italian food

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.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

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.

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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!

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