Food: Gluten-free and full of flavour

La Cucina Caldesi cookery school, in London
La Cucina Caldesi cookery school, in London

Giancarlo Caldesi has given up two of his 
favourite foods - sugar and wheat - to stay healthy. Before Coeliac Awareness Week begins on May 11, KATE WHITING joins the chef and his wife Kate for a gluten-free gourmet masterclass

From your first spoonful of cereal at breakfast, to that lunchtime sandwich and cupcake teatime 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 one day, you’re diagnosed with coeliac disease and have to stop eating them altogether.

This is exactly what happened to 63-year-old Giancarlo Caldesi, who runs two restaurants and a cookery school with his British wife Katie, 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 boys, 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 people, with symptoms including bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden weight loss, hair loss and anaemia.

The only treatment is to entirely cut out gluten from the diet, which includes cutting wheat, barley and rye, in order to manage symptoms and avoid serious 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 that it is possible to cook gluten (and sugar) free meals that are still tasty and satisfying.

While Katie does most of the teaching, Giancarlo pops in from the restaurant to make sweet fresh almond milk from whole nuts in his special Kuvings machine. His arthritis is playing up today after a long flight back from Vietnam, but he’s still able to shake hands, something he couldn’t do when he was eating gluten.

“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. Together, Giancarlo and his artist wife, who met in 1997 when she came to paint a mural at his first restaurant, devised a menu that is tasty and wholesome, filling but not draining.

On his 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 also 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.”

Here’s one of the Caldesis’ recipes to try for yourself...

BLACK BEAN AND SWEET POTATO CHOCOLATE MUD CAKE

Makes 10-12 small slices)

Ingredients

200g cooked black beans

100g cooked sweet potato

4 eggs, separated

75g organic Green & Blacks cocoa powder

125g Total Sweet (xylitol) or 5tbsp of rice malt syrup or 150g medjool dates

75g salted butter or coconut oil

1tsp vanilla extract

1tsp baking powder

3-5tbsp of milk, to loosen the batter

A handful of walnuts - optional

A handful of raspberries - optional

For the coconut frosting:

1 x 400g can organic full-fat coconut milk (chilled overnight in can)

Few drops vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod

Handful of raspberries or walnuts, for decorating

method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an approx 20cm square or round tin with a piece of baking parchment. Puree the black beans and sweet potato in a food processor or mash them finely with a ricer or potato masher. To this mixture, add the egg yolks, cocoa, sweetener, butter, vanilla, baking powder and three tablespoons of milk. Whizz to blend until smooth. If the batter seems very stiff, add another tablespoonful or two of milk to loosen it. It should be just soft enough to drop from a spoon, rather than firm enough to stay there. This will partly depend on your choice of sweetener and fat. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Take a large spoonful and add it to the chocolate mixture to loosen it further. Now gently fold in the rest of the egg whites taking care not to lose the bubbles of air. If you are going to add walnuts or raspberries, do so now, gently folding them in. Pour the mixture into the tin and use a palette knife or spatula to smooth it down. Put into the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is set firm but the cake has a slight wobble underneath. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the topping, carefully spoon the dense coconut cream from the top of a can that has been standing in the fridge overnight into a bowl. The underneath coconut water can be kept for smoothies, or using with oats instead of milk. Whip the coconut cream and vanilla with a whisk until stiff and airy. Spoon on top of the cooled cake and decorate with raspberries or walnuts.

:: Recipes courtesy of La Cucina Caldesi. To find out more about the ‘New Food, New You’ cookery course, visit caldesi.com