• by Chef Jenn Farmer •
What the heck does gluten free mean? Why are so many people beginning to eat gluten free? Sadly the Wikipedia answer is vague. Some people are actually allergic to the protein gluten that is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats are often on the list of grains too—oats don’t actually contain the problematic protein, but are often processed alongside grains that do. Other people have an intolerance to it, but not an allergy, or for health reasons cannot or do not eat food containing gluten. I have recently developed a severe intolerance to gluten. It is a long and uninteresting story, took a lot of time to figure out what was causing my problems. Needless to say I feel a lot better now, but very small amounts of this stuff (we are talking parts per million—very tiny ) makes me very ill. Sadly for me it is accompanied by some other food allergies, so it has become a struggle just to make dinner, much less go out to eat.
When I was a chef, I tried to always be accommodating to my guests, but never quite wrapped my head around food allergies. It is sort of a karmic, “what comes around goes around”—I once ate anything I wanted; now I am restricted from most foods that I find comforting. The worst is realizing nearly every day that there is at least one more thing I used to love to eat, now added to the list of can’t have. I must diligently look at every label in the store. One of my hair conditioners had wheat in it, and it was actually causing skin discomfort. I must check condiments, since often vinegar comes from unknown sources. Even some salad dressings use wheat as a thickening agent, so I can’t forget to tell restaurants “no dressing please, and no croutons, and is anything on that fried…” In other words, gluten is a whole lot like poison to me. I must monitor everything I eat and drink. Oh, yeah, that’s right: no beer, and steer clear of any spirits containing wheat, rye, or barley, or anything aged in wood, or flavored alcohols.
If you know you have gluten intolerance, I do have some good news for you, many restaurants in Nantucket are offering GF (gluten free) options. Cisco brewery’s spirits are corn alcohol (last time I asked, any way), and I have recently heard rumors that they have a gluten free beer, but I have yet to try it. I know many obliging and gracious chefs on the island, and enjoyed many very enjoyable GF meals. Let me note that restaurants are very busy on this island, especially at this time of year, so I also try to be considerate, and dine at low traffic times for the restaurant, or phone ahead to let them know one in the party has food allergies. Black Eyed Susan’s, Sushi by Yoshi, Lola, and even Sophie T’s are just a few of the many restaurants whom have been incredibly accommodating, and I would recommend to other gluten free eaters. In fact Nantucket is a pretty easy place to eat GF—I know this based on a few trips to different locations off-island, where it was tough finding food, other than at the grocery store. We are very lucky to have such great food and restaurants here on Nantucket.
Needless to say, I have become creative with some of my favorite dishes. Even though GF can feel like a prison sentence, some great recipes have come from my experiments. Someday I will share my recipe for coconut and almond flour cakes, but for now, here are some recipes born from the summer vegetables in the garden. Enjoy.
Spaghetti Squash with Basil and Parmesan Pesto
- 1 large spaghetti squash (approx. 4 lb)
- Olive oil
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup fresh spinach or parsley
- one lemon’s zest
- 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
- 3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
- juice of one lemon
- 1/2 cup toasted pecans or pine nuts
- 3 cloves of garlic
- Salt, pepper & chili flakes to taste.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Puree the basil together with the spinach or parsley, and lemon zest, slowly drizzling in olive oil, so it becomes a puree. Add all the rest of the ingredients, pulsing the blender or food processor after each addition, plus scraping down the sides often. Cook the squash by slicing it in half, and removing the large seeds (they can be set aside for roasting if you are ambitious enough.) Rub the whole squash inside and out with olive oil, and place face down on a roasting pan. Roast in a pan. When the squash is done cooking, it should pull easily out of the shell of the squash. It will look like spaghetti, and have a bland taste, not unlike pasta. It can be eaten tossed with above sauce, or with marinara sauce, or other favorite pasta sauce, even olive oil and garlic is good. Serves 4-6
Sweet Corn and Blueberry Salad
- 4 ears sweet corn, husked
- 3/4 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
- 1 cucumber, peeled if skin is tough,
- and small diced
- 1 jalapeno, or spicy chili, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint or basil, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons salad oil
- One tablespoon agave nectar or honey
- Salt, pepper
Grill or boil the sweet corn on the cob, until it is cooked, (less than 5 minutes). Remove the corn from the heat. While the corn is cooling, make vinaigrette from the lime juice, oil, and honey. When the corn has cooled, cut it from the cobs. Lightly toss all the ingredients together, with the vinaigrette, adding the blueberries last. Serves 4-6
Grandma’s Irish stew
- Olive oil
- 1 cup onion, large diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound green cabbage, sliced
- 2 cups white or yellow potatoes, large diced
- One cup carrots, large diced
- 4 gluten- free sausages , sliced
- 2 quarts vegetable or chicken broth.
- 1 cup gluten- free beer (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds
- 1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- one sprig of fresh dill, chopped
- Sea salt, and pepper
Heat some olive oil in a soup pot to medium high heat, and then add the onions, and sausage slices, sauté for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue to cook until it is aromatic. Then add the potatoes, carrots, caraway seeds, and cabbage. Sauté them for a minute, then add the remaining ingredients, reducing heat to a simmer, cooking until the vegetables are tender (30-45 minutes). Serve hot. Serves 4