The Coeliac UK Gluten Free Challenge: Day 2

I woke up early and felt lively. A good sign? If you were reading yesterday, you’ll remember I almost failed the challenge before I’d started it, but today was free of near misses. Turns out I was also being alarmist about the pea ‘yoghurt’ from Redwood (I’m also trying to go lactose-free) – a spoon of it went well with my morning fruit and nuts, although it was extremely sweet. Plus, hemp milk from Good Oil works much better in tea (and coffee) than Kara coconut milk, I found. Lunch was slices of GF sourdough bread from Sunnyvale which I’d picked up in Holland and Barrett – a bit dry but far more interesting and tasty than I’d imagined – with tomato and avocado.

The day was characterised by little fleeting moments of sharp highs and lows. Workwise there are lots of interesting things going on – but today a coeliac article of mine maddeningly failed to run. This was mirrored in my ‘food mood’ – one second I was dreading the next GF meal, the next excited to be eating in a wholly new way. I imagine, magnified by several factors, this is something a lot of food sensitives experience. I think a lot of it was to do with fretting about this evening’s meal, which all day I’ve been expecting to go horribly wrong…

But first to Sainsbury’s to pick up some xanthan gum. Mine is a small local one, and the ‘free from’ section is barely wider than me. They had the gum, but while browsing the Doves Farm flours, I noticed that their standard wheaten flour was sitting alongside two of their GF flours. The label for the product was in place too – so this wasn’t just a shelf-stacking misplacement. Clearly an error, then? While the ‘free from’ section wasn’t signposted as such, everything else around was GF and/or DF, so surely it must have been?

A key point of Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free Challenge is to boost awareness. With that in mind, I called for the manager. He was polite and open from the off. I led him to the free from section and explained the problem as I saw it: that a rushed GFer could easily pick up the wheat flour in error. He listened and nodded attentively and took it more seriously than I’d dared hope. He thanked me for letting him know, and promised he’d investigate at once. Ten out of ten. I’ll let Sainsbury’s ‘free from’ team know too, and pay another visit later in the week.

Supper was to be Parmesan Pumpkin and Rice Pie. This is a recipe, which I’ve slightly adapted, from the little corner of Parma Province in northern Italy which my folks call home. It’s basically an eggy cheesy pumpkin risotto (of sorts) baked in a thin and crispy no-fat ‘pastry’, usually made from wheat flour and water. I was nervous about this crust, but used Doves Farm plain white GF flour blend with a dash of xanthan and it worked surprisingly well. Sadly, fearing disaster, I chickened out of inviting a pal over and am now kicking myself. Still, enough for some tomorrow…

Ingredients (for 2)
For the filling:
Just under a mugful of rice – I used pudding rice, but any risotto rice (carnaroli, arborio) is also ideal (but don’t use other rices)
Half a butternut squash (or other pumpkin-y vegetable)
Some bouillon powder (I used one and a half teaspoons)
Some dried herbs
Two eggs
Lots of grated Parmesan and/or Grana Padano

For the crust:
100g Doves Farm plain white GF flour blend
Half teaspoon xanthan gum
Water as required

Grate the squash and fry gently in olive oil. Sprinkle in bouillon powder and herbs and add a little water as it dries. Keep cooking and adding splashes of water if required, until the mixture becomes a bit pulpy – around ten minutes.

Meanwhile cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water. Cook it to the point where it is still undercooked, but if you had to eat it, you just about could – albeit with a lot of chewing. Drain thoroughly.

Combine the rice and the cooked squash and set aside to cool.

Next, mix the flour and xanthan gum in a clean bowl and then add water gradually, until you can work the mixture into a dough. Roll out thinly to desired scale. (I used a non-stick baking tray 12 inches x 9 inches and under 1 inch deep.) Transfer dough to tray, pressing down firmly and filling in the inevitable tears and gaps.

Once the rice / squash mixture is cooled to around body temperature, add the grated cheese – a massive handful – and two eggs. Mix until fully blended. Add a bit of tepid water if mixture seems too dry. Dollop the mixture into the lined tray, spread evenly, and bake on a fairly high heat for around 10-15 minutes, or until the crust or some grains of rice begin to char and the pie looks done.

Slide the pie off onto a rack and cool for ten to fifteen minutes before cutting into squares for serving.

The crust, as can see, was a little ragged, and a little chewy on the underside, so perhaps a minute or two in the oven before adding the rice-squash filling and popping it back would help if you're attempting this. But it tasted really good. Thanks to both Micki Rose and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson for GF flour and xanthan gum counselling!

No recipe tomorrow, as I’ll be finishing off the pie (cold, it’s excellent picnic food, by the way), but before that I’ll be at the House of Commons for a reception with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coeliac Disease. A report right here tomorrow night…

To learn more about Coeliac UK's Gluten-free Challenge, click here.

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