Tag Archives: Gluten Free

Chicken Cacciatore

Lovely Italian Chicken and Tomato Dish

I was watching a BBC Program called “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” the other day.  As the new owner of such a dog, I was really interested in the subject matter.  The general gist is that line breeding and breeding for looks over purpose has substantial downsides.   Namely, some dog breeds are grossly exaggerated from their origins and/or riddled with significant health problems.  This particular show by the BBC inspired Crufts to implement vet checks on all the breed winners.  If the winners couldn’t pass the vet checks, they were unable to compete in the finals.   Many dogs were eliminated from this prestigious show, causing quite a stir in the dog world.

How does this show relate to my food blog?  As I’m watching this show as they compare what dogs used to look like versus what they look like now (and it’s not a favorable comparison), I feel some food has become about the same way.   Overly complicated and fussy, and not necessarily better.

Take this recipe for Chicken alla Cacciatore from The Italian Cookbook by Maria Gentile (1919):

Chop one large onion and keep it for more than half an hour in cold water, then dry it and brown it aside. Cut up a chicken, sprinkle the pieces with flour, salt and pepper and saute in the fat which remains in the frying pan. When the chicken is brown add one pint fresh or canned tomatoes and half a dozen sweet green peppers and put back the onion.  When the gravy is thick enough add hot water to prevent the burning of the vegetables. Cover the pan tightly and simmer until the chicken is very tender. This is an excellent way to cook tough chickens. Fowls which have been boiled may be cooked in this way, but of course young and tender chickens will have the finer flavor.

Let’s compare this relatively easy recipe with one from the Food Network’s Tyler Florence:

Ingredients
6 red bell peppers
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 egg
2 cups milk
1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
6 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
1 onion, sliced thin
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 lemon, sliced in paper-thin circles
3 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 bunch fresh basil, hand-torn (1/4 bunch to flavor the base, 1/4 bunch to finish the dish)
1 cup dry white wine

Directions

Start by preparing the peppers because they will take the longest. Preheat the broiler. Pull out the cores of the red peppers; then halve them lengthwise and remove the ribs and seeds. Toss the peppers with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them on a cookie sheet, skin side up, and broil for 10 minutes, until really charred and blistered. Put the peppers into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and steam for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Peel the peppers and roughly chop into chunks; set aside.

Season the flour with the garlic powder, dried oregano, and a fair amount of salt and pepper. Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and tap off the excess. Dip each piece in the egg wash to coat and then dredge with the flour again. Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and pour in about 1/4-inch of oil. Pan-fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown the other side about 10 minutes longer. Remove the chicken to a side plate, pour out the oil, and clean out the pot.

Put the pot back on the stove and coat with 1/4 cup of oil. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes, lemon slices, anchovies, capers, red pepper flakes, half the roasted red peppers, and half the basil. Season with salt and pepper. This part of the recipe is going to be your base. What we are looking for is a fragrant vegetable pulp, so simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until everything breaks down.

Add the remaining roasted peppers and the remaining basil. Tuck the chicken into the stewed peppers and pour in the wine. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.

End.

Wow, right? In the summer, I would have no trouble coming up with the ingredients for Mrs. Gentile’s recipe. For Mr. Florence’s? Lemon, capers, white wine and anchovies aren’t something I keep around. Not only is the Florence recipe infinitely more complicated, but much more expensive. No wonder people don’t cook anymore. Honestly, you’d think you needed these things to make what was known as hunter’s chicken. You see hunters pulling out capers? Lemons? Doubtful.

So, I modernized the format of the former recipe and it was really good and so easy to pull together.  It’s a one pot meal without a lot of mess. My husband adored it.    Summer’s bounty used to its greatest advantage.

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60-90 minutes

Oil (bacon drippings, lard, vegetable)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 chicken thighs, patted dry (you can add more, I just couldn’t fit more in my pot)
2 large green peppers, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
10 mushrooms, sliced (an 8 ounce container)
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
15 ounce can of diced tomatoes (may use fresh tomatoes as well, about 2 cups diced)
1/2 cup of water, white wine or chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven large enough to fit chicken comfortably. I used a 5 quart oval one.

As the oil is heating, combine flour, salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl or plate. Dredge chicken thighs through the flour mixture. When the oil is ready (it will appear to be rippling), place the chicken skin side down in the dutch oven, careful not to crowd. You may need to cook the chicken in batches. Cook the chicken until each side is browned. Remove and set aside. Add peppers, onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, oregano and bay leaf. Saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and water and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. You may need to adjust the seasoning more at this point. Return the chicken to the pot, cover and continue cooking in the oven until the chicken is tender, about 45-60 minutes. You can’t really overcook the chicken too badly at this point.

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Italian Sausage “Parmesan”

Italian Sausage Stuffed Pepper

I am constantly on a quest to fulfill my husband desire for low nutrient density carby foods.  Baked Ziti, sandwiches of every kind, Chinese Food with rice, etc.  So, I asked him what food he missed most of all.  His answer:  Italian Sausage Parm.

What now?

I’m from Maryland, not exactly know as a bastion of Italian cooking. However, I’ve heard of eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan, and even veal parmesan. I also lived in New Orleans, which has a pretty extensive repertoire of putting fried things on sandwiches. I’ve eaten virtually every kind of po’ boy known to man. But this request stumped me. I really didn’t want to think of Italian sausage breaded and fried, slathered with cheese on a big Italian sub roll, so I didn’t ask. I just tried to think of something, well anything, that would be healthier, but still give him a sense of what he was missing.

So, I needed a vehicle. I vehicle to replace the bread. It’s a tad early for summer squash and the poblano peppers at the store looked a little small. An eggplant boat seemed wrong. But, the green peppers were enormous. So, by default, the dish would be a form of stuffed pepper!!

With the pepper part of the dish covered, I wanted to add sautéed mushrooms and onions, tomato sauce, melted cheese and Italian sausage. Combined, they should give a pretty good approximation of the Italian Sausage parm sandwich. And, to quote the hubs, it was.

I don’t really think of this as a “recipe”. You don’t like onions? Don’t add them. Want to make your own marinara or tomato sauce? Go ahead. Want spicy sausage vs. mild. Fine by me. Pretty much cook your “stuffing”, hollow out the pepper, stuff it and top with cheese. Whether that qualifies as a “recipe”, I’m sort of torn.

Italian Sausage “Parm”
Serves 5-6
Prep time: 20-25 minutes
Cooking time: 45-60 minutes

5-6 Large Green Bell Peppers
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, sliced
4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds Italian Sausage
1/2 of a 25 ounce jar (approximately) of tomato sauce
2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (or Italian Shred mix)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the tops off of the green peppers, and remove the seed core and any soft white parts. Place in an oven safe baking dish and set aside.

In a pan suitable for sautéing onions and mushrooms, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium heat. Once heated, add the onions, mushrooms and salt and pepper. Cook until the onions and mushrooms are very soft, about 10-15 minutes. Stirring occasionally. You may need to turn the heat down, as you do not want the onions to “brown” excessively.

In a separate pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Slice the Italian sausage into rounds about an inch thick. Place into pan and sauté until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Layer the ingredients into the bell pepper as follows: onion and mushroom mixture, few tablespoons of tomato sauce, sausage rounds, and tomato sauce again. Top the pepper with cheese.

Place the stuffed peppers into the oven and bake until the peppers are soft about 45-60 minutes.

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Brownie Joys

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I am going to give you two versions of the same recipe. One is super easy, but comes partially from a box. One is still easy and gluten free. Completely up to you as to which version you choose. Both are spectacular and impressive. I favor the non-gluten free one slightly, but my kids and husband like them both equally.

A few years ago, I started trying out for the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it. How could I encourage people to use their heavily processed, suspect-ingredient products? So, I quit. But the one recipe that I really liked from my efforts was a very simple, but impressive brownie dish.

My kids love coconut and my husband thinks he hates it. As he’s diabetic, this was a win-win for me. I taint my baked goods with coconut and he avoids them. No guilt about him “missing out” on things I make because frankly, he thought he didn’t like it.

So, I make my brownies. I make a brownie batter from a box of brownie mix that’s suitable for a 9 x 13 pan. I place half the batter in the bottom of an 8 x 8 pan. I then in a separate container mix together coconut, sweetened condensed milk, melted white chocolate and almond extract. I layer the coconut mixture on the bottom brownie layer and top with the remaining brownie mix. Done. When you cut it, the layers were completely intact and the dessert was really impressive.

He couldn’t resist and tried the brownie, despite the presence of the accursed coconut. Turns out, he likes coconut. Now, he’s ordering items like curry with coconut milk in it everywhere. Apparently, he doesn’t like the artificial coconut taste.

So, I haven’t made these brownies for a while. Last weekend, my neighbor Sherron made some great cookies for a photoshoot that she shared with me. She eats a gluten free diet. I don’t really get to give her that many baked items because of it. Gluten free is scary to me. Gluten is a really important chemical to baked goods and whenever I have something gluten free, it tastes “off”. So, I scoured the internet for brownie recipes that are gluten free and came across one by Martha Stewart using corn starch instead of flour. I’ve made a cornstarch cake before and it was passable, albeit not great. So, my hopes were low for this recipe. However, my low hopes were tempered by the really good reviews.

I call them brownie joys because they are very similar to my Joys recipe, but in Brownie Form.

If you want to make the easy, gluten version, make the brownies per the directions on the box, and follow the Coconut Layer instructions below.  Layer in an 8×8 pan and bake.  Done.  And trust me, people will think you are pure genius.

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Gluten Free Brownies.

Brownie Joys

Brownie

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cornstartch (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli’s)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
3/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Coconut Layer
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 can (7 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup white chocolate, melted
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter an 8×8 square baking pan and line with parchment paper so that there is some overhang on the pan. The purpose of this is to allow for easy removal of the brownies after cooling.

Whisk together cornstarch, cocoa and salt. Set aside.

In a large, microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate chips and butter and melt over low heat, checking and stirring frequently until thoroughly combined. The mixture will look like lush, glossy, thick chocolate. Try not to eat. Stir in sugar and vanilla. The chocolate will look gritty and rather unappealing at this stage. Add the eggs and stir until combined.

Add the chocolate mixture to the cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously until you notice the mixture coming together and pulling away from the bowl. I noticed this within about a minute. Add nuts and stir.

Coconut Layer

In a small mixing bowl, combine the milk, the coconut, the white chocolate and the almond extract and stir.

Brownie Assembly

Divide the brownie mix in half. Add half the brownie mixture to the brownie pan, top with the coconut layer, then finish the remaining brownie mixture.

Place pan in the oven and cook for about 35 minutes. The clean toothpick test will work on the brown parts, not the coconut parts.  This brownie needs to cool all the way.  It’s also best to sit over night.  Don’t get me wrong, it will taste great out of the oven, but without gluten it can be a little greasy without enough time to rest.  For a perfect fudgy brownie that is exactly like it’s gluten counterpart, wait a day.

Dry ingredients whisked together

Seriously, don’t you just want to eat that?

Crazy easy coconut mixture

First layer in the pan

Second layer in the pan

Third layer in the pan

Completely cooled and out of the pan

Fudgy with impressive layers!

 

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Tacos

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The humble taco.  A big staple in my house growing up in the 70s and 80s.  Ortega’s “dinner in a box”.  Add some cheese and meat and dinner was served on crisp and crunchy shells.  As a kid, taco night was the equivalent of going out to eat.   It was fun to assemble your own food and you were eating something exotic, something Mexican.

Like many portable sandwich type items, tacos are thought to be invented by poor workers. In this case, silver miners in Mexico.  Excerpted from Smithsonian.com:

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, has traveled around the world eating tacos.   According to Dr. Pilcher, the origins of the taco are really unknown, but he thinks that it dates from the 18th century and the silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word “taco” referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore. These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face. For instance, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite. The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero—miner’s tacos. So the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial.  Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Where-Did-the-Taco-Come-From.html#ixzz2QfSTk512 

It wasn’t long before Glenn Bell co-opted the taco and franchised it all over the United States.  The key to the success of the taco franchise concept lay in the shell.  Soft corn tortillas aren’t good for the long haul.  They are very time sensitive.  This works against the general franchise principles of longevity and shelf life.  But when you fry the shell, the shelf life is extended.  Thus, the taco with the crunchy u-shaped shell is born.  Lasts longer, tastes better.  As an aside, I haven’t eaten at Taco Bell in a very long time.  I like beef to be “beef” and not 88% beef.  However, I must say the dorito flavored taco shells are inspired.  I loved doritos as a kid.  While they are verboten now, it sounds awesome!

Back to taco night!  My kids love taco night, just as much as I did.  My picky daughter can make her taco with meat, taco shell and cheese.  My son can load his up with all the fixings.  My husband and I can keep low carb with a taco salad.

So, I wanted to have a simple dinner and picked up a packet of taco seasoning.  Ortega, my childhood favorite (from http://www.ortega.com/products/products_detail.php?id=13126):

Ingredients
Yellow Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color (sulfites).

I know what corn flour, salt, paprika, sugar, and garlic powder (isn’t that a spice?) are.  If you can write “spices”, can’t you say what they are?  Autolyzed yeast extract has MSG in it.  Otherwise, I’m at a loss.  For taco seasoning, shouldn’t seasonings be, I don’t know, greater than 4th on the list of ingredients?

Let’s try Old El Paso, another classic standby:

Maltodextrin, Salt, Pepper(s) Chili, Onion(s) Powder, Spice(s), Monosodium Glutamate, Corn Starch Modified, Corn Flour Yellow, Soybean(s) Oil With BHT Partially Hydrogenated To Protect Flavor, Silicon Dioxide Added To Prevent Caking, Flavor(s) Natural

Well, at least a spice was in the third position.

For the organics, Simply Organic (http://www.simplyorganic.com/products.php?cn=Southwest+Taco&ct=sosouth):

Organic Chili Pepper, Organic Maltodextrin, Organic Paprika, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic, Organic Onion, Organic Potato Starch, Organic Coriander, Organic Cumin, Silicon Dioxide, Citric Acid, Organic Cayenne.

The spice has moved up to number one, but maltodextrin (a sweetener), is a tad high for me, and it’s $1.50 for a little over 1 ounce.    Ugh.

So, I made my own “taco” seasoning.  I hesitated to write this entry because I don’t use corn starch as a thickener.  I use tomato sauce, or tomato paste and water in a pinch.   Whenever I have people over, they remark how really good the taco meat is and I don’t tell them my “secret” ingredient.    The meat doesn’t particularly taste “tomato-y”.  It honestly, just tastes like taco meat.

As with any recipe, feel free to adjust the seasonings to your particular taste.  Try the meat when it’s done and adjust as necessary.  Spices are fickle.  My 12 month old club size container of cayenne may not be as spicy as your fresh from Penzey’s bag of cayenne.  For such a spice heavy dish, all things are relative. Also, and I hate to get political, but I use organic corn shells. Genetically modified (GMO) corn scares me. It doesn’t die when you spray round up on it. GMO corn has caused a blight of round up resistant weeds and an increase in the amount of chemicals sprayed on the corn crops. Organic corn is supposed to be GMO free. The reality is with cross pollination, one can never be sure, but it’s better than definitely GMO.

Also, I used the following fixings, so I don’t really have a recipe for “sides” for this dish. I would love to say that I made the salsa and the guac, but my local Whole Foods did. It’s a weeknight and I work. I spent my time making the seasoned meat!!

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Taco Meat

olive oil
2 pounds ground beef (turkey or chicken are ok too)
2 1/2 tablespoons of a mild red pepper powder (Ancho, Paprika, etc.)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano (crushed)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
8 ounces tomato sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a saute pan (I used a 3 quart), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground beef and brown. Drain the beef, if there is a lot of liquid. To the browned beef, add each of the spices and heat until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and stir well. Taste, adjust seasonings as necessary.

You can either place the meat in an oven warmed taco shell (see package directions):

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Or on a bed of leafy greens:

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40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the main reasons I started this blog was to add some creativity to my cooking.  Day after day making and eating the same stuff was becoming tedious.  Old cookbooks give me great inspiration.   They don’t have 100s of ingredients using various and sundry appliances that I don’t have (or frankly, want).   If you google this recipe, you will see what modern chefs have done to it.   Some have made it ridiculously hard with lots of steps and expensive ingredients.  Frankly, it’s a travesty.  If you are tired of plain old chicken, give this recipe a try.  It’s easy, crazy good, and fairly cheap eats. If you are lucky and can eat carbs, this dish is made to have the cooked garlic smashed across some wonderful, crusty French bread. The bread can also be used to soak up the amazing sauce created by this dish.  If you are no carbing it, the smashed garlic is still wonderful to combine with the chicken.

Serve with a salad or steamed veggie and dinner is complete.

I’ve made this recipe to fit a 5 quart dutch oven.  The recipe is very scalable for other sizes. It’s adapted from James Beard’s 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken recipe.
40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken

3 stalks of celery, rough chop
1 large onion, medium dice
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
7 chicken thighs (could be 6 or eight, whatever fits)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
40 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (or however many you have)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place celery, onion, tarragon in the dutch oven. Top with the chicken thighs. Pour vermouth over thighs, then pour the oil. Season thighs to taste.

Tuck unwrapped garlic into every nook and cranny.

Cover the dutch oven and bake until the chicken is done, about 60 minutes.

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“Spaghetti” with Tomato Sauce and Italian Sausage

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My husband loves pasta.  As you may recall, he’s also diabetic, so he can’t really have it.  So, one day while prepping squash for a dish, I realized that if you keep using the peeler on the squash, it kind of looks like pasta ribbons.  So, I tried it.  I used my peeler on the flesh of the squash and made very pretty ribbons.  I stopped when I reached the seeds of the squash.  I sautéed the  ribbons in butter and a bit of olive oil with salt.  I then used them like pasta with tomato sauce and Italian sausage.

While they don’t taste like pasta, as squash is a bit sweeter, the look and mouth feel was very similar to a wide pasta like pappardelle.  And, as a bonus, the kids got to eat a vegetable!

Tomato sauce has been around since the importation of the tomato to the “old world” in the 1500s.  While at first considered poisonous due to its relation to the nightshade family, eventually the tomato was widely adopted with the Italians leading the way.  My sauce recipe is really simple, please use your favorite sauce, if you have one:  sauté in olive oil 1 medium onion (small dice).  When onion is translucent, add 3 cloves of minced garlic.  Add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano and 1 teaspoon of dried basil and 1 bay leaf.   Sauté until fragrant.  Add 1 33 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes.   Salt and pepper to taste.  If the sauce is too thin, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and stir.  If it is still too thin, repeat.  For the Italian sausage, I sauté in heated olive oil until almost done and throw into the sauce to finish.

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Lasagna

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Wow, what a great blog.  The author says she’s low carb and her first two postings are fried chicken and Chocolate and Cinnamon Babka.  Her fourth is titled “Lasagna”.   I get it.  But, this one is different, I promise.

I’ve avoid carbs for the better part of a decade because I have a tendency to be insulin resistant.  I don’t want to be diabetic.  Low fat diets don’t work for me at all.  My husband was diagnosed with diabetes and made a drastic switch to a low carb diet.  He also has a gluten intolerance, which sort of reinforces the low carb thing.  The one meal he really, really missed was lasagna.  I created this recipe for him.

Before I begin, I want you to understand this is a crazy fussy recipe.  I am not exaggerating.  Lasagna is all about moisture management.  To recreate the water absorbing characteristics of the now missing pasta, one will have to remove as much moisture as possible from all the other ingredients.  If you can do it, you will have an amazing lasagna that is gluten free and no one, and I mean no one, will miss the noodles.   The other warning is that lasagne is not an exact measurement type recipe.  Depending on how heavy you make certain layers, you may need more or less of some ingredients.  In other words, you may have too much sauce, but not enough cheese or vice versa.

The vegetable lasagnas I had in the past were watery messes.  No way you could make one that would cut like the square you see above.  Not a chance.  Plus, they tasted like the vegetables that were in it.  I guess that’s the point, but lasagna should taste like, well lasagna.  Now, if you wanted to make this a vegetarian lasagna, all you would have to do leave out the Italian sausage.

When I began research lasagna, I figured this was an Italian pasta casserole of some sort, or even something from the Greek culture, as Pastitsio is a similar dish.   Little did I know I would find a raging controversy on the issue.  Apparently, there’s a recipe from England in the late 1300s that makes the case that lasagna is an English “invention”.  From July 31, 2003 edition of The Baltimore Sun:

Culinary experts in Britain said they discovered the origins of lasagna while researching medieval dishes in preparation for the Joust festival at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. They said a recipe for the dish was found in The Forme of Cury, a book cooked up by a group of chefs on behalf of King Richard II around 1390.

“We wanted to see if we could find something pre-1390 to link lasagna to Italy, and we haven’t found anything, but Italians still won’t accept it,” said the aptly named Maurice Bacon, the festival’s spokesman. “Italians say, `It can’t be English; it’s always been Italian.’

“Well there was a long time when people thought the world was flat, and when people were told it was round, they said, `No, it’s always been flat.’ Same thing with Italians and lasagna.”

Actually, few people without a stake in crawling out of the basement ranking of world cuisine could blame the Italians. Think lasagna and the dish that comes to mind, at its heart, is pasta, tomato-based sauce and cheese.

But in 1390, tomatoes in English cooking were still 200 years off. The recipe in The Forme of Cury refers to a dish called “loseyns,” which, not surprisingly, did not list tomatoes among the ingredients.

Part of the instructions in 14th-century English: “Take flour of pandemayne and make perof paste with water … drye it harde and seep it in broth. … Take chese and lay it I dishes. … So twise or thryse, and serve it forth.”

Sounds like a non-tomato lasagna to me!  Of course, this might just be the first written recipe for such a dish.  The origins of the name “lasagna” could also be Greek from the word “laganon” meaning “flat sheet of pasta” or from the Latin word “lasanum” meaning “cooking pot”.

Lasagna

3 medium eggplant

Salt, for salting eggplant

2 pounds ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, diced small

3 cloves of garlic, minced

6 or 7 sliced crimini or baby bella mushrooms (optional)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

2 teaspoons of Italian oregano

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup deglazing liquid like red wine, port, beef broth or water

3 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound Italian Sausage, bulk (or removed from casings) (optional)

1 egg yolk

1 pound part skim, low moisture, shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1 pound whole milk mozzarella cheese, sliced

The first part of moisture management begins with what is  the pasta substitute:  the eggplant.  First, cut the eggplant into thin rounds.  Not too thin, as they have to stand up to drying in the oven.  Around a 1/4 inch thick.

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Place the rounds on a rack and sprinkle each round with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.  Flip and repeat.

While your eggplant is sitting, place a cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towel in a sieve and sit over a bowl.  Put the ricotta in the sieve and let drain in the refrigerator for an hour or until needed.

Put the olive oil in a large, 8 quart sauce pan over medium heat.  When the oil is just hot, add onions and saute until translucent.  Add garlic and the optional mushrooms along with the salt and pepper.  Adding the mushrooms will add moisture, so you really want to cook this mixture down as far as possible, about 20 minutes.  You must keep an eye on it at this point to avoid burning or excessive browning.  Add oregano and bay leaves and continue to saute.  The mushrooms should be greatly reduced in volume before the next step.

Deglaze the pan with your choice of liquid.  I had an open bottle of port, so I used that.  You want to boil this off or down, again as much as possible.  Just prior to running out of liquid, add the canned tomatoes.  Let simmer over medium low heat for about 2 hours.  You want a fairly “dry” sauce.

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Note the rather “dry” look to the sauce

While the sauce is simmering, brown the sausage in a separate pan.  When the sausage is cooked through, drain and add to the tomato sauce.

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While the sauce is simmering and after the eggplant is finished its salt rest, lightly rinse the salt off the eggplant and pat the rounds dry.  Ready two baking sheets with a silicone sheet like Silpat.  Place the rounds on the baking sheets.   I know Silpat is interchangeable with parchment paper, but I didn’t use parchment paper here, so I don’t know whether is would work for the next step.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and bake for 20 minutes until well wilted.  Check periodically to ensure no burning and if you are using both sheets at the same time in the oven, make sure to rotate the pans for even cooking.   Flip the rounds over and bake again for the same amount of time.  They should come out looking rather dry and haggard.

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After and Before baking

Remove the eggplant rounds from the baking sheets and place on cooling racks.  While the eggplant rounds are cooling, remove the ricotta from the sieve and place in a separate, clean and dry bowl.  Stir in egg yolk and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ladle a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, or a lasagne pan if you have one.  On top of that layer, place the eggplant rounds, then the ricotta mixture, parmesan cheese and the shredded mozzarella cheese (the whole milk mozzarella is for the top only).  Repeat the layers until you reach the top of the pan.  The last two layers should be sauce, parmesan cheese and the whole milk mozzarella cheese.

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Bake in the oven for about an hour.  Then, let it rest.  The longer it rests, the less of a mess it will be when cut and served.  Lidia Bastianich, grand dame of Italian-American cooking recommends at least an hour wait.  (See http://www.lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/701)

Here’s the lasagne at the one hour mark:

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This is a square cut that retains its shape with easily discernable layers.  The eggplant has returned to plump and the whole dish presents as “lasagna” not “vegetable lasagna”.  Fussy, yes, but not hard and worth it.  Especially, if you have been missing lasagne on your low carb diet.