Life

Phil Vickery's plan to make gluten-free food mainstream

Gluten-free choices are getting better – but there's still a way to go, says Phil Vickery. The TV chef tells Kate Whiting why he's on a mission to make free-from cooking mainstream

TV chef Phil Vickery is a Coeliac UK ambassador

COELIAC disease is not new – the word itself is a translation of the Greek 'koiliakos' meaning 'abdominal', and linked to ancient Greek physician, Aretaeus of Cappadocia. But it's only in the last decade that modern-day supermarkets have caught up and started catering to those with the autoimmune illness, which affects around 1 per cent of the population.

A disease – rather than an allergy or intolerance – when people with coeliac eat gluten, their immune system mistakes it as a threat and attacks healthy tissues. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, anaemia and sudden or unexpected weight loss – which can be very similar to symptoms caused by an intolerance. However, with coeliac, cutting out gluten completely is absolutely essential for avoiding possibly serious, long-term damage and complications.

Coeliac UK notes that up to half a million people are believed to be living with coeliac disease undiagnosed, and it can take up to 13 years for a diagnosis.

It's no wonder the free-from sections are starting to take up more of the supermarket aisles, and brands like PizzaExpress, Young's Fish Fingers and Nestle Cereals are all introducing gluten-free alternatives into their product ranges. It is estimated that the free-from market is worth around £365 million, and it's predicted to grow another 50 per cent by 2019.

One man who has watched the free-from rise with interest is Coeliac UK ambassador and TV chef Phil Vickery.

He published his first gluten-free cookbook, Seriously Good! Gluten-free Cooking in 2009 – which has sold more than 250,000 copies to date, with a revised edition out this year – and his latest, Phil Vickery's Essential Gluten-free, is due for publication on May 12, during Coeliac Awareness Week.

The This Morning regular and his family – wife Fern Britton and four children (the couple have one daughter together, and three are from Britton's first marriage) – don't have any need to stick to a gluten-free diet at home. Instead, Vickery discovered the importance of cooking for people with coeliac and gluten intolerance quite by chance, 15 years ago, when after a shortage of flour for his Christmas puddings to sell at food fairs, he switched to rice flour, got the Coeliac UK stamp of approval, and they started selling like proverbial hot cakes to his delighted customers.

He's pleased by the increased availability of gluten-free alternatives now but still doesn't think the need for gluten-free cooking has been embraced universally yet: "Chefs pay lip service to it; I'm astounded at those who just think it's a fad."

As an ambassador for Coeliac UK, he knows there's "a very clear distinction between having a disease and choosing [to eat gluten-free] as a lifestyle choice".

"Those waters get muddied in my eyes – coeliac sufferers get very annoyed, it's upset a lot of them."

Give some of Vickery's gluten-free dishes a go for yourself...

BORLOTTI BEAN, CHILLI AND PINE NUT BAKE

(Serves 4-6)

200g gluten-free pasta shapes (available in all good supermarkets)

2tbsp olive oil

1 x 425g can borlotti beans, well drained

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

40g pine nuts

4tbsp roughly chopped fresh parsley

Pinch or two of dried chilli flakes

350ml double cream

1/2 x 10g gluten-free vegetable stock cube (available in all good supermarkets)

200g mozzarella cheese, sliced or 50g Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Green salad with rocket and onion, to serve

Preheat the oven to 220C. Cook the pasta for half the time stated on the pack. Drain well. Toss in the olive oil to stop the pasta sticking together. Meanwhile, place the beans, lemon zest, pine nuts, parsley and chilli in a bowl and mix well. Add the pasta to the bean mixture.

Place the cream and stock cube in a small pan, bring to the boil, whisk well to dissolve the cube, then pour over the bean mixture and stir well. Taste, then season if needed.

Spoon the mixture into a 28 x 28 x 4cm baking dish. Top with the sliced mozzarella or grated Parmesan, if using, and cook for 20-25 minutes or until well browned. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool for five minutes before eating. Serve with a green salad with plenty of onion and rocket.

CHESTNUT AND ROASTED ONION BREAD

(Makes 900g loaf)

5tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3tsp sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

1tsp xanthan gum (available in all good supermarkets, including Tesco and Asda)

400ml warm water

300g chestnut flour (available from Ocado, Amazon and health food shops)

100g potato flour (available from Ocado, Sainsbury's and Amazon)

1/2tsp gluten-free baking powder (available in all good supermarkets)

1 medium egg, lightly beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Oil, for greasing

Preheat the oven to 180C. Oil a 900g loaf tin. Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan, then add the onions and two teaspoons of sugar. Cook down, stirring occasionally until lightly golden. This will take a few minutes. Once cooked, set aside to cool.

Add the yeast, xanthan gum and the remaining olive oil to the warm water and stir until dissolved.

Combine the flours, remaining sugar, baking powder, one teaspoon of salt and black pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Add the egg and stir. Next, add the liquid yeast mixture to the bowl and mix well.

Pour into the prepared tin and cook for 30 minutes, or until well risen and lightly browned. Remove and cool slightly, turn out and slice when ready.

:: Seriously Good! Gluten-Free Cooking by Phil Vickery, photography by Steve Lee, is published by Kyle Books, priced £16.99.

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