A Few Words on Gluten Free Sandwiches

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Admittedly, since I have become gluten free, I don’t get very excited about sandwiches.  I am sure that you will agree that there are many mediocre gluten free breads out there.  In fact, there are many yucky gluten free breads out there. Unfortunately, many of us work and have hectic schedules that don’t leave time for the tasty home baked versions. You just have to painstakingly and courageously trial them all, until finally one just sits right on your very own palate.  There are many, many varieties available to buy in stores and on the web, and there are many recommendations by others, as well, but the bread thing, for me anyway, is very personal.  Truly, I have not found many gluten free sandwich breads that wow me.  Most of the time, it is the combination of your favorite sandwich bread with what’s inside the sandwich that makes it worth telling about for sure!

Today, I ate one of those amazing gluten free sandwiches worth a tale or two.  My Mom’s favorite sandwich (and being very much her prodigy) was a BLT!  What a very wise woman. She just savored every bite.  It had to have a lot of mayonnaise. She just loved mayonnaise.  Her eyes would roll as she ate it, and she would make yummy noises.  Consequently, whenever I eat one, she floods my thoughts.

Today, I built a BLT to die for, that is, to live for! I tried a new bacon I had never had before called Niman Ranch brand maple, uncured and gluten free.  Delicious with a capital “D”!  It smelled heavenly sizzling in the pan.  My three cats were lined up at the stove with their nostrils wiggling and meowing and dreaming for some to come their way.  I used a lovely Ugly Ripe tomato and some crisp Red Leaf lettuce leaves.  Now for the bread, I happen to have a freshly purchased loaf of Glutino Flax Seed Bread.  I do believe that they have made some improvements with this bread, as I had not bought it in awhile, and it seemed more flavorful this time around. The slices are light and just perfect when toasted.  I proceeded to build my scrumptious and memorable gluten free BLT! The Niman Ranch bacon just made the sandwich.  It was not too smoky or sweet and just thick enough.  I enjoyed every morsel and every mouthful. Small pieces of bacon and tomato covered with mayo fell out on my plate as I devoured it.  I ate each remaining escaped piece with gusto.   I am writing this and I can still taste it.

That’s what makes a gluten free sandwich so wonderful.  It’s the total picture. It is the total experience. It is the total sandwich, a sum of its parts.  This was undoubtedly one of those “islands of happiness” that my Mom always talked about. I thank you, Niman Ranch.I thank you, Glutino, especially, if you improved your product.  I thank my cats for their adoring company.

But, most of all, I thank you, Mom.

La Melanzana (Eggplant in Italian)

Penne Dash of Sorrento is an eggplant pasta dish that my husband and I discovered while on our honeymoon on the Amalfi Border, Italy.I grew up in an Italian household, but I had never had such a dish.  It had been my dream to visit the Amalfi Border in Italy for many, many years.  I saved and cherished an article on the beauty and breathtaking views of the area written in National Geographic Traveler for 10 years.  When I met Wayne,

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I told him about my dream, and our trip there became two dreams come true, i.e. finding someone wonderful to share my life with and a visit to this amazingly beautiful stretch of towns built into the side of hills from Naples to Sorrento to Salerno.  We encountered this eggplant dish at dinner one evening in our hotel.  There was something very unique in flavor, and although we asked everyone along the way about the ingredients, everyone inadvertently omitted one of the most important ingredients. When we returned, I purchased the simple repertoire of eggplant, garlic, oil, mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and parmigiana cheese.  I made the dish, and it looked fantastic.  We both took  a bite and simultaneously cheesewine1.jpglooked at eachother, and almost said together, “Something is missing”.  I did a little more research and discovered that our rendition was missing “Mozzarella di Bufala Affumicato”, otherwise known as Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella.  I made the dish again using smoked mozzarella (unfortunately not the imported Buffalo version), but it definitely put the punch back in the dish.  Try this on your spouse, your friends, your family.  It is a magical use of the incredible la melanzana, that is, eggplant.  You will love it.  

 

Penne Dash of Sorrento

Ingredients

1/2-8oz Smoked Braided Mozzarella (need the smoked type)

2-Small Eggplants, peeled and chopped (small are best)

4-Ripe Plum Tomatoes (skinned and chopped)

3 to 4-Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped

1-Pound Penne Pasta (Tinkyada or Gluten Free Bionature are good picks)

3/4-Small Ball Poly-o Mozzarella, dicedFresh grated parmigiana cheese

Handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

About ¼ cup good quality olive oil (you may need just a little more)

Method

Have all your ingredients chopped and lined up to go for this dish. Put your water onto boil for the pasta.When the water boils, drop your fresh whole tomatoes in the water for about 2 minutes.Remove and drain. Skin will come right off with a knife. Chop and set aside.Take half of the oil and sauté quickly diced eggplant. Set aside.Sauté chopped garlic in remainder of olive oil until tender; do not burn as it will make your sauce bitter.

Keep moving it in the sizzling oil with a spatula or spoon.Add your chopped plum tomatoes juice and all. Simmer for a minute. Add your eggplant.Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.Salt your pasta water. Put your penne on to boil. When done, drain. Save about ¾ cup of the macaroni water when you drain the pasta.Put the drained pasta right into the skillet with the tomato/eggplant mixture. Add diced mozzarella cheeses, parmigiana to taste, freshly chopped basil and mix.

Cover, turn off heat and let the cheeses melt into the pasta. You may need to add just a little macaroni water. You be the judge of that.Serve immediately.(A nice salad, crusty Italian bread and table wine would complete the meal).

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Wayne and me in La Taverna del Leone, Positano, Italy (a rustic pizzeria with an antipasto spread like no other. Italian food to die for!)

Any Shape Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Sun Dried Tomatoes

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It was a stormy, rainy summer evening. I had gone for a walk and got caught in the rain. It was rather fun, but as soon as I got back home and changed clothes, I knew I was in for the evening. I was hungry and did not want to trek back out for groceries. I took inventory of what I had on hand for dinner and came up with this dish. As I moved the garlic through the simmering olive oil in the skillet, I realized that this delicious aroma is one of my favorite childhood memories. Every Sunday morning, my Italian Mom would prepare a pot of spaghetti sauce. She would begin the process with the infamous simmering garlic and oil combo. The scent lingers deliciously in my mind. I also realized how easy it is to cook up something quick but equally delicious and nutritious. The best part is accomplishing a delightful dish like this with so few ingredients. The tomatoes, artichokes, garlic, and olive oil come packed with health enhancing phytochemicals, which I have outlined below. My husband and I just love this one…..so yummy!

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Ingredients

¼ cup good quality olive oil

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and thinly sliced

1 package frozen artichoke hearts

3 large plum tomatoes, skin removed, chopped

Handful fresh basil, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

16 oz. Tinkyada penne pasta

Parmigiana (grated) to sprinkle on top

Method

Cook pasta per package directions unitl al dente. While water boils and pasta cooks, sauté garlic in olive oil. Do not brown or burn. Add both type of tomatoes and continue to sauté in the olive oil and garlic for a few minutes over low heat. Add the defrosted artichoke hearts and salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for a few minutes. Toss in fresh basil at end of a few minutes. Mix cooked, drained pasta into sauce adding some reserved pasta water to loosen up. Serve with a sprinkle of parmigiana cheese.

  • Artichokes-contains a flavonoid phytochemical that offers anticancer protection through its ability to act as an antioxidant
  • Tomatoes-cooked tomatoes, especially those cooked in oil, are rich sources of lycopene, thought to be responsible for protecting against prostate cancer ;they are also a rich source of beta-carotene
  • Garlic-contains the phytochemicals allicin and ajoene, thought to be responsibe for lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and possibly reducing the risk of stomach cancer
  • Olive oil– rich in polyphenols, substances that have been found to be powerful antioxidants capable of protecting against certain types of disease; add a splash of extra virgin olive oil at the end while mixing the pasta with the sauce for an extra dose of polyphenols;extra virgin olive oil is richest in polyphenols

Potato Leek Soup (That Flour stuff most definitely optional)

I made potato leek soup today for the first time in my life. I found some very fresh enormous leeks at my neighborhood produce store. I just had to take them home.I reviewed many different leek soup recipes on the web, and then created my own version. Many of the recipes contained “flour”. Of course being gluten intolerant, I did

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not use flour. Quite frankly, I questioned the use of this ingredient, as potatoes, as we all know, are natural thickening agents. Just as I surmised, one does not need flour! This soup is gluten free without manipulation. It is pretty simple to put together and the best part is eating it. Delish! And your house is going to smell really wonderful with this one!

Sunday’s Potato Leek Soup

Serves: 6-8 hearty bowls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3-4 large leeks
6 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Half and Half cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Trim off the dark green ends of leeks. Save a small portion of the dark end. Wash and set aside. Discard the rest of the dark green ends. Cut white part of leeks in half lengthwise. Wash under cold running water thoroughly, as there is a lot of sand inside the leek layers. Dry them with a paper towel. Rough chop the leeks.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped leeks. Season with fresh ground pepper and salt. Pour over the wine. Bring to boil and then simmer leek-butter-wine combo for 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes, saved green portion of leeks, thyme, bay leaf, chicken broth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer about 40 minutes until potatoes are soft and soup is very flavorful. Remove the green ends and thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor.

Stir in the half and half and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve with chopped chives sprinkled on top and a few more twists of fresh black pepper from the grinder.

 

 

 

Cannellini Bean Soup

Cannellini bean = white kidney bean = fazolia bean. You’ve probably already encountered this Italian bean in minestrone soup or a bean salad. It’s prized for its smooth and creamy texture and nutty flavor. If you were brought up Italian, the cannellini bean was an every day staple. This soup is simple, fast, and very delicious. My husband, Wayne, and I prepare it at least once a week after work because of its simplicity. I was given the recipe by a friend several years ago who told me that the original version is from the famous Italian cookbook writer Marcella Hazan. It truly tastes like you spent a lot more time on it than you will. I am much more generous with the garlic and fresh parsley than the original recipe. My friend, Debra, uses fresh marjoram in lieu of parsley and proclaims it to be yummy. I, myself, have only made it with parsley. Of course, you have to love garlic to love the soup!

Preparation Time: 15 min.
Serves 4 (hearty bowls)

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 cans (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 cup beef broth, canned
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the oil and the garlic in a saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the garlic is a pale gold. Add the beans and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour in the broth. You can add more or less broth depending on how thick you like your soup. Add in half of the chopped parsley. Bring to a simmer. Transfer about 1/2 of the bean broth mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Add it back to the pan with the rext of the mixture. Simmer the soup for 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. Swirl in the remainder parsley. Serve the soup with your favorite toasted gluten free bread, or if you are not gluten free, your favorite crusty French bread. (Try Kinnikinnick Tapioca Rice English Muffins toasted with this soup. Very good! Check it out: www.kinnikinnick.com)

Saturday’s Pasta Frittata

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 Wayne just loves this frittata because it encompasses the best of both of his favorite foods, that is, eggs and pasta. I have substituted gluten free linguine (Quinoa gluten free works well) for the usual potatoes in the recipe.  It is fun food and delicious too.  It actually tastes better the next day at room temperature.  The frittata is a good lunch box or picnic food.  A fresh tomato salad is the perfect accompaniment. Enjoy!

Pasta Frittata 

Ingredients

6 large eggs
3 oz. cooked and drained gluten free linguine (our choice is Quinoa)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
Handful chopped fresh basil leaves
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Cracked pepper to taste

Method

Beat eggs in bowl.  Add parmesan cheese, basil, salt and pepper.  Set aside.  In a 10 inch skillet, saute red onion in olive oil for several minutes until translucent.  Stir in spinach leaves until wilted.  Place mozzarella cubes and linguine on top of spinach and onion mixture in skillet.  Pour egg mixture over all. Turn heat down low, cover, and cook until just set.  It sets rather quickly, so keep an eye on it and don’t overcook.
When just set and still a litte moist on top, brown quickly under the broiler for about a minute.  Makes about 4 servings.

Presto Pasta al Pesto!

Pesto Pasta

My sister, Grace, loves cooking gadgets. She owns the most impressive collection of kitchen gadgets on the East coast. I also admire the fact that she is so knowledgeable about how they work and uses every single one of them all the time. None of them collect dust. She lives in New England and I live in Florida, and we usually share a wonderful chat together on our cell phones as we both drive home from work on Thursday afternoons. Yesterday, she excitedly told me all about the newest gadget in her life, that is, the Cuisinart Mini Prep Food Processor. She said she had a copious crop of basil growing in her garden and made a batch of pesto using the new processor. She said it came out just delicious and the performance of the mini prep was more than she expected. Grace said she loved the color too, black chrome with a black wire. White appliance wires can look so dingy after awhile. I hung up with her and could not stop thinking about pesto!

Just the day before my sister’s call, I chatted with my dear and wonderful friend, Agi. She moved into her new home and planted purple basil. It is quite beautiful and has suprisingly it has given her a prolific crop. She asked me for my pesto recipe. It seems like everyone has pesto on their mind this week.

Both Grace and Agi have inspired me to share with you my pesto recipe that I have made for over thirty years. Pesto originated in Genoa and the classic way to prepare it is with a mortar and pestle. Pesto literally means “pounded.” But of course, we are all to busy these days for such nonsense, so grab your blender or processor (or you may want to check out the new Cuisinart Mini Prep), and whirl up some delicious pesto to share with family and friends.

Fresh Basil Pesto

Ingredients

2 overflowing cups fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pine nuts (or some prefer walnuts, or use half and half)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Combine basil, garlic, salt and pepper in work bowl of processor and blend to fine paste, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add pine nuts and cheese and process until smooth. With machine running, pour olive oil through feed tube in slow steady stream and mix until almost smooth. If it is too thick, you can add a little bit more olive oil. If you choose to use a blender, put all ingredients into blender except olive oil and pulse chop until it almost paste, then with machine running pour olive oil into mixture through opening in blender top.

Boil your favorite pasta and reserve about a cup of cooking water. Mix your pasta with a lump of butter before adding the pesto. Loosen up the pasta and pesto with some reserved pasta water.

We like this on Tinkyada fettucini with some freshly diced plum tomatoes sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

Pesto tip: When storing pesto in the refrigerator or freezer, add a film of olive oil about 1/8 inch thick to the top to prevent sauce from drying out. Mix it in when ready to use. Always bring chilled pesto to room temperature before serving.

Afterthought: When I used to lived up North, I remember hanging on to the skirts of summer’s fresh bounty. My back yard and every friend’s backyard as well as every farm stand would boast the huge bouquets of fragrant sweet basil. It is surely one of nature’s most precious gifts, and pesto is undoubtably one of the best ways to enjoy its goodness.

Saucy! (Basic Delicious Tomato Sauce)

Saucy! (Basic Delicious Tomato Sauce)

I have been making this basic sauce for over twenty years. It is fast and delicious, and once it is made, you can do all kinds of recipe renditions with it. My husband, Wayne, loves this sauce. He affectionately calls it “Saucy!”. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever met another person in my walk on this planet who loves pasta and tomato sauce as much as he does! Amazingly, he is of Scotch and German descent. I am of Italian descent, and I don’t get half as excited. He loves garlic, also, and he admitted that his mother was Southern and did not cook with very much garlic. Well, I decided not to try to figure this out too much. I have a very appreciative audience for my cooking, and that is just fine with me. There is no greater compliment, I am sure you will agree, than when someone leaves a clean plate and made yummy noises throughout the journey. He is also very wonderful about eating gluten free pasta along with me. Every now and then, I boil two different pastas, but again, thankfully, Wayne is easy to please and adventurous when it comes to trying a new type of food.Simple Sauce

Please do pass up that jarred stuff, darling, and try this!

Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 Large cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz size)
(I prefer Muir Glen)
Large handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly ground sea salt to taste

In large, heavy saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil over low heat until soft and transparent (about 5 minutes of cooking). Add garlic. Sauté another minute in sizzling onions and oil.

Whirl up crushed tomatoes one can at a time in blender. Leave it somewhat chunky. Pour over onion and garlic mixture in saucepan. Add basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a strong simmer for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Some people like to add other herbs such as oregano and Italian flat leaf parsley. You can experiment with different herbs. We like just basil. It adds a certain sweetness to the sauce when left solo. You can also add a skosh more of olive oil, if you would like. It is all according to your taste.

Makes a large pot of sauce. You can have some for dinner and freeze the rest for another meal.

We enjoyed this sauce today over Tinkyada Rice Penne Pasta with freshly shaved parmigiana cheese. Enjoy!