Hold the Dough
Going gluten-free means finding healthy
alternatives to bread-based foods.
By Corinne Gaffner Garcia
Gone are the days of dough—the hero-sized sandwiches that you can barely fit your mouth around and the basket of bread that graced most dinner tables.
Those dietary choices seem to have given way to gluten-free lifestyles and carb-minded diets. While some people suffer the extreme effects of wheat intolerance, such as allergies, celiac disease or non-celiac sensitivity, many others have hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon by choice.
When Peter Bronski was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007 and other family members tested positive for the offending gene, the whole family gave up gluten including his wife Kelli and their three young kids. “We all went on this gluten-free journey together because we wanted to keep cooking and eating the same meals together,” explains Bronski, author (with Kelli) of Gluten-Free Family Favorites (The Experiment). “Kelli and I went back into the kitchen with new eyes and redeveloped recipes from scratch to try and make them as good as the old days.”
Diet fads over the years have also given carbs and dough-based foods a bad rap, and even many gluten-free versions of pastas, breads and other baked goods have been shunned, touted as bloaters and weight gain promoters. The popular Paleo Diet, for instance, omits all grains, claiming that they contribute to the cause of a variety of diseases.
“A lot of people are really interested in the Paleo Diet; it seems really popular with athletes in particular,” says Lori Petermann, kitchen manager at the Community Food Co-op in Bozeman, Montana. She claims that grain-free items that used to be served occasionally or seasonally in the deli are now served daily by demand.
Carol Fenster, author of 100 Best Quick Gluten-Free Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)—the daughter of a wheat farmer—was told she had a wheat allergy more than 28 years ago, long before the gluten-free craze. “This was before the internet, and I didn’t know if there even was anyone else like me out there,” Fenster says. “I had to revise all of my own recipes.”
Their gluten intolerances have forced chefs like Bronski, Petermann and Fenster to get ultra-creative in the kitchen in order to support gluten- or dough-free lifestyles. The end result is a myriad of alternatives for those staying away from the doughy foods altogether.
It’s a Wrap
Gluten-free breads abound to make sandwiches a reality for just about anyone, but wraps offer an easy and healthy way to enjoy the sandwich interior without a bready exterior.
Lettuce leaves are common substitutes, as they cradle the filling while also adding low-calorie nutrients to the meal.
Fenster likes to use butter lettuce leaves, which hold up better than leaves of crispier varieties such as romaine and iceberg. “It has a softer texture that makes the leaves less prone to breakage, they are already cup-shaped and they’re pretty,” she says. Boston and bibb lettuce also work well.
For the Community Food Co-op’s deli, Petermann likes to use hearty greens for a grain-free wrap. “I love to use collard greens,” she says. “They have a thicker skin, so they hold the moisture a little better than a lettuce.” Chard or kale leaves also work well, and nori rolls can serve as a tasty wrap for filling with an Asian flair.
Petermann also likes to use romaine lettuce, with its long, strong-ribbed leaves, as an alternative to taco shells. Romaine is sturdy, crunchy and large enough to hold the filling well while taking on the taco shape.
To fill a leaf wrap, Fenster recommends using something soft and malleable to avoid breaking the leaves, such as chicken, egg or tuna salad. Thinly sliced deli meat, hummus spread or soft vegetables such as tomato and avocado are other tasty options.
Another creative wrap idea? Fenster recommends a thinly cooked egg, which lends itself to a crepe-style outer layer.
“Whisk the eggs until all of the membrane is broken up, and fry it in as thin a layer as possible,” Fenster says. This lends itself well to cheesy fillings, such as brie with thinly sliced apple, or lunch meats or cream cheese with lightly cooked spinach.
Pasta, But No Dough
The Bronski family are all big fans of Italian cuisine, and the gluten-free lifestyle hasn’t changed the frequency at which it hits their dinner table. But it has changed some of the ingredients they use.
In place of a gluten-free pasta, for example, the Bronskis sometimes use spaghetti squash.
“This vegetable has amazing qualities,” Peter Bronski explains. “After it’s cooked, it naturally shreds itself, and you end up with strands very much like spaghetti that you can use just like the noodles.” After cutting it in half lengthwise, he recommends drizzling it with olive oil and roasting it cut side up so it cooks in the juices that collect in the bowl of the squash.
“It’s really flavorful with limitless toppings,” Peter says, “like roasted garden fresh tomatoes and vegetable tossed with the noodles like a primavera.”
In place of gluten-free lasagna noodles, the Bronskis sometimes opt for parboiled, thinly sliced potatoes. “The thinner the slices the better, and then you build it very much like you would a typical lasagna with all the same layers,” Peter Bronski says. (See the recipe, below.)
For a gluten-free take on pasta salad, Petermann uses a spiralizer. One of the hottest kitchen implements at the moment, a spiralizer creates “noodles” out of zucchini, crookneck or butternut squash, beets, turnips, cabbage, celeriac or carrots.
“It’s a great way to make salads or entrees without grains,” Petermann says. “The home cook can get a hand-cranked spiralizer, or just cut the ends off of the vegetable, thinly slice it and hand cut noodles off that.” These vegetable noodle substitutes can be served raw in a salad, or they can be gently steamed or sautéed for use in a main course.
Petermann recommends zucchini or crookneck squash noodles sautéed with garlic and butter and used just like pasta with a red sauce. She pairs butternut squash noodles with alfredo sauce for a rich meal with a hint of sweetness. And zucchini noodles can be tossed with sesame oil and lightly sautéed for a grain-free stir-fry base.
“You can add vegetable noodles to any Asian meals in place of soba or ramen noodles, such as a peanut noodle dish or a Thai soup,” Petermann adds.
Pizza Dough, Sans Gluten
Petermann’s go-to pizza crust—which just happens to be gluten- free—is made with a cauliflower base instead of dough.
After breaking up the large florets, she microwaves or steams the cauliflower, drains it well and pulses it in a food processor until it takes on the appearance of bread crumbs. From there, she mixes it with two eggs, a half-cup of parmesan, Italian herbs, salt and pepper. The “crust” is patted into a sheet pan and baked until firm; Petermann then adds pizza topping and bakes away.
She also uses the same cauliflower dough recipe and shapes it into a flatbread like naan, or she adds pesto and rolls it into breadsticks.
“This is now my preferred pizza crust at home,” Petermann says. “It’s really versatile and acts like a healthy carrier for flavor.”
The Bronskis like to make a chickpea-based crust for a variation of a traditional Italian farinata that can also be used for pizza. They simply blend chickpea flour with water until they reach the desired doughy consistency. They add pesto and toppings and cook it in a skillet, but traditional pizza toppings would also work well.
When she’s looking for a hearty meal or a tasty gluten-free appetizer, Fenster looks to polenta, which is a gluten-free paste or dough made from cornmeal, popular in Italian cuisine.
“I buy polenta in prepared tubes that come in different flavors,” Fenster says. “I slice it thinly, bake it until it’s crisp and brown, and make a version of bruschetta, treating it like a piece of bread.”
Fenster adorns her polenta chips with toppings such as chopped tomatoes and herbs, goat cheese and prosciutto, hummus or sautéed mushrooms. Fenster also uses polenta as a base for pasta-like dishes, topping it off with pasta sauce, or she tops it with sandwich filling, such as chicken salad. “Creatively there are no limits here,” she remarks.
Fenster also breaks out gourmet lettuce varieties for a grain-free appetizer, using radicchio—which adds a slight bitter flavor—or endive as the base. These small leaves are great bite-sized carriers for a number of delicious toppings, from chicken, egg or tuna salad, to hummus or goat cheese. “They are shaped like little cups, so they hold the toppings well and are a great substitute for crackers,” she says.
Whatever is on the menu, people who are gluten-intolerant can find comfort in the seemingly endless culinary possibilities to make a meal as healthy as it is delicious.
Looking for a dish you can feed to nearly everyone? Peter and Kelli Bronski say their version of lasagna is free of gluten, grain, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish—and is vegetarian to boot. The mandoline mentioned in the recipe is a slicer that allows for more precise cuts than a knife.
2 red bliss potatoes, thinly sliced (0.5 mm thick on mandoline)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced (1 mm thick on mandoline)
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper
12 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese,
plus extra for sprinkling on top
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2/3 jar of tomato sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepot, bring salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water and set aside. Drop the sliced potatoes into the boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes, until slightly tender. Remove from the water and immediately immerse in the ice water. Set aside in the water.
2. Heat the olive oil and garlic in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add zucchini, mushrooms and spinach; season with salt and pepper. Sauté until liquid has come out of the vegetables and evaporated, about 10–15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan, parsley and mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
4. Drain the potatoes, lay out on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
5. Wrap the outside of three 4-inch springform pans with aluminum foil. Place a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of each pan, next a single layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of vegetables, and a layer of the cheese filling. Repeat the process with sauce, potatoes, vegetables and cheese. Top with another layer of sauce and sprinkle with grated parmesan.
6. Place the three pans on a large sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let set for 10 minutes. Remove the outside rings and serve.
Makes three 4” servings
Recipe by Kelli & Peter Bronski, reprinted from nogluten-noproblem.com
“Starting with a tube of store-bought polenta means you can make these crispy
appetizers very quickly,” says Carol Fenster, author of Gluten-Free 101
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). “This recipe starts with a simple topping of Parmesan
cheese and fresh herbs, but you can use anything you like, such as sliced olives,
diced fresh tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, chopped fresh herbs, pâté, hummus,
or tiny bits of prosciutto.”
1 (18-oz) tube gluten-free prepared polenta
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
2 tbsp olive oil (or more as needed)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3⁄4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese or soy Parmesan
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley or your favorite fresh herb, for garnish
1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a 9x13-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. Place the polenta on a large cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut into twelve 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds and lay the rounds flat on the cutting board.
3. Lightly dust both sides of the rounds with cornstarch. In a heavy nonstick skillet (gray, not black), heat the oil over medium heat. Fry a few polenta rounds at a time, turning occasionally, until browned and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining polenta, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. Sprinkle each round with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of Parmesan.
4. Bake in the oven until the Parmesan begins to melt, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately add any additional toppings, if desired. Serve hot, garnished with the parsley.
Yield: 12 rounds. Nutritional analysis per round: 190 calories, 5g protein, 4g total fat, 4g fiber, 33g carbohydrates, 4 mg cholesterol, 86 mg sodium
Reprinted from Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, hmhco.com);