Thursday 23 November 2017

No compromise on taste with gluten-free gourmet

Ahead of Coeliac Awareness Week, Kate Whiting samples Coeliac sufferer Giancarlo Caldes' Italian-inspired dishes

Chef Caldesi and wife Katie
Chef Caldesi and wife Katie

From your first spoonful of cereal at breakfast, to that lunchtime sandwich and teatime cupcake treat, much of what we eat every day contains wheat, and with it, the protein that forms gluten.

Now imagine you were Italian and you'd grown up eating pasta and pizza. You'd trained as a chef to cook the meals you love and then you're diagnosed with coeliac disease and have to stop eating them.

This is exactly what happened to 63-year-old Giancarlo Caldesi, who runs two restaurants and a cookery school with his wife Katie (pictured), and who also has type 2 diabetes.

"I close my eyes and think of original pizza in Naples - best pizza ever - and it makes me want to sit down and cry," admits the father-of-two, when we meet in London cookery school La Cucina Caldesi.

Just the day before, after a three-year struggle with "debilitating" symptoms, he'd finally had the official diagnosis from his doctor following positive blood test results. Caused by the immune system reacting to gluten, coeliac disease affects one in 100, with symptoms including bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, weight loss, hair loss and anaemia.

The only treatment is to entirely cut out gluten, which includes cutting out wheat, barley and rye, in order to manage symptoms and avoid long-term complications.

His own experiences have spurred Giancarlo and his wife on to create a 'New Food, New You' cookery course, to show people it is possible to cook gluten- and sugar-free meals that are tasty and satisfying.

"One of the major problems with any disease is that you think everything is normal. You eat something and then you have to run to the loo; you think that's normal. You tend to find excuses for yourself all the time and you don't find the truth of what is really wrong," he says.

"When you eat the wheat, it makes you feel very sleepy, also your intestines are no good, you rush to the toilet - it's very debilitating, because you have to think of quick exits. You feel foggy and fuzzy and my arthritis was getting stronger and stronger."

On this new diet, Giancarlo has lost 11 kilos and feels like a new man: "From the top of my head, three quarters of my body is feeling completely different, liberated actually, full of life. I can rationally think straight and faster, and the magical thing is it's lasting.

"And now, if I eat something wrong, I know immediately because of the pain. And I don't eat those things, because I have decided to be well, is worth more."

Courgetti with raw sauce 'alla checca'

Serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a starter


320g gluten-free spaghetti or courgetti from 3 courgettes

3tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

25g parmigiano reggiano, finely grated - optional

100g ricotta to serve - optional

For the sauce:

200g cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

3tbsp parsley (approx 8g), finely chopped

3tbsp basil (approx 8g), finely chopped

20g capers, rinsed well

80g (stoned weight) olives, cut into quarters

1/2-1 red chilli, finely chopped - taste it and add according to strength

Salt and freshly milled black pepper

125g buffalo mozzarella, roughly torn

3tbsp extra-virgin olive oil


Put the courgettes through the spiralizer on the finer cutter to form long strands like tagliolini. Mix all the ingredients together for the sauce in a large serving bowl.

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over a gentle heat. (Giancarlo does this with a crushed garlic clove and a few slices of chilli to flavour the oil, but it's not strictly necessary). Pan-fry the courgetti tossing them in the pan with tongs for just a minute or two to heat. Use tongs to remove them from the pan, leaving any water from the courgetti in the pan and stir into the sauce. Top with spoonfuls of ricotta and parmesan, if using. Serve straight away.

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