The Coeliac UK Gluten Free Challenge: Day 2

I woke up early and felt lively. A good sign? If you were reading yesterday, you’ll remember I almost failed the challenge before I’d started it, but today was free of near misses. Turns out I was also being alarmist about the pea ‘yoghurt’ from Redwood (I’m also trying to go lactose-free) – a spoon of it went well with my morning fruit and nuts, although it was extremely sweet. Plus, hemp milk from Good Oil works much better in tea (and coffee) than Kara coconut milk, I found. Lunch was slices of GF sourdough bread from Sunnyvale which I’d picked up in Holland and Barrett – a bit dry but far more interesting and tasty than I’d imagined – with tomato and avocado.

The day was characterised by little fleeting moments of sharp highs and lows. Workwise there are lots of interesting things going on – but today a coeliac article of mine maddeningly failed to run. This was mirrored in my ‘food mood’ – one second I was dreading the next GF meal, the next excited to be eating in a wholly new way. I imagine, magnified by several factors, this is something a lot of food sensitives experience. I think a lot of it was to do with fretting about this evening’s meal, which all day I’ve been expecting to go horribly wrong…

But first to Sainsbury’s to pick up some xanthan gum. Mine is a small local one, and the ‘free from’ section is barely wider than me. They had the gum, but while browsing the Doves Farm flours, I noticed that their standard wheaten flour was sitting alongside two of their GF flours. The label for the product was in place too – so this wasn’t just a shelf-stacking misplacement. Clearly an error, then? While the ‘free from’ section wasn’t signposted as such, everything else around was GF and/or DF, so surely it must have been?

A key point of Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free Challenge is to boost awareness. With that in mind, I called for the manager. He was polite and open from the off. I led him to the free from section and explained the problem as I saw it: that a rushed GFer could easily pick up the wheat flour in error. He listened and nodded attentively and took it more seriously than I’d dared hope. He thanked me for letting him know, and promised he’d investigate at once. Ten out of ten. I’ll let Sainsbury’s ‘free from’ team know too, and pay another visit later in the week.

Supper was to be Parmesan Pumpkin and Rice Pie. This is a recipe, which I’ve slightly adapted, from the little corner of Parma Province in northern Italy which my folks call home. It’s basically an eggy cheesy pumpkin risotto (of sorts) baked in a thin and crispy no-fat ‘pastry’, usually made from wheat flour and water. I was nervous about this crust, but used Doves Farm plain white GF flour blend with a dash of xanthan and it worked surprisingly well. Sadly, fearing disaster, I chickened out of inviting a pal over and am now kicking myself. Still, enough for some tomorrow…

Ingredients (for 2)
For the filling:
Just under a mugful of rice – I used pudding rice, but any risotto rice (carnaroli, arborio) is also ideal (but don’t use other rices)
Half a butternut squash (or other pumpkin-y vegetable)
Some bouillon powder (I used one and a half teaspoons)
Some dried herbs
Two eggs
Lots of grated Parmesan and/or Grana Padano

For the dough / crust:
100g Doves Farm plain white GF flour blend
Half teaspoon xanthan gum
Water as required

Grate the squash and fry gently in olive oil. Sprinkle in bouillon powder and herbs and add a little water as it dries. Keep cooking and adding splashes of water if required, until the mixture becomes a bit pulpy – around ten minutes.

Meanwhile cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water. Cook it to the point where it is still undercooked, but if you had to eat it, you just about could – albeit with a lot of chewing. Drain thoroughly.

Combine the rice and the cooked squash and set aside to cool.

Next, mix the flour and xanthan gum in a clean bowl and then add water gradually, until you can work the mixture into a dough. Roll out thinly to desired scale. (I used a non-stick baking tray 12 inches x 9 inches and under 1 inch deep.) Transfer dough to tray, pressing down firmly and filling in the inevitable tears and gaps.

Once the rice / squash mixture is cooled to around body temperature, add the grated cheese – a massive handful – and two eggs. Mix until fully blended. Add a bit of tepid water if mixture seems too dry. Dollop the mixture into the lined tray, spread evenly, and bake on a fairly high heat for around 10-15 minutes, or until the crust or some grains of rice begin to char and the pie looks done.

Slide the pie off onto a rack and cool for ten to fifteen minutes before cutting into squares for serving.

The crust, as can see, was a little ragged, and a little chewy on the underside, so perhaps a minute or two in the oven before adding the rice-squash filling and popping it back would help if you’re attempting this. But it tasted really good. Thanks to both Micki Rose and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson for GF flour and xanthan gum counselling!

No recipe tomorrow, as I’ll be finishing off the pie (cold, it’s excellent picnic food, by the way), but before that I’ll be at the House of Commons for a reception with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coeliac Disease. A report right here tomorrow night…

To learn more about Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free Challenge, click here.


  1. Annie

    Your experience of Sainsburys sadly isn't a one off mistake. Consistently you will find such issues in their stores whereas I've never had them in the other major chains.

    When the newly refurbished store opened in Locksbottom, Kent, I was there on the first day. Imagine my shock to find the gluten free from range NEXT to the FRESH bread!

    Unwrapped, fresh out of the oven French sticks were stacked next to the shelves. Crumbs from the bread were all over the free from shelves.

    I immediately called the manager. I had a very positive response though he said he didn't have the authority to make any changes. I emailed and phoned head office. I was assured of action. Every week I would go into the store and pull the fresh bread "bin" away from in front of the gf shelves and push it back down in front of the fresh bread. One week I got told off my the baker who said he kept getting into trouble for it having been moved. I threw a wobbly and the manager was called again.

    The bin was removed and has never been put back out.

    TWO YEARS later they took action – they put a piece of perspex up between the fresh bread and the end of the free from shelves. That's it. We still have crumbs everywhere, though a few less. People frequently put down fresh bread on the free from shelves.

    It isn't acceptable. It is bad enough to stand next to the fresh bread, smelling all that bread that you can no longer eat, without having to brush crumbs off your gf loaf before you can put it in your trolley…

  2. Toucan Scraps

    the piue looks good, hope you feel brave enough to have a friend round for dinner today

  3. Alex G

    @ Toucan Scraps – not today as am out and about, but if I'm brave (and any pals are too) maybe later in the week.

    @ Annie – thanks for such a detailed answer. I'm in touch with Sainsbury's and will alert them to your comments if they've not seen them, and will come back to you here.

    Do you – and other readers – think there should be far greater distance separation between some obviously gluten-containing foods and 'free from'? Any other experiences?

  4. michelle

    Bravo on the pie – looking forward to the next recipe….

  5. Alex G

    Thanks M – but I suspect it's all downhill from here…

    Incidentally, I should point out to all that Parmesan is very low lactose, hence why I allowed it!

  6. Ruth Holroyd

    A man of many talents. I'm amazed at the meals you cook. Do you cook like this all the time? or is this just a GF CD extravaganza? Top marks by the way. PS. Parmesan? Lactose free? I've just seen your comment about why you think it's allowed but that's cheating Alex… (I'm just very jealous really)

  7. Alex G

    Hello Ruth! No, I don't cook like this all the time, sadly. I just thought I'd try to adapt some favourite meals and foods and see whether I could GF them.

    You won't believe me but I did think of you when doing this dish, as I was toying with suggesting both egg-free and dairy-free versions. I suppose egg replacer might work, and there is that 'Parmazano' Parmesan replacement product out there which is GF and DF. Maybe one day I will be brave and give it a go. A lot of folk have been interested in this recipe – I cooked it for friends years back and everyone thought it was very unusual, but I grew up with it so it's fairly everyday for me, in a way!

    *Low* lactose – it really really is! But yes, I did cheat a bit…

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. M

    Alex, Waitrose are much better. Their free-from stuff is nowhere near their bread!

  9. Alex G

    I think I may revisit this topic in the new year! Thanks, M.


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