Tag Archives: Low Carb

Pass the Prosciutto- Thanksgiving Stuffing Featuring Parma Ham

Pass the Prosciutto

Yes, you can make stuffing with no bread and have it look this awesome!

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There are few holidays that really excite me food-wise as Thanksgiving. First of all, you have the tradition. You can go full bore and serve exactly what the pilgrims ate, or you can do the modern classical Thanksgiving: Turkey, stuffing, various potatoes, token green veg, rolls and pumpkin pie. It’s a virtual carbohydrate bonanza! Over the years, however, various dietary needs have arisen and several beloved family members have been diagnosed with diabetes. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a disaster for your typical diabetic. Instead of “going without”, I am all about making something equally good from more low carb friendly fare.

My most favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table is stuffing. As a kid, there was nothing better than the box of Stove Top Stuffing, amended with sausage and mushrooms and placed on the table. Nothing. Sure, I can laugh now, but back then, you angled to get a seat by the stuffing.  Stuffing by its very nature, however, is a high carb endeavor.

So, I started looking at all the stuffings from the yesteryear for inspiration.  Stuffings with sage or chestnuts or oysters! Oh my! So much to try. So I stumbled upon the recipe below quite by accident. I wanted a touch of richness, a bit of history, and a whole bunch of easy.  One of my go to ingredients when I’m looking for rich and clearly special is Prosciutto di Parma.  It gives a fantastic, complex, flavor without the excess, and rather random amount of fat and smoke that bacon brings.

Initially, I came up with a stuffing with sausage, chicken livers, oysters, prosciutto di parma, seasonings and bread crumbs. There wasn’t a single drop of stuffing left. Everyone ate every last bit and wanted more.  However, the carb count was likely crazy high.  So, I had to turn my focus to the low carb version.   Then, I got an assignment that asked me to concentrate on gluten free cooking that included the amazing Prosciutto di Parma, or parma ham. Could I adapt the my high carb, gluten riddled recipe recipe? Would it work? These questions kept me up at night.

First, my philosophy for low carb is not to make a thin imitation. While you’ll never convince me that pureed cauliflower is mashed potatoes, the dish is really quite good in its own right.   And, more importantly, I don’t miss the potatoes.   My goal for this dish was: good and you don’t miss the original.  How can you go wrong with Prosciutto di Parma, sausage and oysters.  Right?

Let me caution: this stuffing is full bodied and full fat. It’s a go big or go home type stuffing. Everyone who has tried this stuffing in either high carb or low carb form have raved about it. Some people have declined to try it due to the ingredients.   Chicken livers and oysters can lead some to take a pass. More for me, honestly.

The technique I use is really rather unique. I was making the stuffing and decided to take a short cut. I didn’t want whole oysters or pieces of chicken livers in my stuffing for texture reasons, so I figured I would just chop them for a bit in the processor, because, well, isn’t that what it’s for? I quickly learned there’s no level of “a bit” that doesn’t turn the livers or oysters into liquid. So, instead of minced shellfish or livers, I had a lovely red puree.  However, I wasn’t wasting my money by not using the livers or oysters, so I included them in the stuffing. Because these overtly odd ingredients didn’t appear in the stuffing, people were more inclined to try it. And, by extension, love it! Huzzah!  I just got back from Williamsburg, so that celebratory phrase stays!

So, dear reader, I am giving you my famous stuffing recipe. My kids cried that I was using a recipe from the secret family recipe book.  But I will share this one.  Kick the boxed stuffing habit and make your own stuffing.  It will be miles better than anything from a box.  You can make it ahead too! And, depending on the version below you choose, you can actually label this a vegetable side.  You’ll get the joke when you read the ingredients.

Sausage and Oyster Stuffing
Serves: Thanksgiving Crowd (10 or so, easily doubled if you need more)
Prep Time: 15-25 minutes, depending on version made
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes

Note: Low carb/Gluten free version requires cooked cauliflower, see Cuban Rice and Beans for full prep instructions.

5 chicken livers
6 oysters, shucked
1/3 cup bacon drippings, lard or other high temperature suitable oil
1/2 pound Prosciutto (parma ham), medium dice
1 pound sage sausage
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sage, rubbed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Low Carb/Gluten Free Version:
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets, roasted at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes until soft and slightly brown, chopped fine

“Regular Version”:
4 cups bread crumbs (gluten free, if needed)

2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place chicken livers and oysters in the container of the food processor and process thoroughly. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

Heat fat over medium heat in a large skillet. And prosciutto and sausage and cook until the sausage is cooked through and both are rendered of fat. Add the onions, celery and mushrooms and cook until the onions and celery are translucent and the mushrooms have lost some of their liquid. Add the garlic and saute until soft. Add the sage and liver mixture. Cook until the mixture is no longer reddish. Add the butter, cauliflower or bread crumbs, eggs and salt and pepper. Place in an oven dish, cover and refrigerate. To serve, heat in a 350 degree oven until the top is brown and the stuffing is warmed through.

Follow Parma Ham on Twitter for a chance to win $50 worth of the world’s most famous ham. Click on the banner below to participate. This post is a collaboration between the blogger and Parma Ham. 

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Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Being a fairly low carb person, there are certain foods I desperately miss.   Would I love a plate of French Fries?  Yup.  Pizza?  You bet.  Stuffing?  Yes, a million times.  Crackers with my cheese?  Of course!  Bun with my hamburger?  Oy.

Mashed Potatoes?  Not really.  I’m not a potato fan, unless they are completely fried crisp. Then, ok!  I’m mostly in it for the crispy outside shell.  Steak fries?  Pass.  My husband, on the other hand is part Irish and LOVES potatoes.  He’s having to get extremely serious about being low carb because his lack of seriousness has had some health consequences.  So, he reluctantly joins the low carb bandwagon.

I had heard about fake mashed potatoes.  But honestly, the thought of cauliflower really didn’t appeal to me.  Sure, it’s beautiful when raw.  That’s about where my affinity ends.  I’ve used it as a rice substitute, but it’s pretty swamped with strong flavors and more there for filler.  In this recipe, cauliflower is the star.  The. Star.

I tried a ton of recipes and some lacked the heft or texture of mashed potatoes.  Some were just runny.  Others worked better, but really didn’t take advantage of the blank canvas.  I tried to up the flavor here and add really good texture as well.

Cauliflower is wet.  Very, very wet.  And in this recipe we steam it, adding more water to the process.  So, without something more, you’ll have a very thin mixture with just pureed cauliflower.  I used a combination of cream cheese and butter to really give the dish more substance.  I also could have roasted garlic and added it to the puree, but I liked the convenience of granulated garlic.  It added flavor without any additional moisture.

This recipe comes extremely close to garlic mashed potatoes.  My kids ate it up until I told them it wasn’t mashed potatoes, then it became a pariah on the plate.  But really, it stands on its own as a great dish.  No need to fool anyone, just say it’s pureed cauliflower.  Unless they are minors.  Then it’s mashed potatoes.  As an extra bonus, it’s mashed potatoes that are quicker and easier to make then real mashed potatoes!

Your mileage my vary on this dish.  I used 1 really large head of cauliflower.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4-6, as a side dish
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 large head of cauliflower, heavy stalks removed, cut into florets
3 tablespoons of cream cheese, divided
3 tablespoons of butter, divided (I used European Style, which has more fat content)
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic, divided
Salt and Pepper

Steam cauliflower until soft. I used a steamer insert and placed it over boiling water and it took about 13 minutes.

Place one third of the cauliflower into a food processor (if yours can take more, great, mine couldn’t). Add 1 tablespoon cream cheese, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic to the food processor. Puree until the consistency desired and there are no remaining chunks of cauliflower. Place in a serving bowl and cover. Repeat process until the cauliflower is all pureed. Salt and Pepper to taste and serve.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Kebabs

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It’s 6 o’clock on a weekday evening.  Little ones are looking up at you like they haven’t eaten in days.  You have a couple of random vegetables (not enough for an entire side dish, of course!), an onion, and a meat.  What do you do?  What do you do?!?!

Kabab ’em.   Dinner is ready in a snap and there’s hardly any clean up.  Plus, who doesn’t like food on a spear?  Deadly weapon and food conduit?  Awesome.  Kebabs are super easy and fun. Extremely kid friendly. Except for the whole they could poke their eye out part. Take the food off the spear for children who are unable to handle sharp weapons, of course.

I could give you a huge marinade and tell you to boil it together and cool it off, then place your meat in it.  I could.  But I won’t.  I used a bottle of organic Italian dressing on my beef.  Any sirloin steak or “London Broil” will do.  The beef need not be fancy or expensive.  You could also do boneless chicken meat, or shrimp as well.

For the veg, just cut into rather substantial pieces, so that they stay on your kabob spear.

For grilling, the key is to heat the grill up before you start.  I have a propane grill (in addition to my charcoal smokers) that I use all summer.  Love it.  The lack of dishes to clean and the fact that the heat is located outside and not in the house is just so convenient.

To this simple dish, I’ve added a sauce.  The sauce is also simple, but really strong to pair with the beef, so it is purely a “dip” and not a pouring sauce, if that makes sense. In another life, the sauce could totally replace a certain steak sauce that begins with an “A” and ends with a “1”. The sauce was inspired by a recipe on the food network that looked way to vinegary to me: (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/porterhouse-with-balsamic-steak-sauce-recipe/index.html) You might ask why I used port. I’m part of a wine club and every Christmas I get a bottle of port. I have no idea what to do with the port, so I cook with it. If I think I can get away with it in a recipe, in it goes. It totally works here.

 

Beef and Vegetable Kebabs
Serves 4
Prep time: about 20 minutes
Cook time: about 20 minutes for sauce and kebabs

1 pound beef sirloin or “London Broil”, 1 inch cubes
1 cup Italian Dressing
1 zucchini, halved and thick sliced
1 red pepper, large dice (any color, really)
1 onion, large cut
4 ounces of mushrooms, halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Kebab Sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup port
2/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon allspice
salt, pepper and sugar, to taste

Marinate the beef in the Italian dressing for at least 8 hours.

Preheat Grill

Skewer the beef, zucchini, mushrooms and onions in an alternating pattern on a skewer. Combine the olive oil, salt and pepper. Brush on skewers.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the balsamic vinegar, port, ketchup, honey, onion, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and allspice. Stir until well combine. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper and sugar.

Place the skewers on the grill for about 4 minutes. Turn over. Cook until the meat is at a food safe temperature, approximately 4-6 more minutes. This depends on the size of the steak cube and the temperature of the grill. Remove from grill and serve with sauce.

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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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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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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.