Monday, March 28, 2011

Gluten-Free Pasta alla Carbonara

When I lived in Barcelona, my Italian roommate and I would cook side-by-side. She wanted to learn how to cook gluten-free since her nephew had Celiac and I wanted to learn how to make traditional Italian food. Surprisingly, most Italian food is easily converted to gluten-free. One day, inspired by a recent acquisition of Parmigiano-Reggiano (which is fairly difficult to find in Spain) at a market, Michela wanted to treat our roommates to pasta alla carbonara.

Carbonara is the closest thing to eggs and bacon as Italians get. The basics of pasta alla carbonara are pasta, cured fatty pork, grated cheese, eggs, and black pepper. Just like my lovely Italian roommate, carbonara is straight forward and beautiful, but can be temperamental if not treated correctly. Michela worked at a restaurant in Bologna for years while putting herself through university and told me that the name refers to the carbon black color from fresh cracked black pepper. The black pepper has to be visible in order for it to be a carbonara according to her. Though the recipe sounds simple, I cannot emphasis how important mise en place is for making it well. That means having everything ready to rock and roll. Otherwise, you would risk as my Italian friend would say, “Disastro!” This dish comes together very quickly with high reward.

  • 2 thick slices of pancetta, guanciale, or 4 slices of thick bacon, small diced
  • 1 clove garlic, gently cracked (optional)
  • 250 grams (1 package) Italian corn pasta (spaghetti or fettuccini) such as Le Veneziane
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 4 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, plus more for garnish if desired
  • Finely chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)


Place a large pot of salted water over the heat, bringing to a boil. Cut your choice of cured pork product into small dice, about 1/4 inch. In a large fry pan, brown the pork over medium heat with the garlic clove (with skin on) and cook until browned about 6-8 minutes.

During this time, add in the pasta all at once. Stir occasionally to ensure the starch does not build up, making the pasta stick to each other.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs with the grated cheese (in portions) and black pepper. This egg mixture should be a thick slurry. Add more cheese to thicken if needed. Depending on the grate of the cheese, the amount can vary.

Once pasta is al dente, return pork in large fry pan to medium heat (remove the garlic and any excessive fat), and transfer the pasta to the fry pan. If you use a colander to strain the pasta, make sure to reserve at least one cup of the starchy water. There should be enough water in the fry pan with the pasta so it is wet, but not runny. Stir, toss over heat to deglaze the fry pan.

Turn off the heat and immediately add in the egg-cheese slurry and stir constantly. The residual heat should cook the eggs just enough to transform it into a thick sauce. Serve immediately. Garnish as desired with cheese, pepper, and parsley.


Makes 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes.

If you cannot find or use corn pasta, try another alternative such as brown rice pasta. As far as what cured pork product to use, it depends on your personal preference and what is best where you live. I personally prefer thick-cut smoked bacon. That is due to the fact I live in Cincinnati (a.k.a. "Porkopolis") with great butchers that specialize in pork, and we have little-to-no Italian grocery products here. I also prefer the thick-cut bacon since it is smoked and able to get crispier than pancetta with my experience. The cheese is a huge determining factor of the flavor here, so do not skimp.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bramble Mousse

Carrying on the theme of St. Patrick’s Day is this lovely, Irish-based fruit mousse. This recipe is light and fresh, with enough cream in it to make it indulgent. This dessert is perfect anytime of the year you can get any fresh fruit. Traditionally, bramble mousse is based on freshly foraged blackberries from the bramble. Hence the name. This recipe works well for any fruit in season at the time. Whether it is strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and even stone fruit such as peaches. Fruit freshly picked gives the best flavor. A mousse is a French word that means lather/foam, incorporating air to make it light. In this recipe, air is incorporated into heavy whipping cream and egg whites to give a light texture. Gelatin sets this mousse, making sure it will not separate to keep its even texture. In this version, I used blackberries for the mousse with a lavender whipped cream for garnish.

  • 1 pound fresh blackberries, cleaned (or other seasonal fruit)
  • ~ ½ cup sugar (to taste)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin, unflavored
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 2 egg whites, whipped

  • 6-8 whole blackberries (or other seasonal fruit)
  • ½ cup heavy cream whipped with powdered sugar and fresh lavender (to taste)


In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, bring to simmer the blackberries, the lemon juice, and sugar. Simmer for about 10 minutes, while gently mashing with a hand-masher. In a small bowl, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling over the 4 tablespoons cold water; give 10 minutes to dissolve. Pass the hot fruit puree through a sieve/strainer into a large mixing bowl using a wooden or silicone spoon. Make sure to scrap the underside of the strainer where a lot gets hung up. Quickly add the dissolved gelatin to the hot fruit and whisk until all of the gelatin has dissolved, leaving not chunks. Put aside, and allow to cool. Make sure to taste for desired sweetness. Add more sugar in small amounts with whisking until dissolved. Remember to be conservative doing this: as things get colder, we taste things as much sweeter. So hold back a bit on the sugar. You want just enough so it takes the edge off any tartness of the fruit.

In a small/medium bowl, whip the cold heavy cream to medium-stiff peaks. Gently fold, at one-third increments, into the cooled fruit-gelatin mixture.

In a small/medium bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites to a stiff peak. Gently fold, at one-third increments, until uniform. Portion into cups, about 6-8 depending on desired serving size. Cover with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours. Upon serving, garnish each mousse with a small dollop of whipped cream and a whole blackberry.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Irish Soda Bread

Soda bread uses a chemical leavening, meaning rises due to an acid-base reaction. Soda refers to the base used, baking soda. Different from traditional bread, that uses sugar and yeast (single cell organisms) to produce carbon dioxide gas and ethanol (drinking alcohol). Neither one I would imagine sounds appealing to the home cook, but are critical for fluffy, good baked goods. Both work well and have their own set of pros and cons. Chemical leavened bread does not require time to rise. The reaction starts immediately upon mixing with water and continues while baking. Therefore, the dough must get baked shortly after mixing. Soda bread requires relatively immediate baking or the reaction ends and looses the lift before baking. Buttermilk contains lactic acid which reacts with the baking powder (sodium bicarbonate). Baking powder added too for additional rise, which never hurts in gluten-free baking (notorious for being dense). Baking powder consists of a perfect balance of a protected acid of tartaric acid in form of a salt and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) that react once it hits moisture. Another byproduct of this acid-base reaction is salt, therefore the salt in the recipe is minimal.

Soda bread lends itself to a more hearty bread, more wholesome than a traditional yeast bread. Growing up, in the Swing household, soda bread was simple and straight forward with no fruit of any kind and usually had wheat and/or oats. I do not oppose the addition of fruit. Sometimes I think it works, especially if eaten solely with great quality Irish butter. I remember traditional soda bread being slightly bitter, and I wanted to add millet with the sweet cereal flavor it imparts. Yet, keep that hardiness with the addition of brown rice flour and flaxseed meal. Flaxmeal also creates this wonderful gel, which aids in building structure to gluten-free bread, as well as adding omega-3 amino acids. I tried to make this bread without the use of any gums, but to no avail. This recipe is delicious! Soda bread is best eaten with one to two days of baking. Remember, for best results, make this recipe using weight.

  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (15 grams) flaxmeal (I used golden)
  • ½ cup (150 grams) buttermilk (room temperature)
  • 3 whole (150 grams) large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, optional
  • ½ cup (80 grams) raisins, optional (regular or golden) or currants (can plump in ½ cup water + ½ cup Jameson, which is gluten-free, then drain before adding)
  • ½ cup (88 grams) potato starch
  • ½ cup (73 grams) cornstarch
  • ½ cup (76 grams) brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (67 grams) millet flour
  • 1 tablespoon (9 grams) guar gum
  • 1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon (12 grams) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (2 grams) salt
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) sugar

Preheat oven to 375oF. In a small, microwave safe bowl, combine the flaxmeal and water. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and allow the thick gel to cool. In a large measuring up, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, rosemary, and raisins/currants (if using). In the work bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, scale the rest of the dry ingredients: the potato starch, cornstarch, brown rice flour, millet, guar gum, baking soda & powder, salt, and sugar. Mix on low with a paddle mixer or whisk until uniform. Slowly mix in the buttermilk + egg mixture, followed by the flaxmeal gel. Mix for about 2 minutes; the dough should come together and be uniform. Turn into an oiled small/medium dutch oven or heavy walled sauce pan (at least 2 quarts). Smooth out top and cut an X or a cross on the top with a knife. Spray the top lightly with oil. Bake for about 35-45 minutes. Check for doneness by toothpick; if comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool. Cut into slices as desired. Best served with butter. Seal any remaining bread well. Best if eaten with two days of baking. Happy St. Paddy's Day!

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shepherd's Pie with Lamb & Rosemary (GF)

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I was diagnosed with Celiac. A higher number of Irish seem (compared to other nationalities) to be plagued by gluten-intolerance/Celiac. Apparently, the Irish have conspiracy theories involving the English. The leading theory was due to the English shipping all the wheat out of Ireland at one point, so the Irish people never got used to eating it. For whatever reason, I had for come up with a couple of easy substitutions to make Shepherd’s pie for St. Patrick’s Day. This was my duty as an American-Irish girl. With the recent gluten-intolerance diagnosis at the time, I found it to be daunting. The year before, I found myself eating the most incredible Shepherd’s pie, better than my mother’s, at a pub in the Boston area. My mother, bless her soul, in my eyes was the most incredible cook ever. While growing up, she hosted fancy dinner parties, cooking through Julia Child’s cookbook (that was a long time ago). Back to this new-found Shepherd ’s pie benchmark, I found at Matt Murphy’s Pub in Brookline. At first, it looked ordinary with a browned topping of mashed potatoes. Once I dug in, I could see chunks of stew meat and rosemary. This is the version I had to reproduce. In my mind, the ultimate Shepherd’s pie is a base of tasty lamb stew with lots of rosemary topped with browned creamy mashed potatoes. The only two components that are not gluten-free are the flour and beer. Easy substitutions as I will get to below. Drink a gluten-free beer with it. Green's Endeavour makes dark ale. Brewed in Belgium, it does not quite resemble an Irish Stout beer, but it is close enough.


Stew Ingredients:
1-1 ¼ lb cubed lamb meat (1/2-1 " from the leg)
½ cup potato starch (not potato flour)
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 bottle (16 oz) gluten-free beer like Redbridge or Bard’s
Salt, pepper, and dash of cayenne to taste
1 medium yellow onion, diced fine
3 carrots, cut into small oblique (see directions below)
1 cup fresh button mushrooms, sliced
2-3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
1 cup peas

Whipped Potatoes Ingredients:
2 lbs potatoes
½ stick butter
½ cup heated milk (more or less for desired creaminess)
Salt & white pepper to taste
Parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)


Season the potato starch well with salt, pepper, and cayenne in a large mixing bowl. Toss the lamb with starch mixture in bowl, until evenly coated. Warm a large, 12”, skillet and add oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in the skillet, until the coating is browned on both sides. Do not overcrowd or will not brown well. Split into two batches if needed. Remove from heat. Place the seared meat and gluten-free beer into a slow cooker or a large (3-4qt) heavy sauce pan; put on low heat. Cook onions in the skillet on medium heat until transparent; remove and add onions to meat. (For cutting the carrots into small obliques, cut carrots at a 45 degree bias, quarter turn it towards you so the cut side faces up, cut again at 45 degree right through the middle of the cut face. Quarter turn it again and repeat the process: video.) Add the carrots, mushrooms, tomato paste, bay leaves, and half the rosemary to the lamb and onions and stir until thoroughly mixed on low heat. Cook covered with occasional stirring for at least 2 hours. 30 minutes before removing stew from heat, add in the peas, the remaining rosemary and thyme. Taste for seasoning, adding in more salt and pepper as needed.

Whipped Potatoes Topping:
Peel potatoes and cut into 1” cubes. Boil with salt until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain potatoes well. Place potatoes into a large mixing bowl and add in butter by small pats, while potatoes are still hot. Using a hand-mixer beat the potatoes on low until smooth. Add in any remaining butter, salt, and white pepper to taste. Increase mixer speed to medium speed, and beat until smoother. Slowly all milk with low mixing speed; increase mixing speed to make fluffy. Add more milk if needed to make creamier.

Turn on broiler. Using oven-safe casserole dish (individual soufflé dishes or 1 large dish), place stew to fill dish half full, and smooth out making sure it is evenly distributed. Place potatoes on top and carefully spread out to cover the top of the stew. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Place under broiler for about 5 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Queso de Cabra con Miel (Goat Cheese with Honey)

Shortly after settling into my apartment in Manresa, Spain, one of my roommates and I set out to find our local vino y tapas bar. This was during my internship at Ferran Adrià’s R&D Institute, Fundació Alícia. Lucky enough, Las Vegas, was within two blocks. There I fast discover how gluten-free friendly Spain is. Written on the board on the bar wall was “Estrella Damm para Celiacos”, alongside with the featured local Catalan wines served. Beer for celiacs. Beautiful. The Spaniards proved to be very accommodating for gluten-free needs. Proudly so.

From the tapas menu, I ordered the “queso de cabra con miel,” the goat cheese with honey. What came out I found slightly unexpected: a pan-fried goat cheese with a rind and honey drizzled on top. This particular goat cheese, Leonora, resembled a smaller bucheron, which is easy to find at most American cheese mongers. The sweetness of the honey balanced the sharpness of the cheese. Very flavorful and rich. No bread or crackers needed. This tapa became an instant favorite of mine.
Later that day I told one of my other roommates (Ferran Adrià’s favorite Alícia chef intern) about this simple and amazing tapa. Guille told me the secret to pan-frying the cheese to maintain the shape and integrity is to harden and chill the cut cheese in the freezer. Then fry in minimal oil over a relatively high heat to sear a crust without melting and oozing into a mess. Plate, drizzle a little bit of good quality honey, and eat immediately. Guille is a genius and a great cook.
Anyone can make this easy tapa. No need to be a trained chef. The only technique you need to know is having the cheese cut to an appropriate thickness, and then freezing until hard. A non-stick fry pan helps, too.
  • Bucheron cheese, cut into ¼ - ½ inch thickness
  • Honey, good quality (great dish to splurge on truffle honey)
Place the sliced goat cheese separated/wrapped in wax paper or parchment. Allow to harden in freezer for at least 3o minutes. Heat a non-stick fry / sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, place a little bit of oil (of your choice). Remove cheese from freezer, unwrap, and place in fry pan. Sear for about 1-2 minutes, when a golden brown crust forms. Flip. Sear other side. Serve on plate. Drizzle honey. Eat immediately. Enjoy. Buen provecho!
-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oatmeal Buckwheat Pancakes with Bananas and Pecans: Part of the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally

Amazing GF Ratio Rally logo by Anile Prakash

I am fortunate to be part of the "Gluten-Free Ratio Rally," started and hosted by the Gluten-Free Girl, Shauna Ahern. Other incredible gluten-free bloggers and cookbook authors are also part of this team, see list below. Our monthly mission is to take on a standard baking recipe and put our personal gluten-free spin on it. This is based on the Michael Rulhman's Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. To me, as a chemist, makes total sense and is the only logical way to convert a baking recipe to the best gluten-free iteration possible. This month it is pancakes. Our reference ratio for pancakes is 4:4:2:1 / flour:liquid:eggs:fat. The ratios are in weight, which suit gluten-free baking the best since the densities of different flours can vary so much. I prefer grams. I do list US volumetric measurements, and used Bob's Red Mill flours.

Recently, I tried certified gluten-free without any reaction. I had forgotten how yummy and wholesome oats can be. Somehow, I wanted to include them into these pancakes. Buckwheat tends to be another wholesome, rich favorite grain of mine. Put them together with a neutral whole grain flour like brown rice. And the outcome is a very wholesome pancake. How can I make this better? Bananas and pecans with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg.


  • 100 g (1 cup) GF quick cooking oats
  • 100 g (2/3 cup) brown rice flour
  • 40 g (1/4 cup) buckwheat flour
  • 35 g (3 tablespoons) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 15 g (1 tablespoon) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 190 g (3/4 cup) milk
  • 60 g (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 banana, diced fine
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces


Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. Using a small food processor, grind together the oats with the granulated sugar until fine. Put into large mixing bowl. Scale/measure all the other dry ingredients and add into large mixing bowl. Mix well with a large spoon/spatula. In a large pouring cup or medium bowl, heat the milk with the butter in the microwave for 1 minute until the butter is liquid. Stir and add in the vanilla, followed by the eggs. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients. Add in the bananas and pecans. Mix until just combined.

Using a ladle or scooper, measure portions of batter onto a greased preheated griddle or large fry pan (medium heat/375F), allowing space for spreading and flipping. Fry the pancakes until the tops are full of bubbles and begin to look dry, and the bottoms are golden brown. Turn and brown the other side. Can hold in a warm oven (200F) until the whole batch is cooked.

Serve hot, accompanied by butter, maple syrup, fresh berries, and bacon (best from your local butcher.) Um, bacon makes everything better.


-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure