Okay, truth is, we all know pasta is not the absolute best thing for us especially if all we ever have are cream sauces or butter on it. However - and this a big HOWEVER - if you use it complementarily with all sorts of other delicious and nutritious items, then yes, pasta can be a really great food. And don't despair gluten-free eaters, there are many, many companies who are more than willing to provide you with a whole host of gluten-free options. In fact, in Asia, rice noodles have been used for thousands of years with the most basic ingredients possible - stone-ground rice (rice flour) and water. That's it. Pretty simple and easy to make.
You can walk into any Pho house in the world and you'll find exactly what I'm talking about: good rice noodles steeped deeply in that delicious Pho broth. And if you want rice noodle selection, just peruse your local Asian market (if you have one) and walk down the noodle aisle. One whole side will be dedicated to rice noodles in every shape and size.
Rice in and of itself is not a bad food. It has gotten a bad rap because the glycemic index of it is a bit high and that is a major concern for a lot of people. However, rice is a quick and sustainable energy source, low in sodium, cholesterol-free and full of vitamins and minerals like niacin, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, thiamine and riboflavin. This popular crop feeds more than half of the population of the world and is considered a staple in most countries.
And just think about the vast quantity of types of rice: red, white, black, jasmine, arborio, short-grain, long-grain, instant. The list goes on and on. But the most popular debate has and will probably always be: white or brown? Keeping that outer husk with all its beneficial bran seems a great way to go.
As more people find themselves on a gluten-free diet, the need for gluten-free pastas are on the rise. Companies are taking hold of this potential and creating new and exciting options that really rival their original wheat-filled counterparts. Penne, spirals, shapes and letters, bunnies, lasagna, elbows, fusilli, fettucini, shells, and more. The rice pasta industry has tried and succeeded at copying just about everything.
But as I have said before, not all pastas are the same. I have tried quinoa pastas made with corn, rice pastas made with organic brown rice, standard rice flour and water pastas, rice pastas that add dried vegetables right into the pasta and more. They all have their positives and their negatives and one of these days, I would love to do a taste, compare and share. But, that's another article.
Today, I am going to share with you my all-time favorite rice pasta and why it is my all-time favorite.
Tinkyada Rice Pasta is the winner hands-down. http://www.tinkyada.com/
Let me tell you why.
I have tried a lot of rice pasta. A LOT.
In my early quest for a great gluten-free diet, I didn't know how to make my own pasta and finding rice pasta was easy. In every natural store, it is abundant and now, in most stores, you can find at least a package or two. I have learned to make my own pasta, but pre-packaged rice pasta is fast, easy and readily available, so why not? That's my theory. And there is no way I am about to spend the hours trying to make my own gluten-free pasta into little spiral shapes. Not gonna happen. Who has time? Or should I say, days?
When I started out, I tried lots of different kinds of rice pastas, always looking for the one that would offer some greater nutritional value, but also a really great product. That's not too much to ask, is it? I didn't think so. So, I bought various package after package cooking them according to direction and remembering the rules of great pasta cooking (believe it or not, with the right rice pasta, it will cook just like the wheat varieties, al dente and all) I found my favorite.
Through a few bad pasta experiences, I found some gluten-free pastas to be dull or lifeless, grainy or starchy, overly chewy or gummy, and so many of them with all the great rice bran just fell apart when you cooked them. That's not any fun. Food should be pretty, as well as enjoyable. If it is possible, why compromise for second-best? Again, that's my theory.
And that's when I stumbled upon Tinkyada. Okay, stumble is probably not the right word. Fell would be more like it. How could I not when in the majority of the stores I went into it was either the only rice pasta they carried or it filled the entire shelf. Tinkyada has such a vast variety of types, shapes and sizes, most stores don't even carry all they offer. So, with the store stocking so many, it must be good, right?
Tinkyada offers lots of options from organic brown rice pastas to spinach brown rice spaghetti noodles (one of my favorites) to multi-colored vegetable spirals with carrot, tomato, and spinach in the pasta itself. Probably the one and only noodle I have yet to have tried is their lasagna noodle. No, wait. I believe I did try that some years ago, but it has been awhile. I just haven't gotten around to making any sort of lasagna. But, I will!
You can eat the noodles cold or hot (a big problem for many manufacturers), you can sauce them or eat them plain, and nearly all the noodles contain rice bran for extra nutrition, texture and flavor. And only one is made with white rice; the rest are filled with the beneficial brown rice variety. Delish.
So, what is one to do with a rice noodle?
Whatever you want to.
Literally. Make spaghetti with marinara sauce and add a meatball or two; make a cold pasta salad on a hot summer night; add some to make chicken noodle soup; make a delicious cream sauce and serve up some fettucini; or do what I do: make your own sauce concoction and devour. *See below for my latest offering.
1. Salt the water generously. This will make the pasta more flavorful and you'll have to add less salt to your dish later. (Of course, for those of you who don't eat salt or prefer not to, this is completely optional. Tinkyada is just as delicious without added salt.)
2. Cook the pasta just until al dente, which literally means, "to the tooth." The texture should still be a bit chewy and firm. The pasta will continue to cook once you remove it from the heat, so if you overcook it prior to that, by the time it gets to the plate and in your mouth, it will be mushy. Unless you like that, then have at it.
3. If you need to stop the pasta from continuing to cook (aka, you overcooked it), then run it under some cold water to stop the cooking process. Some of the packages of rice pasta will recommend that you do this anyway. You don't have to do this with Tinkyada's pasta. Not necessary. And on the plus side, then your pasta won't be cold when you want it to be hot. Some of the other brands recommend you do this to also remove the excess starch from the outside of the noodle. After having cooked some of them, I can see why. They start to clump in the water and that's just a gooey mess. This is not a problem with Tinkyada. Ever. No need to rinse unless you really want to.
4. If you are going to refrigerate any leftover pasta or you are going to serve it by itself (where people can put their own toppings on, etc), then remove the pasta from the water, rinse if you must, and add a little olive oil and gently mix it around. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together, which does happen whether it is wheat or rice. If you are putting a sauce or dressing on it right away, this step is unnecessary. But remember, as with all pastas, the pasta is going to absorb the dressing somewhat. Add more later if you need to.
And that is pretty much it. Pretty simple, pretty fast and pretty delicious.
Happy eating everybody!
Creamy Italian Squash and Carrot Sauce
Great with pasta or over turkey or chicken! Delicious!
Recipe courtesy of Michelle Hankes
2 cups baby carrots or regular carrots chopped into 1” pieces
½ acorn squash, seeded, peeled and diced
1 cup water
¼ cup milk of choice
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dried tarragon
½ - 1 tsp salt (add more or less to taste)
Dash cayenne pepper
½ onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
½ tbsp butter or natural margarine
Place carrots, squash, and water in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until squash is tender and carrots are easily cut or pulled apart with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Place cooked squash, carrots and water mixture into a blender or VitaMix. Add milk and blend until smooth.
Return pureed mixture to saucepan and add thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaves, garlic, tarragon, salt and cayenne pepper. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to gently simmer.
Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil or butter on medium-low heat. Saute onions until tender, not browned, about 3-4 minutes.
Add sautéed onions, butter and Neufchatel cheese to saucepan with pureed mixture and stir gently to incorporate. Gently use a whisk to incorporate the cheese, if necessary.
Remove bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!