Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust...Gluten What??

Lately, in addition to living a sugar-free life, I have also tried to reduce the amount of wheat and gluten in my diet. What the heck is gluten? Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.  (Sometimes oats are contaminated with gluten as well because they are processed in the same plants as wheat so people with gluten-free diets avoid them, even though oats in and of themselves are gluten-free.)  For some people, gluten can cause a sensitivity or allery that can express itself in many ways, including digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, acid reflux), headaches, inability to concentrate (brain fog), skin rashes, fatigue, and so on.  A full-out gluten allergy is called celiac disease and it is a very serious condition that requires medical attention and a diet completely restriced of gluten in any form.  Celiac disease is just like any other food allergy and can be life-threatening depending on the severity.  For those like me who don't have a serious condition like celiac disease, gluten intolerance can cause minor digestive discomfort and occasional skin rashes.  For that reason, I just simply prefer to avoid wheat as much as possible.

Sometimes people hear that they can't eat wheat-based products on a gluten-free diet and they think that they have NOTHING good left to eat.  No bread, no pasta, no Thanksgiving stuffing, no down-home comfort food.  What!  Give that up?  Are you crazy??!  Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth!  There are many, many other grains that you can eat, some of which may sound familiar and some of which may sound new to you but are "ancient grains" that have been eaten for centuries.  Best of all, most of them can be found in the natural foods section of your local neighborhood grocery store (or at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods), such as:  amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat (kasha), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), corn, millet, potato, quinoa, rice, soy, tapioca (cassava), and teff.  Notice that corn, rice, and potatoes are listed among these grains! I told you not to worry. There are comfort foods galore! 

Although they may sound unfamiliar to you, challenge yourself and give some of these ancient grains a try.  For example, pasta made from quinoa, rice, or corn can be delicious.  In fact, quinoa, brown rice, and fresh corn (especially in the summer) are staples of my diet.  When I am in the mood to bake, I have found some alternative sources of grains and seeds that are gluten-free, and tasty.  Some of my favorites are flaxseed meal, almond flour, and cornmeal.  Bob's Red Mill makes a number of gluten-free flours that you can find at your grocery store with other gluten-free foods.

Yesterday, I was craving pizza so I tried out a new gluten-free pizza crust recipe using Bob's Red Mill Flaxseed Meal.  (It also happens to be low carb, good for those following Atkins or the South Beach Diet.)  Having never baked with flaxseed meal before I wondered whether it would be flavorless or hard or otherwise inedible, but it was actually quite flavorful and delicious.  Even my husband thought so!


1 1/2 c flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sugar substitute (I used stevia - 1 Tbl)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 whole eggs
1/2 c water

Preheat oven to 425.  Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add wet ingredients and mix until well-blended.  Let mixture sit for 5 minutes to thicken.  Put a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and use a knife or rubber spatula to spread out crust in a rectangle to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Bake 13-15 minutes or until cooked through.  (I baked for only 13 minutes because I knew I was going to add ingredients later on in the day and bake it again.  If you want to make the pizza all at once, bake the crust as suggested above, take out of the oven, add your toppings, and put it right back in and bake until the cheese melts.)  Let cool.  Cut into 8 squares.

A few hours later, I added the toppings to one square of crust...Spread a little olive oil on the crust.  Add a tablespoon or two of pesto and 1/2 fresh roma tomato (heat fresh tomato for 30 seconds in the microwave first to soften and then drain liquid).  Sprinke mozzarella cheese on top.  Bake at 425 until cheese melts, browns a bit, and bubbles.  So, so good!

What I love about this recipe is that you can freeze the excess squares of crust. I put the extra pieces of crust in a freezer-safe container with layers of parchment paper between them and popped them in the freezer for later use.

With a small amount of effort, you can find that a whole new world of grains and flours are just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, and they are all waiting for you in your local grocery store.