goddesses Venus and Jupiter arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna tired from their involvement in a terrible battle being fought between the two towns of Bologna and Modena. After eating a meal, they retired to their rooms. The innkeeper, completely captivated by their beauty, secretly followed them and tried to peek in through the key hole of one of the rooms, but all he could see was Venus’ navel, so he immediately went to the kitchen and created tortellini in its image. The most widely believed (and most probable) explanation for the creation of this recipe is that it is based on the shape of a turtle, paying homage to one of the most important architectural features of Modena.

A Palazzo in Modena

Today, in most places, both ravioli and tortellini, as well as most other kinds of pasta, are usually made using a pasta machine which rolls out the dough into nearly paper thin sheets. While extremely helpful, we did not have a pasta machine, so instead decided to make our recipe the old fashioned way, with a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease!  ;)

Modern Pasta Machine by Donovan Govan

As the story goes, even Thomas Jefferson dabbled in creating his own pasta machine, after developing a great love for pasta, as evidenced by the sketch below.

Sketch of a Pasta Machine Built by Thomas Jefferson

In experimenting with our own recipe for tortelloni, we knew that we wanted to include sweet rice flour.

For the longest time we were just unable to find it in our area, but through some research, learned that it can be found in many Asian markets under the name “Mochiko.” It is made by Koda Farms, located in the sunny San Joaquin Valley of Central California. They are third-generation farmers and specialize in rice products. They state that all their products are suitable for gluten free diets and make every effort to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that it is also far less expensive than most of the traditional gf flours.

Thinly rolled out gluten free pasta dough

We also strived to make this a corn and soy free recipe. Even though the rolling out part of the dough is done by hand, we highly recommend that you prepare the actual dough in a food processor; the dough becomes pliable, cohesive and easy to work with this way. It has just the right degree of firmness for the handling  and continuous rolling of the dough, while still allowing it to be filled and pinched into shape. Having made the gluten containing variety of ravioli (a loooong time ago), we surprised ourselves with just how similar this dough turned out to be. The gluten free flour combination we selected, consists of tapioca, brown rice and sweet rice flour, and we used guar gum, instead of xanthan gum, in order to avoid any inclusion of corn. We also avoided any dairy in the preparation of the dough, and chose to use coconut milk instead. As of the publication of this post, we are still tinkering with the recipe for this pasta and did not want to include it until we are completely satisfied with the result.  Keep checking back as we will try to include it in an upcoming post. The following are the series of steps used to create this pasta.

All ingredients need to be at room temperature. Place all ingredients into the food processor and pulse several times to loosely incorporate the ingredients. It helps to stop this process several times in order to scrape down the sides of the processor, helping to  incorporate all the ingredients. Next, process the dough until a firm ball forms, then remove it from the processor, and shape it into an even size ball. Cut the amount of dough in half. Prepare a baking board, by dusting it with a small amount of sweet rice flour. Take the first half of the dough and roll it out evenly and smoothly into a rectangular shape.

GF pasta dough ready to be cut into individual pieces

Use a knife to cut the dough into a shape that you can divide into even squares (roughly 3 inches on each side).

We placed an even 1/2 tsp. of ricotta cheese and herb filling into the center of each dough square, and then folded the sides over to form a triangle. There are also specially designed pasta presses that you can use which can make forming the pasta much easier.

Finished GF Tortelloni, Uncooked

The finished pasta can either be stored in the refrigerator, separated with plastic wrap as we did in the picture above (to keep them from sticking together), or cooked immediately. To cook the tortelloni, add salt to a pot of lightly simmering water, and drop in the pasta using a slotted spoon. Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the pasta floats, turning each piece over halfway through to make sure that they cook evenly.

Cooking GF Tortelloni

Cooking GF Tortelloni

Once the tortelloni is cooked, remove from the water and serve with your favorite gluten free pasta sauce.  For all of you pasta purists, of course, home-made sauce is a dream, but for convenience sake, we chose to serve ours with Trader Joe’s “Pasta Putenesca”.

Gluten Free Tortelloni

As anyone with any experience cooking gluten free will tell you, recipes often take many different trials, errors, and variations to become perfect. This version was absolutely wonderful. It tasted amazing, light and fresh, just slightly chewy, but not soggy, or doughy. There was a unanimous thumbs up from everyone who tried it. We want to keep perfecting this recipe, and are trying out several different and new variations. As the work progresses in our test kitchen, we will let you all know how it goes.

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