Today has been the perfect day for avoiding gluten. After the dismal monsoons of the last couple of months, Cambridge has suddenly been blessed with sunshine. Not just any sunshine; this sunshine has returned with a vengeance, angry at being barred by miserable and threatening clouds for weeks on end and ready to show the citizens of this humble town what it's made of. With the result that the weather is swelteringly hot, and therefore it's completely impossible to entertain the notion of eating very much at all. It's definitely not a day to be craving a huge, freshly baked loaf of gluten-packed bread.
I had breakfast before it got properly hot, though, so my usual bowl of porridge didn't seem out of place. To be fair, I still eat porridge even in the height of summer, because it's delicious and the perfect blanket for all that ripe and ready summer fruit around at the moment. I still had some rhubarb left over from yesterday, so I had that on top with a large handful of raspberries and blueberries, both of which go deliciously well with rhubarb.
For lunch, I decided to try out some gluten-free pasta. In a pasta salad, though, to be eaten just warm or cold, rather than a hot, steaming plate of carbs. They are not the thing when you are hot and steaming yourself. I was intrigued to see if it tasted any different to normal pasta, being made with maize and rice flour instead of standard flour. It certainly looked the same in the packet.
I wanted a vaguely creamy sauce for my pasta salad, something with a generous kick of mustard to spice it up when eaten cold from the fridge. I get very specific cravings when it comes to pasta, you see. Then I needed some protein to bulk it out. Chicken, tuna or smoked mackerel would have been wonderful, but there was some smoked trout on offer in Waitrose, so I decided to use that. I also wanted a lot of nice green veg, for a bit of contrast and to make it a vaguely healthy option. Peas and broad beans work well in pasta salads, and go very well with trout. Finally, I added a couple of chopped hard-boiled eggs. I don't know if this is weird or not. I love eggs with smoked fish, but I don't know if that's a normal thing. But hey, it's my salad, so in they went. Plus eggs are good for you.
To this I added a dressing made with cream cheese, creme fraiche, lemon juice, salt and pepper, a huge amount of lemon thyme leaves (my favourite herb, and delicious with fish and anything creamy) and two heaped teaspoons of mustard. Not just any mustard - Tracklements horseradish mustard, from back in July last year when I went on an exciting tour of their mustard factory and received enough free mustard to last several years (literally - I've only used two jars out of six, and that's taken me an entire twelve months). Horseradish is normally perceived as solely reserved for beef, but actually it partners very well with rich smoked fish, particularly trout and mackerel.
Incidentally, I received a very nice email from Becky at Tracklements today, who informs me that all their products (apart from the Fruity Brown Sauce and the Beer Mustard) are gluten-free, and recommends stirring one of their chutneys into a bowl of quinoa or carmargue rice, adding some leftover chicken or lamb and some sultanas, and digging in for a wonderful gluten-free plateful. That's definitely something I'll have to try.
The result of my pasta experiment was a deliciously comforting plateful full of fresh flavours - crunchy, slightly bitter broad beans, sweet peas, the rich trout and eggs, plus the zingy lemony dressing that manages to be creamy and soothing yet sharp and exciting at the same time.
But I know what you really want to know is: does gluten-free pasta taste the same as normal pasta?
Yes! Yes it does! I have to admit I couldn't tell the difference at all while eating it. Perhaps if you ate it dressed with nothing more than good olive oil and seasoning, and were a connoisseur, you might be sharp enough to spot the difference, but I really didn't notice, and seeing as I usually like my pasta laden with other lovely things, it's certainly good enough for me.
Great news for gluten-free dieters everywhere.
To celebrate, here's a jaunty little video of me making the pasta salad.
After a banana, tea and medjool date snack (a repeat of yesterday), I went to my usual Tuesday kickboxing class. I noticed a huge improvement in my energy levels from last week, when I could barely lift my arms and legs and just felt horribly sluggish. This time I was bursting with energy and had a really great class. I don't know if it's the gluten-free diet or just coincidence, but I've certainly noticed only positive effects so far. It was doubly surprising given I spent most of today asleep in the sun, which isn't exactly great for boosting energy levels.
For dinner, I made a wonderful salad which I will be giving a proper dedicated post soon in the future, because it was just that good. Suffice to say that my mum had a few bites, then said: "If this is what being gluten-free is like, then I'm all for it."
It's a salad of smoked prosciutto, feta cheese, grilled peaches, green beans and rocket. Sounds an unlikely combination, but tastes like summer on a plate and is utterly wonderful. A perfect example of how a gluten-free diet can lead to the most imaginative and delicious recipe creations.
Creamy smoked trout pasta salad (serves 3-4):
250g short pasta shapes, gluten-free if necessary (I used fusilli)
2 large eggs, at room temperature (so they don't crack when boiling)
A large handful each of frozen peas and broad beans
150g light cream cheese
1 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and black pepper
A few sprigs lemon thyme
2 tsp olive oil
125g smoked trout fillets
Fresh herbs, to serve (optional)
Put the pasta on to cook in a large pot of boiling salted water, adding the eggs to the water. After 6 minutes, remove the eggs and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Add the peas and broad beans to the pasta, wait for the water to come back to the boil, then cook for 3-4 minutes (make sure the pasta doesn't overcook; this timing should end up with it just right). Peel and dice the eggs and set aside.
Mix together the cream cheese, creme fraiche, mustard, lemon juice, a generous amount of pepper and the leaves of the lemon thyme sprigs in a small bowl. Taste and check the seasoning - it should be quite sharp and lemony.
When the pasta and peas/beans are cooked, drain them, reserving a small cup of cooking water. Return them to their pan, then add the cream sauce. Stir together well, adding the olive oil and a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary, then flake the trout into the pasta and stir again. Check the seasoning - you might want more lemon juice or mustard. Add the chopped eggs and stir together again. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with fresh herbs, if you like (dill, basil, parsley and lemon thyme all work well).