Gluten-free lasagne and school chocolate crunch
I have risen to the challenge of cooking without gluten and cow’s milk. I am now a better person.
My husband’s best man and his wife (not my husband’s wife - that’s me, I mean the best man’s wife) were coming to East Anglia from Surrey to sing in a concert.
We invited them to lunch... the least we could do after Tim had to write that speech for the wedding 41 years ago. He and my husband had been at school together and both read jurisprudence (or law as it is also known) at Oxford, though at different colleges. They both sang and acted and shared a sense of humour. We don’t get together often enough, always promising to meet up and never getting around to it. So we were thrilled they were coming back to these here parts.
What to give them for lunch? Our wedding breakfast featured spring onions the size of billiard balls - not that then. Something unpretentious but flavoursome not forgetting Tim is cow’s milk intolerant and Helen can’t have gluten so, our mission, should we chose to accept it, was to make something appetising with nothing in it... nothing that was going to be a problem, that is.
We browsed the online supermarket, checking lists of ingredients to make sure the claims on the front of the packet were borne out. We decided to be bold and plan a lasagne - one vegetarian and one meat.
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Meat is neither dairy nor glutenous, likewise lentils, mushrooms, celery, onion and pepper. You can buy gluten-free pasta sheets, so that was fine. It was the bechamel sauce that presented the biggest challenge. We opted for goats’ milk, gluten free flour, goats’ butter and non-dairy cheese. I was keen that the cheese (or what passed for cheese) should melt into the sauce and one packet of grated cheese-like stuff promised it would melt.
I opened the packet and it smelt very like cheese, albeit with a slightly rubbery texture. I ate a shred... it tasted of nothing. I was encouraged, if it tasted of nothing then it couldn’t possibly have anything sinister in it. I trusted the aroma would help it towards an authentic flavour and stirred it into my roux. It did melt and nothing curdled, not even my blood.
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The box of pasta sheets recommended parboiling before use. Now here’s a tip. Forget buying sticky pads, to attach pictures to walls, parboiled gluten-free pasta is stickier than the stickiest blue stuff. It was a race to get the sheets parted before they welded themselves together in a pasta brick. I laid them out carefully on a plate, unwilling to risk them becoming forever attached to a tea towel, the traditional way of setting out pasta sheets. After parting two or three of them, I realised there was now a residue of gumminess on my hands. I had to ask my husband to run the tap for me so that I could wash it off without touching anything and having to call the fire brigade to free me.
The lasagne which, once cooked, lost its gluey-ness was served with salad and we had strawberries, free-from-everything chocolate brownies, and ice-cream (without the cream) for pudding. Do I sound a bit smug? Yes? I thought so but I really was rather impressed with myself and with supermarkets for stocking all those gluten and non-cow’s milk products I had been ignoring for years.
n Last week I mentioned the school dinner favourite, chocolate (you-could-take-someone’s-eye-out-with-that) crunch. Lesley Lord got in touch: “Ooh chocolate crunch! Loved it, even if at times it was so crunchy that stabbing it with a dessert fork resulted in a piece flying off to the next table. I have yet to find anyone who possesses this obviously closely-guarded recipe.”
Well Lesley, back in about 1987, I mentioned it in my column (I know, I know, I just keep repeating myself!) and my lovely sister-in-law, Anne, who used to be a school cook, sent me the recipe, scaling it down from large school dinner numbers. I have been in touch with Anne and she has kindly sent it to me again. Here it is.
n 8oz flour (see Note)
n 4oz margarine
n 4oz sugar
n 3/4oz cocoa powder
n 1 egg.
1. Mix the dry ingredients together. Lightly whisk the egg.
2. Melt the margarine then stir in the dry ingredients and the beaten egg.
3. Press into a greased tray approx 6” x 8” and brush the top with water. Sprinkle with sugar.
4. Bake at 140°C (Fan oven) for 30 mins. Cut into portions and leave to cool.
Note: If you want a really hard, crispy crunch - known as hoppit as that is what it does when you try to cut it - use all plain flour. For a more manageable crunch use 4oz plain flour, 4oz self raising Flour.
(aka be-careful-you-don’t-take-someone’s-eye-out-with-that cake.)
For more than two years I have refrained from writing about B****t (not the same as b*******t). It is the most divisive issue the UK has faced in my lifetime with the possible exception of the poll tax, oh, and the Iraq War... oh, and maybe the first EEC referendum. You know what? I’m going to carry on refraining from writing about it.