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 pastas surprised us: They’re good.
Yet even the best gluten-free pasta options have their quirks. Seeing as they aren’t wheat-based pastas, 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.
1. 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.)
2. 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).
3. EMBRACE THE FLAVORS OF THE ALT-PASTA INGREDIENTS.
Some of these alternative-pasta bases are neutral in flavor (like rice, quinoa, potato), and those pastas 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 really 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 this pasta 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.
GLUTEN FREE PENNE RIGATE
This organic pasta 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.
CAPELLO’S ALMOND FLOUR FETTUCCINE
Capello’s was recommended to us by a gluten-free connoisseur. She said it was the best, and she was right. It’s easily the most delicious fresh gluten-free pasta we tried. Because it’s fresh pasta (you can find it in the freezer aisle), it has eggs, which combined with the almond flour give this pasta some significant protein, fiber, and iron. And because Capello’s uses tapioca starch in lieu of, say, rice or corn, this pasta is grain-free and paleo-friendly. It really tastes just like regular pasta, so you can’t go wrong. Plus, Capello’s sells pasta sheets perfect for gluten-free lasagna.
THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE GRAIN PASTAS
These gluten-free grain pastas are great because they all have one or two ingredients, which means no weird preservatives or fillers. The main ingredients here—corn, buckwheat, and rice—all lend a slightly different flavor and/or texture than you might be used to with pasta, but they’re still highly versatile and worthy of a spot in your gluten-free pantry.
LA VENEZIANE CORN FETTUCCINE
We tried this pasta in a fettuccine style and in a small shape called ditalini. Both were delicious and bouncy, and imparted a nice sweetness from the corn. That sweet corn flavor would be great tossed in this briny yet bright recipe from Melissa Clark for clams with herbs and lime. And if you decided to double down on the red pepper flakes—or add some fresh sliced serrano—for an extra kick, we wouldn’t be mad about it.
TINKYADA BROWN RICE SPAGHETTI
Here is the gold standard of brown-rice pasta. In addition to providing some protein and B vitamins, this pasta isn’t flimsy, as rice pasta so often can be. That great texture makes it a candidate for thicker sauces. It’s brilliant when used in our recipe for cold dan dan noodles: The chewy noodles with the creamy peanut sauce, crunchy cucumber, and tender herbs just works.
RUSTICHELLA D’ABRUZZO BUCKWHEAT TORTIGLIONI
This buckwheat flavor might be the most assertive of the three. Working against it won’t result in anything delicious, but creatively working with it will. You could certainly go soba-style and use some Japanese pantry ingredients to make a cold noodle salad with sesame, scallion, edamame, and furikake. Or you could go the Northern Italian route. Buckwheat pasta is a popular winter dish in that region, where it’s served with rich cream sauces and pungent vegetables—like cabbage, kale, mushrooms, and onions—that play off buckwheat’s deep and earthy flavor.
THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE LEGUME PASTAS
Legume pastas have taken over the gluten-free pasta game. It’s smart: making pasta out of such nutritious and virtuous ingredients. But it’s not always executed well. In our taste test, this category had some of the best and worst overall. Our three favorites, though, are delicious, nourishing, and reliably easy to cook.
BARILLA CHICKPEA ROTINI
Barilla is nutritious—the pasta has lots of fiber and protein—which we like to remind ourselves of when we’re on our second helping. When cooked al dente, the texture is great, but it definitely tastes like it’s made of chickpeas. And that’s okay! We like to balance that nutty richness by pairing it with something spicy, like this easy weeknight chorizo pasta recipe, or something tangy and herbaceous, like kale pesto.
POW! PASTA GREEN LENTIL SPAGHETTI
This lentil pasta is also a great source of protein and fiber, and the flavor is more neutral because it’s made with both lentil and quinoa flour. The longer noodles fare especially well when cooked al dente, given a rinse, and added to a simple skillet sauce for this cleaned-up carbonara or aglio e olio.