My family and I are BIG pasta fans. When my husband lived in Germany, he worked in an Italian restaurant. What was for dinner every night? Pasta. When my oldest son first learned to eat, what did he inhale by the bowl full? Pasta with spaghetti sauce. We used to joke that he’d better marry a good Italian cook, or he’d be in trouble. Early in our family life, I made pasta at least 2-3 times a week, if not more. It was a meal that I could put together quickly, and oh, how I loved buttery pasta in any shape or form.
When we first went gluten free, I would still make pasta. I made one pot of marinara sauce for all of us, and then I made a pot of regular pasta for us and a pot of gluten-free pasta for our oldest son (and later, our youngest son, too). It wasn’t as good as regular pasta, but the kids still loved it. Although I knew I should, it took me a lot longer to go gluten free, largely in part to my love of pasta and bread.
Then came the GAPS diet. There is no pasta substitute that really even comes close to the real deal. You just can’t make what we view as “pasta” out of something that doesn’t resemble a grain. So, was this the end of our obsession with Italian food?
The thing is, as your taste buds adjust to life without gluten, you begin to discover that other foods actually taste good too. Pasta really doesn’t have a lot of flavor by itself; it’s what you add to it that makes it delicious. So you can do similar things with other foods, giving flavor to whatever you choose to call your “pasta substitute”.
You can make “noodles” out of many different vegetables, including spaghetti squash, zucchini and cabbage. I’ve tried all of the above; the last one we experimented with was the cabbage, and it was a huge success at my house. My little guy asked for seconds and thirds of the “green noodles”, and my husband raved about the meatballs (and he still eats gluten, folks, so they must be OK!)
The recipe below is a combination of different recipes I found online and experimentation, so it has turned out pretty unique. You could definitely substitute any “pasta” that you want, be it a vegetable, gluten free pasta, or the real deal.
Grain Free Pasta and Meatballs
1 large onion
several cloves of garlic, chopped
1-2 Tbs. ghee or butter
1 glass jar organic strained tomatoes or 1 can (48oz) tomato juice
3-4 fresh tomatoes (or one can)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Grain Free Meatballs:
2 lbs. grassfed beef (or mixed meats)
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, grated
1 zucchini, grated
1/2-1 tsp. salt
a little pepper
1 head of cabbage, cut in strips
1. First make the spaghetti sauce. In a large sauce pan, add the ghee/butter and heat over low-medium heat until melted. Add onion and garlic and lightly saute until starting to brown slightly.
2. Add remaining ingredients for your spaghetti sauce. Increase heat to medium or slightly higher until the sauce starts to simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until well-combined. Add ghee, butter, or other fat to a large frying pan and heat over low-medium. Then form meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) and add to the pan, turning once. When brown, add meatballs to your nearly cooked spaghetti sauce and simmer over low-medium heat for another 10 minutes or so.
4. While the meatballs and sauce are cooking, start to boil some water with a little sea salt in a medium or large sauce pan. Take a head of cabbage and cut it into strips (always slice the cabbage AGAINST the grain). When the cabbage is cut into strips, add it to the boiling water, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste the cabbage to check if it is done. You want it to be tender, not mushy. (I usually notice that there appears to not be as much cabbage in the pot because it has softened down). Drain the water, add butter or ghee and salt to taste.
5. When everything has finished cooking, place the cooked cabbage on your plate and top with the spaghetti sauce and meatballs.
And then light some candles, turn on some music, pour a glass of red wine and pretend you’re in an Italian restaurant 😀