And then I saw the finished painting: Two elderly African-American women depicted in deep purple and amber with yellow highlights. No longer was I looking at the black and white photograph from a 1960s Civil Rights march, but the very regal portrait of two African queens.
So, I should know that limits can birth products we might otherwise never conceive. Still, it was difficult to apply this to my situation when I first learned that I needed to eat gluten-free. And not only gluten-free, but without tomatoes, peppers, pork, milk, and a host of other staples that I loved and relied upon for daily cooking.
But after over four years of cooking and eating in new and seemingly limited ways, I now relish the dietary constraints because they force me to create innovative food combinations.
When I was cooking with tomatoes, I’d make that standard fare—spaghetti—which never referred to the pasta, but to the total concoction of red sauce, often with meatballs or cooked ground beef, and the requisite Parmesan cheese. As mundane as it sounds, it pleased my children and me. We had only one variation without tomato sauce, which we referred to as “that spaghetti,” or alternatively, “you know, that spaghetti,” which was meant to differentiate it from its red cousin. I’ll share the simple recipe that I’d whipped up one night to accompany breaded chicken breasts. At the time, it was full of gluten, but you can easily make this gluten-free:
1 lb. thin spaghetti
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic
About 1 cup Parmesan cheese of the grated, not sawdust, variety (I never measured, but only “dumped”)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta till done; drain and return to cooking pan. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add garlic, stirring to prevent scorching. Cook until garlic browns, about 5 minutes; remove from heat. Combine with cooked pasta directly in the pot, adding Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Toss to mix. Serve immediately.
Fortunately, this pasta recipe works as well with gluten-free spaghetti as it does with wheat pasta. More importantly, it inspired other combinations that lack tomatoes.
My first gluten-free variation was to sauté chopped Portobello mushrooms in olive oil, rather than butter, with minced garlic and add it to angel hair rice pasta, along with the grated Parmesan cheese. Sometimes, I included chopped onion with the garlic.
A later variation included cooked shrimp and heavy cream added to the pan after the mushrooms and garlic had cooked; this sauce is so easy because it doesn’t need to thicken. (And yes, I am so thankful that cream is not the same as milk and is a food I can eat!)
I wish I could remember exactly what prompted me to try sautéing yellow squash and zucchini with the garlic. I think it was a combination of the beautiful produce at the farmer’s market, where I often allow what’s in season to inspire me; being restricted from eating the nightshade vegetables, which left me few summer veggies to choose from; and a detox program where I had to eat vegan for a week. Besides being delicious and healthy, it takes less than half an hour to make this complete dinner:
Summer Squash and Spaghetti
8 oz. gluten-free pasta, cooked (I prefer corn-quinoa, from Ancient Harvest)
Olive oil (enough to line the pan and to keep the squash moist)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 yellow squash, halved and sliced about 1/4” thick
1-2 zucchini, halved and sliced about 1/4” thick
Grated Parmesan cheese (add at table)
In a large skillet or small wok, warm olive oil using medium heat; sauté garlic for about 5 minutes. Then add sliced yellow squash and zucchini, adding more olive oil throughout the process as needed. Cook, stirring frequently, until squash is soft but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Serve over your favorite gluten-free spaghetti, adding Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper at the table.
How can you be sure your gluten-free food is delicious? Besides your taste buds, when you feed it to people who don’t have to eat gluten-free, they love it and ask for more. I’ve made this recipe numerous times since I created it a few years ago. My adult daughter, a picky eater, is thrilled when we make this often on our Friday nights together. And recently a friend asked me, “Why didn’t my mom make this while I was growing up?” The irony is that if his mother had been allergic to tomatoes, she might have discovered squash and spaghetti years ago.