I was recently asked by the fine folks at Cappello’s to try out their unique line of fresh gluten-free, grain-free pasta, and I was excited to get my hands on their product. First of all, I have a special place in my heart for Italian dishes; I started to realize that I was pretty good at this whole “cooking” thing when I first started to focus on and perfect a few Italian meals, many years ago. Secondly, while we do eat dishes using boxed rice noodles from time to time, nothing beats fresh pasta.

The pasta is made using mainly egg and almond flour, and has a taste and consistency that is the best I’ve experienced from a non-wheat product. Read on for some more pictures and details, and I will have the recipes for each of these products up on the site over the next two weeks.

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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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Meatballs are a deceptively tricky dish. It looks like you’d just ball up some ground beef and be done with it, but in fact it takes a good bit of work to get meatballs that aren’t super-dense cannonballs. I experimented a little to find a good mix-in to keep the meatballs moist and light, and when it comes down to it, nothing beats bread. Luckily, Udi’s Gluten-Free White Sandwich Bread is both consistent with our diet and perfect for this dish.

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