Friday, July 11, 2014

Not-quite linguine di mare and illusions of solutions

Not-quite linguine di mare creates a satisfying illusion of “guilty pleasure”. Not all illusions are satisfying solutions. Some just perpetuate problems.

Not-quite linguine di mare | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak
Not-quite linguine di mare | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak
"The enemy" - Triticum wheat varieties | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons
“The enemy” – Triticum wheat varieties | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons

Creating pasta dishes for gluten-sensitive diners and celiacs sometimes means using some illusions. Inventive ways of cutting and cooking certain vegetables is one way to create pasta-like dishes without using actual pasta, especially pasta made from triticum durum or triticum aestivum. Sometimes, though, even those substitutions are not enough to fool (or please) the palate. When these situations arise, using a smaller amount of gluten-free/wheat-free pasta for texture can round out the meal, keep the carbohydrates within acceptable parameters, and make a meal satisfying.

This trick does not always work in other walks of life. For example, the recent VA scandal generated calls for the president to fire Eric Shinseki and other senior leaders within the VA health system (VHA). Substituting a small part of “real action” serves as an illusion of solutions for only so long. Eventually, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down bringing the kings of diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs down with it.

Not-quite linguine di mare



Shrimp, raw, peeled – 12 oz
Italian sausage – 12oz
Basil, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
Garlic, minced – 1 tbsp
Parmesan cheese – 2 tbsp


Marsala wine – 1/2 cup
Tomatoes, cubed – 2 medium (3 Roma)
Balsamic vinegar – 2 tbsp
Virgin olive oil – 1/4 cup
Fennel seed – 1 tbsp
Garlic, minced – 2tbsp
Brown sugar or honey – 1 tbsp
Salt – pinch


Zucchini – 16 oz (weight)
Spinach – 10 oz (weight)
Gluten-free spaghetti or linguine – 6 oz (about half a package)


Slice the Italian sausage into 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices, then cross-cut the slices in half to make half-moon shapes. Mix in a bowl with the shrimp, Parmesan cheese, and seasonings. Place the mixture in a cast iron skillet or shallow broiler pan with a light coat of olive oil (not more than 1/8 inch deep). Set in a broiler or on a hot grill. Cook for 10 minutes, turn, cook an additional 5 minutes.

Cut the flower end off the zucchini. Then slice the zucchini into long, thin strips, like shoestrings. Toss in a bowl with a little olive oil. Shred the spinach and toss in with the zucchini. Place the vegetables in a steamer tray. Place the steamer tray on top of the pasta pot to steam while the water boils, then while the pasta cooks.

In a medium sauce pan, mix the Marsala wine, balsamic vinegar, fennel, basil and garlic. Cube the tomatoes and place them into the mixture. Add the pinch of salt and stir. Bring to a low simmer, stirring continuously. Then reduce the heat to low for 10 minutes.

Boil the pasta per directions on the package, usually 8-10 minutes. Drain, then return the noodles to the pot. Add the meat and vegetables. Toss the mixture. Next, toss in the sauce until the ingredients are well dispersed. Serve, garnishing with grated Parmesan cheese, fresh ground black pepper, and a leaf or two of fresh basil.

This pairs well with a pink (blush) moscato or a nice, crisp pinot grigio.

Substitutions: Chicken sausage is a slightly more healthy alternative for Italian sausage made from pork. Instead of garnishing with Parmesan cheese, try feta cheese crumbles. If you prefer a creamier sauce, substitute half the olive oil for 3 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt.

Do not substitute malted vinegar for balsamic. Malted vinegar contains barley or wheat gluten. Check labels to make sure there is no hidden wheat, barley or rye products in your ingredients. If your balsamic vinegar contains “caramel color” or “natural color” added, it is most likely a wheat or barley derivative. The same is in many soft-drinks and other packaged foods.

The shoestring cut zucchini replaces some of the pasta in normal dishes. This makes the dish lower in carbohydrates than a standard linguine or spaghetti dish. However, a complete substitution leaves out some of that pasta texture that entices the palate. That half serving of pasta in each full serving of this dish gives a “guilty pleasure” illusion that makes it more enjoyable.

Not-quite linguine di mare | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak
Shoestring-cut zucchini | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak

Illusions of solutions

But this taste of the “real stuff” mixed with an illusion doesn’t work all the time. When Eric Shinseki “fired” the senior leadership at the Phoenix VA hospital, they were not actually fired. They might be, soon. However, they are on “leave”. They are still legally employed and still receiving benefits. They may even be receiving pay, depending upon how much paid leave they have accrued.

Six story card castle | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons
Six story card castle | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons

Robert Petzel resigned from the VA over the scandal. His resignation was, in reality, just his way of starting his retirement a couple of months early. So he’ll enjoy having the summer off. He will receive his full pension and benefits. His resignation was not enough for headhunters. Shinseki’s may be a good start. Both of these resignations are just enough “real” to give the illusion of solutions in the works to reform the VA.

It will take a lot more. The VA’s Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) released an interim report. The VAOIG is just getting started on their investigation and audit. They identified epistemic corruption within the bureaucracy and its policies. Shadow policies circumvented the official rules and regulations, reducing them to mere illusions. The real problems reside in the bureaucracy itself and the union that supports it.
For a short time, these firings and resignations may appease some of the masses by giving the illusion that reform will come. It’s nothing but a “Jedi mind trick” to distract the people while the bureaucracy prepares better obfuscation measures so it can get back to business as usual. The VAOIG is part of that bureaucracy. Real reform will come only when investigators and new leadership from outside the bureaucracy get a close-up and in-depth look at reality. Even with that, real reform cannot happen until elected officials remove the unions, making way for the full consequences of punitive measures.

The VA is but one example. The same sort of issues exist in other bureaucracies including the HUD, IRS, EPA, BLM, and public education. The only answer is to reform the system in a manner that makes government employees (and their bosses) fully accountable for their actions and subject to just and reasonable repercussions and consequences. That will not happen as long as supporters of bureaucracy and unilateral executive action without constitutional legislation, such as HUD appointee Julian Castro, are in charge of those bureaucracies.

Disclaimer: The author is not a medical doctor nor currently a registered dietitian. The information provided in this article is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be interpreted as medical, nutritional or health advice. Please seek the advice of an expert before starting any new diet or exercise program.