Ask the Test Cooks

Ask Matthew: What Should I Feed My Gluten-Free Guest at Our Dinner Party?

This series answers all your cooking questions. And yes, by all we mean the wild, silly, and "stupid" ones, too.

Published Jan. 25, 2019.

Before Matthew Fairman joined Cook's Country as a test cook, he cooked in many restaurants and taught college literature and writing. When he’s not pitching a new take on fried rice to his editors or whispering to his slow cookers, Matthew is usually scaling plastic mountains at the climbing gym or running food experiments on his wife, Lauren, and cat, Daisy. One day, he hopes to pay for climbing trips by selling fried rice from a food truck to hungry people stumbling out of bars after last call.

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I'm hosting a dinner party in a couple of weeks. It's an annual event that I've had with friends for many years, and the centerpiece is always spaghetti and meatballs, with garlic bread on the side and lots of wine. There will be eight of us, including one new person. I just learned that he doesn't eat gluten. How much should I alter the menu? Even the meatballs contain bread. I want everyone to feel welcome, but I also want to stick to tradition and use the same recipes that the rest of us know and love.

— Mad for Meatballs

Dear M.,

The good news is that you already have one gluten-free main course: lots of wine! Let’s have a glass now and talk this out. Cheers! 🍷

Yes, now that I’ve imbibed a little, I do think there’s a way you can honor tradition while making sure that your new guest feels cared for without being singled out or feeling like an imposition. It will take a little extra work on your part, but a table full of happy friends and the satisfaction of knowing yourself to be a gracious host will make it worth your while.

Everyone coming expects your delicious spaghetti and meatballs, and my advice to you is to serve that meal exactly as you have always made it: with glutenous everything. Now, since you can’t very well leave the newcomer with just a plate of marinara sauce and a glass of wine, here’s what you do for their portion. 

You can easily find gluten-free substitutions for the spaghetti and garlic bread, but some products are far better than others. We can help with that. The indomitable tastings and testings team at America’s Test Kitchen has done the work and discovered truly worthy gluten-free spaghetti and sandwich bread.

The meatballs, on the other hand, will take a touch more finesse. You might think you could simply swap in some of the gluten-free bread and be on your way, but our colleagues on the ATK books team tried just that when developing meatballs for their exceptional gluten-free cookbook The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook. It didn’t work. What did work, however, were instant potato flakes. They’re gluten-free, and they hold on to moisture as well as bread crumbs do, making them a perfect sub for the bread in your meatballs.

When it's time to make the meatballs, set aside some of the meatball mixture (enough to serve one person) before you add the bread. Then mix in a tablespoon of the potato flakes to make one portion of gluten-free meatballs. To finish the rest of your classic, glutenous meatballs, very slightly reduce the normal amount of bread you use so you can account for what you removed, and go right ahead making them as you always have.

Now you have all the makings for a gluten-free serving of your spaghetti and meatballs. The nice thing about this is that everyone gets to partake in the beloved traditional meal. There’s no awkward apologies for the meal not being gluten-free, and you’re all ostensibly eating the same thing. Best of all, your new acquaintance sees you as the considerate, caring host who you so clearly are, and you’re on your way to making a longtime friend.


Matthew Fairman

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