With our extended winter this year (spring is finally springing in our neck of the woods this week!), I found myself craving comfort foods to help me get over the cold-weather blues. And for that very same reason, I decided to focus on an American classic for this week’s recipe – one that some might consider a quintessential comfort food. Believe it or not, it’s very hard to find any sort of origin or history around the combination of sausage, peppers and onion. It’s a staple food of Fenway Park, so it must be a Boston thing, right? But others associate it with NYC, and still more with Chicago. All I can say with certainty is that it’s of Italian-American descent, with fairly deep roots, and an easy way to make a quick delicious meal.
The word “sausage” originally comes from the Latin word salsus, which means “salted.” There is evidence of it being enjoyed in Italy as much as 2,000 years ago. That it has a long culinary existence isn’t so surprising; sausage is a perfect way of making sure every bit of the animal is used, and deliciously so. Here in the US, the words “Italian sausage” imply a seasoning based on fennel seeds and anise, and can be sold as either mild or spicy.
When removing gluten from my diet a couple years ago, one dish I assumed I would never taste again was ravioli. Seriously, how could I pull that one off without flour? I’m sure it could be done, but it would take weeks, even months, of trial and error. I love ravioli, but frankly, not enough to put myself through that kind of ordeal. Luckily, a moment of genius struck me when trying to figure out something unique to make with my most recent batch of Cappello’s Gluten/Grain Free lasagna sheets. They did all the hard work for me; I just had to put everything together.
Ravioli has been written about since the 1300s, so logic dictates that it’s been around longer than that. It probably took a while to get the attention of the scribes, right? There are countless variations of ravioli, but since this was my first time making it in years, I wanted to style it after my childhood favorite – Chef Boyardee beef ravioli!
Like most residents of planet Earth, I’m pizza crazy. I’d like to say that my love affair started with those pesky Ninja Turtles, but I have a feeling that I was addicted well before the heroes in a half shell became popular. When adopting Paleo, I was probably worried about a lack of pizza the most, and after re-introducing dairy I tried all sorts of things, from frozen GF crusts to eggplant pizzas. Finally, I hunkered down and developed a gluten and grain free pizza crust of my own, and after several failed attempts, I’m happy to say that you will love this pizza.
Do I really need to provide a food history for pizza? Okay, since you asked so nicely. Pizza is a food first traced to Ancient Greece, when they took bread and covered it with oil and cheese (this is also the base for Pita bread). Italy is credited for adding tomatoes to pizza following their introduction from the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries. Interestingly, the combination of tomatoes and cheese wasn’t popular for hundreds of years, until the famous Pizza Margherita (tomatoes, cheese, and basil) incident – wherein the combination was served to Queen Margherita in 1889 to represent the Italian flag.
Pizzerias existed in the United States at the turn of the century, but it was only popular with Italian immigrants. Soldiers returning from the European campaign of World War II raved about pizza, and it became the sensation it is now almost overnight.
For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to make a traditional side dish instead of trying to invent something new that is in line with our dietary restrictions. What we settled on is not a traditional dish for Thanksgiving by any means, but it’s a traditional one nonetheless!
Risotto is a dish first served in Italy in the 16th century, when rice was first introduced from neighboring Mediterranean cuisines, and gained popularity in Milan. Risotto was served in the United States in the 1800s, but didn’t get popular until after WWII (along with pizza). The 1980s are also a time when this dish became really popular and faddish in the US.
Gnocchi are a type of dumpling most often made with potatoes, and like many Italian dishes, there is a lot of variability to the dish. It’s commonly believed that gnocchi have been around since the Roman times, and that they actually came from the Middle East. It’s unclear whether the word gnocchi comes from nocchio (a knot in wood) or from nocca (knuckle). The addition of potatoes is relatively new, since they came over to Europe in the 15th century; semolina was widely used before then, and still used in some recipes today.
My version of the little dudes is very simple, and similar to many mass-produced variations of the dish. Sure, you could add all sorts of neat stuff like herbs or spinach, but I prefer to leave my gnocchi as a blank canvas for other tastes/sauces.
And here it is, one of my most treasured and well-known recipes (at least to my family and friends). I’ve been making Fettuccine Alfredo in this same manner since I first learned how to make it nearly fifteen years ago.
While pasta dishes tossed with butter and cheese have been around for a long time, the term “Fettuccine Alfredo” is based on the signature dish of Alfredo Di Lelio’s restaurant (aptly named “Alfredo”) which opened in Rome, Italy in 1914. American tourists grew to love the dish and bring it back here to the US; while we Americans often add ingredients like chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, or broccoli to the dish, it’s commonly served without add-ins elsewhere in the world.
There are basically three ways to go about making a gluten-free lasagna: 1) substitute the noodles with a vegetable such as zucchini or eggplant; 2) use rice noodles; or 3) use Cappello’s grain-free lasagna sheets. Pretty easy, right? This recipe works for both options 2 and 3. This is my no-frills, tried-and-true (and pre-Paleo) recipe, with the only adjustment I’ve made is the type of noodle.
Lasagna is likely an ancient Greek food that was passed to the Romans (and later, Italians) over time. The word itself could either come from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon, meaning a flat sheet of pasta) or from the Latin word λάσανον (lasanon, meaning cooking pot). No one’s quite sure. Either way, tomatoes weren’t added to the dish until later, since Columbus was the first person to bring them to Europe in the 15th century.
It may sound funny, but “scampi” is actually the culinary name for Nephrops Norvegicus, commonly known as the Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn. In Europe (Britain and Italy especially) “scampi” refers to the tail meat of this small lobster. Here in the US the word “scampi” most often refers to a style of preparation involving butter, garlic, and white wine used mainly with shrimp. However, I’ve seen “chicken scampi” in several restaurant menus, which often incites a chuckle.
I love making this dish because it’s both easy and decadent; it’s not often you can make something so delicious in just 20 minutes using ingredients you probably mostly have at home already.
Pesto has an interesting history. Its name comes from a Genoese (Northern Italy) word that means to crush or pound, implying the use of mortar and pestle. In fact, the English word “pestle” has the same root. While pastes have been used in Italy since the Ancient Roman times, basil wasn’t introduced until later, from Africa (via India), and the modern interpretation of basil pesto dates back only to the 19th century. In fact, pesto didn’t even gain popularity in the United States until the latter half of the 20th century.
Basil pesto is great because it is a fool-proof way to spice up many pasta dish, or even sautéed vegetables. I often add a spoonful of it to many sauces, including alfredo or spaghetti sauce (blasphemy, right?) for a subtle extra kick.
One of the more unique elements of my December giveaway was that I promised to make the winner a gluten-free variation of any traditional dish they wanted. The winner, Mandy from The Yard, requested a gluten-free chicken lasagna, and I was definitely up for the challenge. Little did I know how much of a challenge it would be!
From the outset, I wanted to make a creamy, spinach-based lasagna like you’d find in Northern Italy, since it would go really well with chicken. The trouble came with the rest of the ingredients – how much cream do I use? What cheese will work best? And how long do I cook it? After several unsuccessful attempts, I feel like a chicken lasagna expert in what NOT to do. For example, don’t use ricotta cheese, because it makes the dish too rich. Also, you don’t need as much cream as you’d think, and you need to thicken the cream with hard cheese to keep it from bubbling over while baking. You also need to soak the no-boil noodles in hot water before cooking (despite the manufacturer warning you AGAINST doing that) in order to get the perfect consistency without overcooking your spinach. Lastly, mozzarella cheese works best on a top layer, creating a pizza-like upper crust.
After a good amount of trial and error, I’m proud to say that I’ve got a unique and delicious chicken lasagna recipe that is just about the tastiest thing I’ve ever made. Fair warning: this is a dairy-intensive dish, with butter, cream, and four different types of cheese!