Gluten-free pasta has come a long way since the early aughts. And the reasons we might want to eat alternative pastas have evolved, too. What was once a narrow marketplace for people with celiac disease has grown exponentially and attracted the paleo camp, the leaky-gut prone, the cleanse-curious, people who just want to try eating less wheat, and people who just can’t get enough of chickpeas.
The OG gluten-free grain pastas (rice-, corn-, and quinoa-based) have significantly improved across the board in both flavor and texture. The new-school legume-based pastas are higher in protein, and some people prefer how they taste. There are still a few less-than-desirable iterations out there; we tried but seriously could not find a green pea pasta that we’d recommend. (Differing opinions welcome.) But overall, many of the alt pasta surprised us: They’re good.
Yet even the best gluten-free pasta options have their quirks. Seeing as they aren’t wheat-based pasta, it makes sense that they behave a bit differently when cooked. So we’ve come up with a few GF pasta guidelines and collected our pasta picks, tasting notes, serving suggestions, and some nutritional intel.
- USE A BIG ENOUGH POT AND ALWAYS ERR ON THE AL DENTE SIDE.
Texture is the biggest complaint we’ve heard about gluten-free pasta, specifically mushiness. In our experience, the main culprit is either using too small a pot of water and/or overcooking the pasta. First, be sure to use a large stockpot full of ocean-salty water. That way the pasta will have enough room to move around, which means even cooking in well-seasoned water.
To achieve perfect doneness, try cooking your pasta about two minutes less than the box directs. This is especially important when you’re finishing your pasta restaurant-style by cooking it into your sauce. (For the record: Do it this way.)
- THE CONTROVERSIAL RINSE AND SOME OLIVE OIL.
Italian grandmothers all over the world will be shaking their heads at this one. We know, we know! It goes against God and years of pasta tradition. But here’s the thing: These gluten-free pastas are a different beast altogether, and you have to let go of Nonna’s advice. Rinsing wheat pasta after boiling is a bad idea because you are washing away the starches that will help your sauce beautifully cling to the noodles. The starches on gluten-free pasta are neither desirable nor important and, more often than not, lead to gumminess. The cold-water rinse after straining also stops the noodles from continuing to cook, which is crucial as gluten-free pastas are not forgiving when overcooked even the slightest bit.
After a quick cool rinse, toss your gluten-free pasta with a bit of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Then add them to your sauce of choice with a pinch of salt to finish (as you tend to lose a bit of seasoning in the rinse).
- EMBRACE THE FLAVORS OF THE ALT-PASTA INGREDIENTS.
Some of these alternative-pasta bases are neutral in flavor (like rice, quinoa, potato), and those pasta can work pretty seamlessly with any sauce. But some alt-pasta bases are decidedly assertive in their flavor (like corn, buckwheat, chickpea), and we’ve found it’s better to work with those flavors rather than against them. It might mean cracking open The Flavor Bible for pairing ideas, but it’ll make your dinner about celebrating flavors instead of masking them, and that is always much more delicious.
THE TASTE TEST
THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE PASTAS THAT TASTE JUST LIKE PASTA
These were our winners based on taste alone—in fact, they almost had us fooled. How could these pastas—with the al dente bounce and chew that gluten is famous for—be gluten-free? These brands cleverly use corn, potato, rice, or tapioca starches to achieve that delightful textural effect. These are great if you’re just trying to avoid gluten but want pasta, or if you want a gluten-free option that you could sneak past a picky eater.
GAROFALO CORN, RICE, QUINOA GLUTEN-FREE CASARECCE
We love these pastas in the casarecce shape. When cooked al dente, it has a pleasant chew that almost perfectly mimics wheat pasta’s, thanks to the corn and quinoa. The shape and texture make it good for holding a rich sauce and getting that crispy top layer in a gluten-free mac ’n’ cheese.
BIO NATURAL GLUTEN FREE PENNE RIGATE
This organic pastas has a nice neutral flavor, so you can pair it with the classics. The texture feels sturdy but not stodgy, as many lesser gluten-free pastas do. This is ideal for a rich sauce, like turkey ragù