It’s wonderful having such a wide variety of gluten free pastas available to us now. That wasn’t always the case. And I love the convenience of having them on my shelf. But recently I had some guests over who really enjoy their pasta, but who watch their calories and simply can’t have all those carbs. Vegetables (okay, technically most of them are fruits), like zucchini, summer squash, spaghetti squash, and Shirataki noodles, are an excellent alternative. And they’ve all become very popular with both gluten free and gluten eaters, alike. Another reason to consider giving them a try is because they’re often more nutritious than pasta and yet, like pasta, their neutral flavor allows them to be used in whatever recipe you like.
So what could be better? They’re fresh (in some cases so fresh we can literally pluck them out of our own garden), and light (so that we don’t have that loosen-our-belts feeling after eating). And when combined with our favorite seasonings and sauces are still delicious, and yet not difficult to prepare.
Zucchini & Summer Squash Noodles
You’ve probably noticed that zucchini and summer squash noodles have become all the rage. They’re the “spaghetti squash” of today. Whether you choose to shred, julienne, or peel them into ribbons, this inexpensive, low-calorie alternative to pasta will give you a huge veggie/fiber boost. And what’s great is you can serve them so many ways: raw, steamed, blanched, or sauteed. I prefer the last.
As seen in the photo above: I’ve shredded/julienned them by using a grater, a mandolin, and a new can’t-live-without-it device that turns them into cute spirals that go on and on. I guess you can tell which method I prefer.
Now, I’m not suggesting you run out and buy another gadget for your kitchen; however, if you’re going to make a large quantity of “noodles” or plan on serving them frequently, you will find it’s the fastest, easiest, and safest method. I can’t believe I didn’t buy one of these contraptions sooner! And no, I’m not getting any compensation for saying that. But I can tell you that before buying the device I made 5 pounds of noodles for some company we were having. It took me upwards of an hour, but less than 15 minutes with the spiral making machine!
If, however, you prefer to use a grater or mandolin (as I have done for years), you may wish to consider purchasing a pair of “no-cry” gloves. I kid you not, that’s what they’re called. They’ll save your fingers and knuckles when you’re trying to get to the last bit of zucchini. Some people remove the tiny little seeds, but I don’t find them to be an issue. And if you’re using the spiral slicer, it automatically removes them. Important Note! ALWAYS use the safety guard provided with your mandolin!
You’ll want to make more noodles than you think you’ll need as they do cook down. If for some reason you find you have made too much to use, they can be saved for several days in your fridge. Just pop them (raw) into a resealable bag or container and refrigerate.
I have chosen to peel the outer skin off before turning them into noodles, because the skin, though nutrient rich, can sometimes be bitter tasting, especially if they’re really large and you’re serving them fairly plain. But it’s not necessary to peel them, particularly if you’re adding a sauce that is full of flavor and will mask any bitterness.
You can “salt” your zucchini noodles before cooking to draw out some of the moisture that is naturally occurring, but it’s not necessary. If you toss them into the skillet at the last minute or two, they won’t become overly juicy. They will, however, release their water if you decide to refrigerate any leftovers. But that’s easily taken care of by using a strainer or slotted spoon to remove them from the juice.
There are a couple of ways to remove the moisture:
#1 – You can place them in a gluten free strainer, sprinkle kosher salt over the noodles, toss them, and allow to set over a bowl or the sink for about 30 minutes. Then rinse and dry with a towel. Try to get as much moisture off as you can. OR you can forgo rinsing and simply pat them try. Unless you’ve really doused them with salt, most of it will drain off with the moisture.
#2 – The second way is to blanch them in salted, boiling water for about 2 minutes and rinse with cold water (again, in a gluten free strainer) – to stop them from cooking further. Towel them dry.
So to recap:
1. Wash to remove any dirt or germs. Cut the ends off and peel, if you like.
2. If using a grater or mandolin, run the zucchini lengthwise down the blade to achieve the long noodle-look. (Be careful to use the safety feature! Consider purchasing no-cry gloves to protect your fingers!)
3. IF you want to “salt” them to remove some of the naturally occurring moisture, place the noodles in a gluten free strainer, sprinkle with kosher salt and allow to set for 30 minutes, or blanch in salted boiling water for 2 minutes and drain well. Again, this step is not necessary for making quick, delicious low-carb noodles.
4. Cook for just 1 or 2 minutes, or until they reach the texture you prefer. Add your favorite seasonings or sauce.
These zucchini noodles were sauteed in a little olive oil and a generous amount of garlic. Salt and pepper were added (to taste), and then they were topped with Parmesan cheese. Voila! Simple, and very tasty.
A little nutritional info about zucchini: Zucchini is made up of a lot of water and is very low in calories. One medium raw zucchini has 33 calories, 2.37 grams of protein, 6.1 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber. A good source of vitamin A and C, as well as potassium, zucchini can be served raw, steamed, blanched, sauteed or baked. One cup of raw, sliced summer squash (aka yellow squash or yellow zucchini) contains 18 calories and has essentially no fat. A 1-cup portion provides only 0.2 g of fat and 1.2 grams of fiber.
Generally available year-round, the peak season for spaghetti squash is from early fall through winter. For those who haven’t had it before, it’s an ivory, yellow or orange squash (not to be confused with acorn or butternut squash) that is solid when raw, but becomes stringy (like spaghetti) after it’s been cooked – with a sort of sweet taste and soft, crunchy-like texture. Many of you may have already had it. It’s been around a very long time in “health-food” or vegetarian cookbooks and dishes.
Spaghetti squash can be baked, boiled, steamed, or microwaved. When boiled, steamed or microwaved, there’s almost no added fat (except what will come from your sauce, of course). The seeds can be roasted, similar to other squash seeds. It’s also low in calories – approximately 42 calories per 1-cup serving. The average 4 lb. squash will yield about 5 cups. After it has cooked, simply scrape out the spaghetti-like strands from this squash and season or top with your favorite sauce.
To prepare your spaghetti squash:
1. Wash it to remove any dirt or germs, and dry it thoroughly so it’s not slippery when you cut it.
2. Carefully cut the squash in half. Crosswise will give you longer strands (more like spaghetti).
3. Remove the seeds. You may scrape them out with a spoon, if necessary.
To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the prepared squash in a large baking dish. You may line it with foil for a quicker cleanup. Lay the squash, skin side down. Sprinkle salt and pepper and generously drizzle olive oil inside the squash. Minced or chopped garlic is also a wonderful addition. How long you bake it will depend on the size of the squash. Figure you will need at least 45 minutes – and upwards of an hour and a half – for it to be ready. A fork should easily pull the meat away from the skin. Remove and cool slightly before shredding with a fork (to create your “spaghetti”), and then top as you like.
To boil: Bring salted water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold both halves. Add the squash, skin side up, and lower the heat so the water doesn’t overflow. Boil for approximately 15 minutes and check with a fork. It should be soft enough it pulls away from the skin. If not, boil a little longer (or as long as necessary to achieve the desire results). Drain and cool slightly before scraping your fork through the meat to create your “spaghetti” dish.
To steam: If you have a steamer, cut your squash into fourths and add with the skin side up. Steam for approximately 20 minutes. Test with a fork to see if it’s done. If not, steam a little longer. Cool slightly and scrape with a fork to create your strands of “spaghetti” and season or top how you like.
To microwave: Place in a microwave safe dish with about 1/4″ water OR cover completely, skin side up, and check every 5 minutes until a fork slides in easily. Cool slightly and scrape with a fork to achieve your “spaghetti” strands. Season or top as you like.
I’ve topped the spaghetti squash with my spinach-and-garlic-tomato-sauce
A little nutritional info about spaghetti squash: Spaghetti squash has less than 25% of the calories and carbohydrates that regular spaghetti has, yet it’s packed with nutrients, like folic acid, potassium, Vitamin A and beta carotene.
Shirataki (shee-rah-TAH-kee) noodles are thin, low-carb (often 0 carbs!), chewy, translucent noodles. Sometimes they’re called Konnyaku noodles. They’re made from Konjac flour, which is derived from the roots of a yam-like plant (grown in China and Japan). Mainly composed of a dietary fiber called glucomannan, they contain very few calories. There is even some evidence that they may have other health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and blood sugar. They don’t have much flavor by themselves, but they will absorb the flavors from other ingredients.
Usually found alongside the tofu in your supermarket or health food store, they’re packaged “wet” (floating in a liquid), which you will drain off. Then, simply rinse the noodles under hot water (in a gluten free strainer) or boil them briefly and then combine them with whatever ingredients you like. They’re delicious served with other steamed or stir fried vegetables, tofu or chicken, garlic, and gluten free soy sauce (Tamari).
Of course, there are countless other ways and recipes you may use for any of these alternatives to pasta, so experiment. Be daring! And enjoy!