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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: New Orleans

Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world 40 days before Easter, a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.

The Carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous celebration. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany and to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal, they spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America.

The most widely known, most elaborate and most popular events are in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area of the United States, but now occur in many other states. Customs originated in the onetime French colonial capitals of Mobile (now in Alabama), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have been celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major U.S. cities with celebrations include Miami, Florida; Tampa, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Pensacola, Florida; San Diego, California; Galveston, Texas and Orlando, Florida.

For information on how Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans read my post: Mardi Gras Time !

https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/02/04/mardi-gras-time/

Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music and parties. Children throw confetti at each other. Mischief and pranks are also common during Carnevale, hence the saying, “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale”, or anything goes at carnival.

Carnevale has roots in pagan festivals and traditions and, as is often the case with traditional festivals, was adapted to fit into Catholic rituals. Although Mardi Gras, sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” or “Shove Tuesday”,  is actually one date – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but in Venice and New Orleans and in some other places, the carnival celebrations and parties may begin a couple of weeks before.

Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268 with mention of masks, parties and rich food. In the height of the masquerade, mascherari (maskmakers) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild. Masks made the Venetian carnival unique, as it took away social status and inhibition. In this way, the social order was temporarily non-existent. However, when Venice fell under Austrian rule after Napoleon’s Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798, the city and all its culture went into decline. This pre-Lent celebration didn’t enjoy a revival until almost 200 years later when, in the 1970’s, a group of Venetians decided to revive the tradition.

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Masks or maschere are an important part of the carnevale festival and Venice is the best city for traditional carnival masks. Carnival masks are sold year round and can be found in many Venetian shops, ranging from cheap to elaborate and expensive. Walking through the streets of Venice, one can view a variety of masks on display in shop windows. People also wear elaborate costumes for the festival and there are numerous costume or masquerade balls, both private and public.

What foods are popular in Italy during Carnevale?

Almost every Italian town and region has some specialty in recognition of Carnevale, though in Venice, the specialty is frittelle. These fritters are fried golden brown and filled or topped with a variety of treats, bursting with sweet or savory flavors, like chocolate, jelly, fruit or meat. The enticing smells drift through the city and can be found in the cichéti stalls along the streets, where it is easy to pick up these “small bites”.  In the other regions, similar fare can be found under different names, like the Lombard chiacchere, Tuscan cenci and Roman frappe. But under any name, they are all the highlight of the season for Italians and visitors alike. Other Venetian carnevale foods include “Pasticcio di Maccheroni” (a baked pasta, ricotta, meat pie), “Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta” (filled, rolled baked dough), “Migliaccio di Polenta” (polenta and sausage) and steaming plates of lasagnas and pastas, filled with pancetta, prosciutto, salami and sopressata.

Naples has the sumptuous Lasagne di Carnevale. In the past poorer families could only afford to make this dish once a year, therefore, it became very special and every family had their own secret recipe. There was a great deal of competiton in the local towns over whose lasagna was best. Throughout much of Italy, however, Carnevale is an occasion for eating pastries, fritters of one kind or another that are quick to make and fun to eat. During the weeks of Carnevale, it is a tradition to eat a lot of sweets because they will not be able to eat them during Lent.

Traditional Carnevale Recipes

lasagne-di-carnevale_1

Grande Lasagna di Carnevale

Some versions of this recipe add sliced hard-boiled eggs to the layers along with the meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried Lasagna noodles
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 12 oz. drained canned plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 pound mozzarella
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto

Directions

Cook the lasagna noodles in abundant, slightly salted water until they’re al dente, run them under cold water and lay the sheets out on a kitchen cloth, covering them with a second cloth.

For the sauce:

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the Italian sausage and after it has browned add the tomatoes. Simmer over moderate heat for about an hour, adding the beef broth a little at a time. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the meatballs:

Combine the ground beef with the bread crumbs, egg, parsley, ricotta and half the grated Parmigiano cheese. Make 1-inch diameter meatballs from the mixture and dredge them in the flour. Heat a little oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, place them on paper towels and keep them warm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Dice the prosciutto and mozzarella. Oil a baking pan about the length of the pasta noodles. Place a layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan, then a few meatballs, some of the sauce, some of the diced ingredients and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used; then bake the lasagna for 15-20 minutes until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for ten minutes before serving.

carnavale pizza

Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia

Rolled up pizza with sausages and pancetta is a specialty for Carnevale.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/5 cups (500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 10 ounces (250 g) mild Italian sausage
  • 6 ounces (150 g) thinly sliced pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of powdered cinnamon
  • Black pepper 

Directions

Make a mound of the flour on your work surface, form a well in the middle of it, crack the eggs into the well, add a pinch of salt and mix together with your hands; knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, then cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into the skillet, together with the pancetta. Brown the meat for 4-5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Roll the dough out about 1/8 of an inch thick (3 mm). Spread the remaining oil over the dough, then distribute the sausage and pancetta evenly over the dough as well.

Sprinkle the meat with black pepper to taste, dust very lightly with cinnamon and roll the dough up to make a snake.

Coil the snake, pressing gently in the center section of the snake to give the pizza a uniform width, put the snake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until the pizza is evenly browned.

frittelle

Frittelle di Riso

There are many types of Carnival (Mardi Gras) pastries in Italy. Traditional rice fritters, frittelle di riso, are also popular on March 19th, to celebrate San Giuseppe.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup (350 g) rice — not parboiled
  • 1 quart (1 liter) milk
  • The zest of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 jigger of rum or vinsanto
  • 3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (100 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Oil for frying
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Simmer the rice in the milk until it’s quite soft and begins to give off its starch, then stir in the sugar, lemon zest and butter. Let the mixture cool.

Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. Combine the yolks and the rum or wine and stir into the rice mixture, then fold in the egg whites, flour and baking powder.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375° F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop the batter, a teaspoon at a time, into hot oil and fry the frittelle until they are golden brown.

Drain them on absorbent paper and, when they have cooled, dust them with confectioner’s sugar.

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Castagnole

In Umbria these little fried pastries are called castagnole and, in some places, zeppole. In Milan they are tortelli. They are called castagnole because their shape resembles a chestnut. They are best eaten while still warm.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon anise extract
  • 1-1/2 cups cake or italian flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 small eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 pkg yeast (lievito, in Italy)
  • Oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar to dust them

Directions

Mix flour, eggs, sugar, butter (cut into small cubes), vanilla, anise, salt, lemon zest and yeast. Combine the ingredients and transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until

soft and very smooth. Rest the dough for 20 minutes. Then form long and thick noodles of dough an inch thick, rolling the dough with your fingers.

Cut into pieces the size of a chestnut. Roll into balls.

Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep-frying pan and drop about six balls in at a time, frying over low heat and turning them as they brown. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to turn them until they are puffed up, golden and begin to float. Scoop them out and place them on layers of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls and then sift powdered sugar over them.

chiacchiere (1)

Carnival Chiacchiere

Depending on where you are in Italy, you might find these chiacchiere under the name of crostoli (or grostoli), sfrappole, galani, frappe or cenci with different regions substituting the white wine with marsala, acquavite or anisette.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 glass white wine
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • ¼ cup (50 g) powdered sugar

Directions

Place flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Slowly work in the butter and the eggs followed by the white wine. Knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. If it feels too sticky to the touch add a little more flour. Dust a work surface with a little flour. Roll dough out thin and cut it into triangles about 4 inches (10cm) long.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat and when hot, fry the chiacchiere in small batches. When they are golden brown all over, remove them from the oil and drain well on paper towels. Before serving, dredge with powdered sugar.

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Between 1850 and 1870, New Orleans boasted the largest Italian-born population of any city in the United States. Its early Italian immigrants included musicians, business leaders and diplomats. However, by 1910, the city’s French Quarter was a “Little Palermo” with Italian entrepreneurs, laborers and restaurateurs dominating the scene. The majority of Italian immigrants in New Orleans were from Sicily and started to arrive in large numbers in the 1880’s. They arrived in a city where previous Italian immigrants had already established a decent-sized community, dating back to the French era. In fact, the Italian-born Henri de Tonti, as part of a French expedition, explored Louisiana even before New Orleans existed and later became a leader in the fledgling colony. A street named Tonti still exists in the city.

ST. CHARLES STREET IN NEW ORLEANS, 1900

The Sicilian transplants found work on sugar plantations upriver or toiling on New Orleans docks. Macaroni factories popped up around the neighborhood, while Italian vendors sold fruit at the French Market. Eventually, some immigrants were able to open small businesses, such as corner stores or restaurants. Some didn’t stay small, such as Progresso Foods, the soup and condiment giant, which began as a New Orleans import company. Over the decades Italians became integrated into New Orleans culture and society.The city has had two Italian-American mayors, Robert Maestri and Victor Schiro.

Sicilian Vincent Taormina founds an importing business in New Orleans that becomes Progresso, selling bread crumbs and canned soups.

Italians on Decatur Street, 1938 (Russell Lee photo)

Not only had Sicilians established roots in the French Quarter, but those seeking to farm the land moved upriver from the city, to Kenner and Little Farms (now River Ridge). These men were called “truck farmers” because their land was far enough away from the city that they had to haul their crops in by wagon, later by truck. They would sell their produce in the Farmer’s Market, stopping for lunch at one of the groceries along Decatur Street. The grocers would lay out cold antipasti spreads during the day, to sell for lunch. In 1906, Salvatore Lupo opened Central Grocery. Lupo observed that a traditional antipasti spread did not lend itself to America’s rapidly-developing “grab-and-go” culture. He began to combine some of the antipasti items, such as mortadella, cheese, ham and olive salad, on loaves of round Italian bread, creating the now-famous muffuletta sandwich. The truck farmers could pick up a muffuletta and eat their antipasti as a sandwich on the return drive to Kenner. Other groceries and restaurants picked up on the muffuletta, which became a New Orleans institution, second only to the po-boy sandwich.

The tourists waiting patiently for muffulettas in the aisles of the Central Grocery, today, likely have no idea they are surrounded by what was once a standard fixture of many New Orleans neighborhoods: the Italian-owned corner store. These grocery stores once dotted the city’s landscape, built by immigrants who flocked to New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. 

When the brand new French Opera House opened in New Orleans in the 1859, the call went out to Italian musicians. Local business leaders didn’t need to look very far, since the city of New Orleans already had a bustling Italian population. Living and working side-by-side with African-Americans, the Italians shared with them their own distinctive forms of music, which encompassed folk and classical traditions. The sons of these early immigrants, many of whom were hired to play at the French Opera House, would go on to become familiar names with the popularization of jazz.

One such artist was Joe Venuti who introduced the violin into the jazz ensemble and teamed up with his boyhood friend, Eddie Lang (born Salvatore Massaro), for some groundbreaking recordings, which eventually led to their being hired for Bing Crosby’s famous radio show band. Lenny Payton (born Salvatore D’Angelo) arranged many of Duke Ellington’s numbers in the 1940’s. Another Italian American, William Russo, carried on this tradition with his Chicago Jazz Ensemble. Nick LaRocca was an important Italian-American jazz musician at the birth of the genre, while New Orleans-born Louis Prima became a prominent singer and trumpeter during the swing era.

The elegant Hotel Monteleone, first established by a Sicilian shoemaker, is a landmark in the French Quarter and is still run by the Monteleone family generations later. The Hotel Monteleone is one of the last great family owned and operated hotels in New Orleans. Before he became founder of this famous New Orleans hotel, Antonio Monteleone was an industrious businessman who operated a very successful shoe factory in Sicily. Antonio had heard great things about America and the call of adventure motivated him to pack the tools of his trade and head for the “land of opportunity.” Antonio arrived in New Orleans around 1880 and opened a cobbler shop on Royal Street, the busest thoroughfare of commerce and banking at the time. In 1886, Monteleone purchased a small hotel on the corner of Royal and Iberville streets. When the nearby Commercial Hotel became available for purchase, Monteleone took the opportunity to expand. Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge is the only revolving bar in New Orleans. The 25-seat carousel bar turns on 2,000 large steel rollers at a constant rate of one revolution every 15 minutes. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Carousel Bar was also the site of a popular nightclub, the Swan Room, where musicians such as Liberace and Louis Prima performed. The hotel has a long history in the city and, being one of the premier downtown New Orleans hotels, the Hotel Monteleone caters to the world during the famous festival of Mardi Gras.

The Italians began social clubs and benevolent organizations as other ethnic groups in New Orleans did. The oldest group began before the Civil War, but more and more formed with the influx of Sicilian immigrants during the last part of the 19th century. These organizations were often linked to a specific region in Italy to preserve customs among members and helped provide a support network for new arrivals. As the Sicilians established themselves, community’s leaders lobbied Archbishop Perche to provide them with a church larger than the wood-frame structure on Decatur Street and Esplanade Avenue that they were using at the time. In 1873, the Archbishop gave the Sicilians permission to fix up the old Mortuary Chapel. In 1903, Archbishop Chapelle turned the chapel and its parishioners over to the Dominican order, whose priests encouraged and nurtured the Old-World traditions and rituals of the Sicilians. By 1915, however, the popularity of the Storyville red-light district, along with the construction of Terminal Station made the new church less appealing as a focal point for the Italian community. Archbishop Blenk agreed and allowed the Sicilians to take over the an old chapel on Chartres Street, next to the Old Ursuline Convent, and the church was renamed St. Mary’s Italian Church. Even though several other churches in metro New Orleans have strong Italian roots, St. Mary’s on Chartres Street is still the official “home” of Italian Catholics in the city.

St. Joseph’s Altar, from a private residence in suburban New Orleans (courtesy Christopher Scafidi)

St. Joseph’s Altars

Each March 19th local families, descended from Sicilian immigrants, erect elaborate altars laden with bread, cookies and other food in honor of St. Joseph. The story goes that Sicily was ravaged by drought and famine centuries ago. The people prayed to their patron, St. Joseph, for deliverance from these trials. The rains came, the crops grew and the people of Sicily never forgot their promises to honor St. Joseph. Sicilian families would lay out baked goods and other delicacies on a table on March 19. These offerings usually started out small and often grew into multi-family and even parish-wide efforts. Bakeries would donate loaves of bread shaped as crosses and other religious symbols. Grocers would donate other foodstuffs and all would be arranged for display on a beautifully decorated altar. Meat was usually not part of the spread on a St. Joseph’s altar, since it was not permitted on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th falling during the season of Lent).

As the Sicilian influence in New Orleans grew, so did the tradition of the St. Joseph’s Altar. Families would take pride in setting up an altar in the living room or perhaps taking over an entire garage. Parishes and schools now prepare altars and many families contribute either baked items or cash to the cause. The faithful then go around the city, from altar to altar, visiting family and friends. On the way out, folks pick up a “lucky bean,” a fava bean, symbolizing the restoration of the crops in Sicily.  In New Orleans St. Joseph’s Day has also been adopted as one of the few non-Carnival (Mardi Gras) days of celebration for the city.

The Famous Muffuletta Sandwich

The Sicilians brought their culture and cuisine with them, particularly Italian-style tomato sauce. Living on an island meant many Sicilians made their living as fishermen and their diet reflected this. Being close to the sea was one of the reasons so many Sicilians didn’t move further inland when they arrived at the Port of New Orleans. Just as New Orleans absorbed the French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbeans before them, the city absorbed the Italians. New Orleanians took the idea of Italian-style tomato sauce and mixed it with roux, their flour-and-fat base for sauces. Over time, the classic “red sauce” became “red gravy,” called that to distinguish it from the “brown gravy” in gumbo that New Orleanians have made for generations. To make the distinction between traditional cuisine and the modified style of Italians raised in New Orleans, some restaurants and restaurant reviewers began to refer to the modified style as “Creole-Italian” cooking.

The Rise Of Creole-Italian Cooking

Although they were treated to the same prejudices that newcomers usually get, the Sicilians saw their food immediately accepted in America. However, what happened in New Orleans was a little different. The established Creole ingredients and cooking styles began to be adopted by Italian cooks and vice-versa. By the early 1900’s a style of Italian cooking found nowhere else was established in New Orleans. A great example of this change is what happened to the classic Italian recipe for scampi. There were no scampi here, so Italian cooks used the plentiful local Gulf shrimp instead. This dish evolved into a new dish: the spicy, buttery and misnamed “barbecue shrimp”. The dish spread to restaurants and homes and is now one of the most famous New Orleans dishes.

Like the many other earlier influences, Italian cuisine contributed subtle nuances of taste. From the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic and its presence is encountered just barely beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes. Conversely, the Spanish roots of the Creole cuisine had a profound impact on Sicilian-American foods. The most unique feature of the cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as “red gravy” or “tomato gravy.” This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family. Some red gravies are based on a brown roux. Some contain eggplant. Others contain anchovies, whole boiled eggs or meat. Two consistent threads in this red gravy are the addition of sugar and the frying of tomato paste! After the vegetables are sautéed in olive oil, tomato paste is added and, literally, fried before the liquids are added.

New Orleans BBQ Shrimp

The new Creole-Italian tomato sauce was different from the food of Sicily and is marked by smooth, sweet, thick sauce with a bit more red pepper than most. This is most often served over pasta or meat stuffed with bread crumbs – a common Sicilian-inspired dish. Meatballs, anise-flavored Italian sausage and roast beef, simmered in a red sauce called Daube, are all regarded by local Italian families as the best dishes for a big Sunday family dinner.Today, some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants are owned by descendants of Creole-Italians. They serve excitingly different food that started out many years ago as robust Sicilian fare but, through years of Creole influence, now enjoy a piquant flavor – due largely to the Spanish love of ground chilies.

New Orleans Creole Italian Red Gravy

Here is one of many ways to make this sauce.

Makes about 3-1/2 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 cups finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon. dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 (29 oz) cans tomato puree
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes, or until the onions are translucent but not browned.

Add the garlic, dried basil and the three peppers and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the onions. Cook the tomato paste with the onions until the color deepens slightly to a red mahogany color. Add the bay leaves and all other ingredients. 

Bring to a simmer; reduce heat if necessary to maintain a very low simmer and cook for about one hour, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

New Orleans Italian Shrimp over Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 24 Jumbo Louisiana shrimp
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons blackening seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons lemon pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3-4 lemons, juiced

Tomatoes

Or you can use my oven fried green tomato recipe from the post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/02/04/mardi-gras-time/

  • 6 sliced green tomatoes
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • Oil for frying

Shrimp preparation:

Saute garlic in olive oil. Add shrimp, green onions and rosemary. When shrimp begin to turn pink, add white wine and the rest of seasonings, Worcestershire, butter and  lemon. Let simmer until sauce comes together and shrimp are cooked.

Tomato preparation:

Combine milk with beaten eggs. Dredge sliced tomatoes in flour, then egg wash, then press firmly into bread crumbs, fry until golden brown.

Place tomatoes on a serving plate. Spoon shrimp over top of tomatoes.

 

Creole Daube

Daube a wonderful example of how French and Italian cooking merged in this food mecca, be it in restaurants or at home. For daube, also called beef daube and Italian daube, the marriage of French and Italian begins with the French style of braising beef with red wine, vegetables and herbs. And this is where the Italian forces come in with their red gravy ( known everywhere else as spaghetti sauce) with or without a roux base. Some recipes call for cooking the daube in wine and stock and preparing the red gravy separately. However, in today’s rushed lifestyle, most cooks  prefer to put it all together in one big pot. Various cuts of beef suit daube, including the rump, round, shoulder or chuck. Instead of larding, a stuffing of garlic provides flavor. Old Creole recipes used lard for the braising, too, but olive oil substitutes as a healthy and tasty alternative. Don’t be put off by the long slow-cooking process. The dish can simmer on the stove with little attention while you catch up on rest and relaxation. I am sure this recipe can also be adapted for the slow cooker.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 3-pound rump roast
  • 5 cloves garlic, 2 slivered and 3 minced
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Creole seasoning, store-bought (without salt) or homemade, recipe below
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 14-ounce can beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne to taste
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

With a sharp, small knife cut slits in the roast about 2 inches apart and stuff with slivers of garlic. Rub roast generously with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Heat oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven and brown roast well on all sides over medium-high heat. When browned, take roast out of pot and set aside.

In the same oil, saute onion, bell pepper and celery over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add minced garlic and cook for 5 more minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add tomato sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes. Add wine, beef broth, Italian seasoning, cayenne, salt if needed and sugar. Stir well.

Return roast to pot, fat side up, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 4 hours or until roast is very tender. Stir well every hour and turn roast over halfway through cooking. Sprinkle with parsley and serve over cooked pasta. 

Creole Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 5 tablespoons sweet paprika

Combine in food processor and pulse until well-blended.

Italian Chicken with New Orleans Spaghetti Bordelaise

Serves: 6 

Ingredients

  • 12 chicken thighs
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • 4 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3 lemons, quartered
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Spaghetti Bordelaise, recipe follows

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and lightly coat with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Crush half of the garlic cloves with the back of a heavy knife. Leave the remaining cloves whole.

Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, over 2 burners on medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on both sides. Add the crushed garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, stirring well to evenly distribute.

Cover the pan tightly and roast for 1 hour. Uncover and roast until the chicken is brown and tender and the garlic is caramelized, about 30 minutes, basting occasionally.

Remove from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a platter and sprinkle with the parsley. Spoon the pan juices over the chicken or serve on the side.

Spaghetti Bordelaise

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, in a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and green onions and cook, stirring, until fragrant and starting to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the butter and parsley and cook for 2 minutes.

Return the drained spaghetti to the pot. Add the sauce and toss well to coat. Place in a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

 

New Orleans Apple Fritters

Fritters or Fratelle (Italian for fritters) are deep-fried batters containing sweet (fruit & nuts) or savory (cheese, fish, vegetables) fillings.They are served throughout Italy during Carnival time. This recipe is another example of the merging of cuisines in New Orleans. The French-Creole colonists who came to inhabit the city in its earliest days originally introduced beignets to New Orleans. They are made from square-cut pieces of yeast dough without holes, fried and then covered with mounds of powdered sugar. The Italian version adds fruit.

Makes 20 fritters

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups 1/4-inch-diced, peeled, chopped Fuji or Gala apples
  • 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:

Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and saute, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until apples are lightly coated with syrup. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolks and apple cider. Stir in the cooled apple mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and 1 tablespoon sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour and add apple mixture. Gradually incorporate flour into wet ingredients, mixing gently with a whisk until uniform. Set batter aside for 20 minutes.

Fit a hand mixer with the whisk attachments and beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold whites into batter until completely blended.

In a medium bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar with remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Add enough oil to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or a deep cast iron skillet to come 4 inches up the sides of pan. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F. When the oil is hot, carefully add 2-tablespoon scoops of batter, working in batches and being careful not to overcrowd pan. Maintain oil’s heat between 300 and 350 degrees by adjusting burner as necessary.

Fry fritters 4 to 5 minutes until golden and cooked through, turning them as needed for even color. Remove fritters with a slotted spoon or strainer, drain briefly, then toss them in cinnamon sugar. Transfer fritters to a serving platter. Repeat with remaining batter. Right before serving, roll fritters a final time in cinnamon sugar.

The author writes,”A Girl From the Hill: My Mother’s Journey from Italian Girl to American Woman is a collection of essays reflecting my mother’s experiences growing up in Providence, Rhode Island during the early 20th Century. This book depicts many aspects of my mother’s life growing up with Italian parents in Providence, Rhode Island during the Great Depression. It also speaks to all mothers and daughters about the bonds that tie us forever, even when we are apart. What I discovered is that I am more like my mother than I ever imagined.”


Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”.  The name comes from the ancient custom of parading a fat ox through Paris on this day.  The ox was to remind the people that they were not allowed to eat meat during Lent. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras moves.  It can be anywhere between February 3rd. and March 9th.  The date depends on when Easter falls. Traditionally, it is the last day for Catholics to indulge—and often overindulge—before Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting that come with Lent. 

Mardi Gras began long before Europeans set foot in the New World. In mid February the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, a circus like festival not entirely unlike the Mardi Gras we are familiar with today. When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church leaders decided it was better to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. Carnival became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.

Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer, Iberville. Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, where it was a major holiday. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3, 1699, Iberville set up a camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France, so in honor of this important day, Iberville named the site, Point du Mardi Gras.

During the late 1700’s, pre-Lenten masked balls and festivals were common in New Orleans, while it was under French rule. However, when New Orleans came under Spanish rule, the custom was banned. In 1803 New Orleans came under the U.S. flag. The prohibition against masked festivals continued until 1823, when the Creole populace convinced the governor to permit masked balls. In 1827 street masking was again legalized. During the early 1800’s public celebrations of Mardi Gras centered around maskers on foot, in carriages and on horseback. The first documented parade occurred in 1837. Unfortunately, Mardi Gras gained a negative reputation because of violent behavior attributed to maskers during the 1840’s and 1850’s. The situation became so bad that the press began calling for an end to the celebration.

In 1857 six New Orleanians saved Mardi Gras by forming the Comus organization. These six men were former members of an organization which had put on New Year’s Eve parades in Mobile, Alabama since 1831. The Comus organization added beauty to Mardi Gras and demonstrated that it could be a safe and festive event. Comus was the first organization to use the term krewe to describe itself. Comus also started the customs of having a secret Carnival society, having a parade with a unifying theme, floats and of having a ball after the parade. Comus was also the first organization to name itself after a mythological character. The celebration of Mardi Gras was interrupted by the Civil War, but in 1866 Comus returned. In 1870 the Twelfth Night Revelers made their appearance. In 1871 they began the custom of presenting a young woman with a golden bean hidden in a cake. This young woman was the first queen of Mardi Gras. This was also the origin of the King Cake tradition.

In 1872 the krewe of Rex made their debut and began the tradition of the “King of Carnival.” Rex also introduced purple, gold and green as the official colors of Mardi Gras. Rex was the first krewe to hold an organized daytime parade and introduced “If Ever I Cease To Love” as the Mardi Gras anthem. One of the high points of Rex is the arrival of the Rex King on a riverboat.

Ten years later in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus made its debut with a parade themed after Egyptian mythology. In 1890 the first marching club, The Jefferson City Buzzards, was organized. In 1894, the Original Illinois Club was formed as the first black Mardi Gras organization. In 1896 Les Mysterieuses appeared as the first female organization.

With the rise of mass produced automobiles, truck riders became part of the Mardi Gras scene. In 1835 they organized themselves into the Elkes Krewe. The Krewe of Hermes appeared in 1937 and the Knights of Babylon in 1939. Mardi Gras prospered during the 1940’s, although it was canceled during the war years. In 1949 Louis Armstrong was King of the Zulu parade and was pictured on the cover of Time Magazine. 

In 1950 the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras. They honored the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition by bowing to the kings of Rex and Comus at the Comus ball. The Korean War put a damper on festivities in 1951, but several krewes joined forces to parade as the Krewe of Patria on Mardi Gras day. The Fifties also saw the replacement of mule drawn floats with ones drawn by tractors and the formation of several new krewes including Zeus.

In the 1960’s Zulu came under pressure from portions of the black community, who thought the krewe presented an undignified image. The king resigned and the parade was almost cancelled but Zulu survived and was a main attraction by 1969. The Sixties ended with the debut of Bacchus. Bacchus aimed to bring national attention to Mardi Gras with gigantic floats and a Hollywood celebrity (Danny Kaye) riding as its king. Bacchus replaced the traditional ball with a supper to which tickets could be purchased by visitors and locals. The 1970’s saw the debut of 18 new krewes and the demise of 18 others. More than a dozen krewes followed the lead of Bacchus by placing celebrities in their parades. In the 1980’s Mardi Gras gained 27 new parades. It is now to the point where a parade or two takes place everyday from the start of Mardi Gras until “Fat Tuesday”. This year, 2013, Mardi Gras and Superbowl Sunday are taking place simultaneously in New Orleans.  One big party!

Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. Each region has its own events and traditions, but in each region, schools are closed and parades and balls are held as a way of celebrating this occasion.

Across the globe, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Brazil’s week long Carnival festivities feature a vibrant mixture of European, African and native traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the Quebec Winter Carnival. In Italy, tourists flock to Venice’s Carnevale, which dates back to the 13th. century and is famous for its masquerade balls. Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that empowers women to cut off men’s ties. For Denmark’s Fastevlan, children dress up and gather candy in a similar manner to Halloween–although the parallel ends when they ritually flog their parents on Easter Sunday morning.

The Food Of Mardi Gras

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Since it’s Mardi Gras time in New Orleans and the rest of the northern Gulf Coast, that means an excuse to down as many muffulettas, oysters, bowls of etouffee and gumbo and glasses of brandy milk punch as we can eat or drink. It’s also a time for New Orleans’ residents (and many fans) to celebrate the resilient spirit of a city that refused to give up, despite a series of tragedies that threatened to destroy their way of life forever. New Orleanians love to talk…and argue…and educate…and opine about food. It’s who they are, and what has kept them going.

In this famed good-time city, food is king during Mardi Gras. King cake, a ring-shaped pastry glazed with purple, gold, and green icing with a tiny plastic baby representing the infant Jesus nestled inside, is the most iconic Mardi Gras delicacy, but Cajun and Creole flavors rule. Red beans and rice, fried chicken and jambalaya also top the list of popular foods.

Gumbo is the most common food associated with the region. It is a thick soup with meat, seafood, vegetables and a heavy dose of spices, typically served over rice. It comes in two varieties, seafood (which is crawfish and shrimp) and chicken/sausage.

Étouffée is a seafood (usually crawfish) stew that is also served over rice. Though it has a great deal in common with gumbo, it is much thicker usually and generally more precise in standards. Where gumbo is like a soup, Étouffée is usually more like a topping for the rice with sauce.

Po-Boy sandwiches are served on french bread and typically feature fried seafood items such a shrimp, catfish, etc. However, there are turkey and ham Po-Boys.

Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole.The word beignet (pronounced bey-YAY) comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning “to raise.” It is also French for “fritter.” Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings.

Beignets

Recipes For Mardi Gras

I am including recipes in this post for many of the favorite New Orleans dishes that you will find on the table for Mardi Gras celebrations.  However, if you are a follower of this blog, you will know that I have lightened these often fattening recipes, without sacrificing flavor or traditional tastes.

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes With Lightened Remoulade

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 large green tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups Japanese breadcrumbs (panko) mixed 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Remoulade, recipe below

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle both sides of tomatoes evenly with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

2. Place a wire rack coated with vegetable cooking spray in a parchment paper-lined 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan.

3. Pour buttermilk into a shallow dish or pie plate. Stir together panko, Creole seasoning, and paprika in another shallow dish or pie plate.

4. Dredge tomatoes in flour. Dip tomatoes in buttermilk, and dredge in panko-cornmeal mixture. Lightly coat tomatoes on each side with cooking spray; arrange on wire rack.

5. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, turning once after 10 minutes. Serve with Lightened Remoulade.

Lightened Remoulade

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Creole mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles 
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon creole seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Stir together all ingredients. Chill

Southern Seafood Gumbo                                          

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bottle (46 ounces) spicy, low sodium V8 juice or tomato juice
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen okra
  • 1 pound catfish fillets or redfish, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3/4 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 lb. fresh or pasteurized lump crabmeat (about 1-1/2 cups), picked over for shells, or frozen and thawed
  • 3 cups cooked long grain rice
  • Louisiana-style hot sauce, to taste

Directions:

In a Dutch oven, saute the onion, celery and green pepper in oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the V8 juice, tomatoes and cayenne; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in okra and catfish; cook 8 minutes longer. Add the shrimp and crab; cook 7 minutes longer or until shrimp turn pink. Add hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Pass additional hot sauce at the table. Place rice in individual serving bowls; top with gumbo. Yield: 12 servings.

Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                               

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 3 cans (16 ounces each) red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups hot cooked rice

Directions

In a large nonstick skillet, saute the onion, green pepper and garlic in oil until tender. Add cilantro; cook and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the beans, salt, cumin and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve over rice. Yield: 6 servings.

Creole Chicken

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes, cut up
  • 1/3 cup julienned green pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup sliced onion
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup hot cooked rice

Directions:

In a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook chicken in oil over medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side or a meat thermometer reads 165° Remove and keep warm.

In the same skillet, combine the tomatoes, green pepper, celery, onion, chili powder, thyme and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Return chicken to pan; heat through. Serve with rice. Yield: 2 servings.

Country Corn Bread

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                    

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) reduced-fat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk together the egg, yogurt and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until combined.

Transfer to an 8-in. square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm. Yield: 9 servings.

King Cake

One of the most popular foods during Mardi Gras is the king cake, consumed by the carload and traditionally sold in bakeries, grocery stores and delis from January 6 to Ash Wednesday. Locals and visitors alike eat king cake for breakfast, coffee break and dessert. The tradition of king cake dates back to the Middle Ages when a popular devotion during Christmas centered on the Three Wise Men (or Kings) who followed the North Star to find Christ. The twelfth night after the birth of Christ marks the end of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany. Thus, Twelfth Night in some cultures became a time for pageants and giving special presents to children. Along with gifts came the celebratory cake, or king cake. Today’s king cake is a confection made of braided sweet yeast dough, laced with cinnamon. It is always iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). Hidden in each king cake is a tiny plastic baby. The person who finds the baby must buy the next king cake or host the next party. Contemporary king cakes are often filled with cream cheese or fruit fillings, such as apple and strawberry. However, my recipe included here is the traditional one.
 

Traditional King Cake

Yield: Makes 2 cakes (about 18 servings each)

  • 1 (16-ounce) container light sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar or equivalent sugar alternative, such as Truvia for Baking
  • 1/4 cup butter or Smart Balance Butter Blend
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened or Smart Balance Butter Blend
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Creamy Glaze, recipe below
  • Purple, green and gold-tinted sparkling sugar sprinkles

Directions:

Cook first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100° to 110°.

Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.

Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface or use the mixer’s dough hook; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease the top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Divide softened butter and spread evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.

Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 375° F for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle Creamy Glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors and forming bands (see photo). Let cool completely.

Cream Cheese-Filled King Cake: Prepare each 22- x 12-inch dough rectangle as directed. Omit 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Increase 1/2 cup sugar to 3/4 cup sugar. Beat 3/4 cup sugar; 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened; 1 large egg; and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Divide in half. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving 1-inch borders. Proceed with recipe as directed above.

Creamy Glaze

Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Stir together the powdered sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until a thick spreading frosting is formed.

  

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Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches

Created on the South Side of Chicago in the Italian neighborhoods around the now defunct Stockyards, the classic Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich is a unique, drippy, messy variation on the French Dip Sandwich. It is available in hundreds of places around the city but rarely found outside of Chicago. The exact origin is unknown, but the sandwich was probably created by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s as they rose from poverty and were able to afford beef for roasting.

No one knows for sure who invented the sandwich, but the recipe was popularized by Pasquale Scala, a South Side butcher and sausage maker. During the Depression food was scarce and Scala’s thinly sliced roast beef on a bun with gravy and fried peppers took off. Today, beef sandwiches are a staple at Italian weddings, funerals, parties, political fundraisers and luncheons and Scala’s Original still supplies hundreds of restaurants and Italian Beef Stands with the raw ingredients.

Italian Beef is made by slowly roasting lean beef in a pan filled with seasoned beef-based stock. Some folks call it gravy, but in most Chicago Italian households gravy is a term reserved for tomato sauces. Others call it au jus or “juice” for short. Then it is sliced paper-thin, soaked in the juice for a few minutes and layered generously, dripping wet, onto sections of Italian bread loaves, sliced lengthwise. According to Allen Kelson, former restaurant critic for Chicago Magazine and now a restaurant consultant, it is important that the bread has “wet strength”. The meat is topped with sautéed green bell pepper slices, Pepperoncini and Giardiniera, which is usually a spicy hot blend of chopped Serrano peppers, carrots, cauliflower florets, celery, olives, herbs, salt & pepper, packed in oil and vinegar. Finally juice is spooned over the toppings, making the bread wet and chewy.

12 servings

Ingredients:

Pot Roast:

  • 1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 1/2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • Sprigs fresh thyme

Pepper Topping:

  • 1  medium sweet red pepper, julienned
  • 1  medium green pepper, julienned
  • 1  clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 16  ounces sliced or whole pepperoncinis                                                                                                                                                                                          
  • 2  (1-pound) loaves hearty Italian bread, cut into halves lengthwise

Directions:

For the Pot Roast:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and position a rack in the middle position of the oven. Liberally sprinkle the entire roast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides until golden and caramelized; reduce the heat if the fat begins to smoke.

Transfer the roast to a plate and reduce the heat to medium. Add in onions and saute, stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper and saute until fragrant. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Deglaze with the red wine and cook until the alcohol smell is diminished. Add in the stock and thyme and bring to a simmer. Place the roast back into the pot with any accumulated juices, cover and place in the oven.

Cook the roast, turning every 30 minutes, until very tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil. Strain the juices in the pan through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Once cooled a bit, pull the meat into smaller chunks, add to bowl with pan juices and reserve for the sandwiches.

For the Peppers:
Increase the oven heat to 350 degrees F. Toss the pepper strips with the oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring halfway through, until lighter in color and soft, about 20 minutes.

To assemble the sandwich:  Spoon some juice directly onto the bread. Get it very wet. Then layer the beef generously and spoon on more juice. Top it with bell pepper,  Giardiniera and Pepperoncini.

Italian Subs – New York Restaurant Style

“This is a classic Italian sub sandwich with three kinds of meat and provolone cheese. The kind you get in a mom and pop pizza restaurant.

8 Servings

Ingredients:

1 head leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn
2 medium fresh tomatoes, sliced very thin
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pinch dried oregano
1/2 pound sliced hot Capacola
1/2 pound thinly sliced Genoa Salami
1/4 pound thinly sliced Prosciutto
1/2 pound sliced Provolone Cheese
4 submarine rolls, split
1 cup Pepperoncini, sliced to fit sandwich


Directions:

1. In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes and onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, wine vinegar, parsley, garlic, basil, red pepper flakes and oregano. Pour over the salad, and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
2. Spread the submarine rolls open, and layer the Capacola, Salami, Prosciutto, and Provolone Cheese evenly on each roll. Top with some of the salad, and as many Pepperoncini pepper slices as desired. Close the rolls and serve.

Pepper and Egg Sandwich

Since the 1950′s, and possibly earlier, the “pepper ‘n egg” sandwich has been a popular lunch for Italian American families. When I was a child, my mother would pack a pepper and egg sandwich for my school lunch box. I can remember some of my school mates, saying, “EWW – what is that….” I just shrugged because it tasted yummy. As an adult, I make pepper and egg sandwiches regularly. I introduced them to my Irish husband long ago and it is still one of his favorite sandwiches.

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf Italian bread or rolls

Directions:

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat then add olive oil. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for a minute or two. Add the onion and peppers, regulating the heat so the onions don’t burn. Sauté until the peppers have softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the beaten eggs. Stir to combine with the onions and peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are set.
Slice the bread lengthwise without cutting all the way through. When the eggs are done, gently slide them onto the bread to make a sandwich and cut the loaf into four portions.

Open-Face Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • Four large 1/2-inch-thick slices of Italian peasant bread
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • One 1 1/4-pound eggplant, sliced crosswise into 8 slices 1 inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 large basil leaves, torn
  • Coarse sea salt

Directions:

  1. Light a grill. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and grill over high heat until crisp on the outside but still soft inside, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a platter.
  2. Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn and grill until tender, about 3 minutes longer.
  3. Top the eggplant with the tomato, mozzarella and basil. Cover the grill and cook until the cheese just begins to melt, 1-2 minutes. Transfer 2 eggplant slices onto each slice of bread, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

New Orleans Muffuletta Sandwich

The muffufletta sandwich’s nickname is simply “muff.” These sandwiches can be found all over New Orleans from delis to pool halls and the corner grocery stores. It is considered as much a signature sandwich of New Orleans as the Po’ Boy Sandwich. It is an Italian sandwich that consists of a round loaf of bread (about 10 inches across) filled with Italian salami, olive salad, cheese and Italian ham. They key ingredient is the olive salad which gives the sandwich its special flavor and makes it appealing to the eye. A true Muffuletta Sandwich must always be served at room temperature. Imagine a sandwich that is almost as round as a Frisbee and so wide that it is hard to bite into.
Ingredients:
  • 1 round loaf Italian bread, 10-inches in diameter
  • Olive Salad (see recipe below)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces salami, thinly sliced 
  • 2 ounces Italian ham (Proscuitto), thinly sliced 
  • 2 ounces Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
Directions:
Make Olive Salad.
Cut bread in half crosswise and scoop out about half of the soft dough from top and bottom pieces (this is to provide more room for the sandwich ingredients). Brush the inside bottom of loaf with olive oil or juice from the Olive Salad marinade.
Layer salami, Italian ham and Provolone cheese on the bottom piece.
Top with as much Olive Salad as will fit without spilling out. Add top of loaf and press down slightly. Slice in quarters or sixths and serve at room temperature.
Makes 4-6 servings, depending on the appetite.

Olive Salad

Ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped green olives 
  • 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Kalamata olives 
  • 1/2 cup chopped pimiento 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 anchovy fillet, mashed 
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed 
  • 1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves 
  • 1 teaspoon finely-chopped fresh oregano leaves 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper 
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and then allow the flavors to mingle for at least 1 hour prior to serving.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Italian Meatball Sub

Dominic Conti (1874-1954) claims he was the first to use the name, submarine sandwich. Angela Zuccaro, granddaughter of Dominic, related the following information:
“My grandfather came to this country in 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crusty roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a  layer of cheese and ended with a layer was cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy).”
Angela continued,”My mother often told me about how my grandfather came to name his sandwich the Submarine.” She remembered the incident very well, as she was 16 years old at the time. She related that “when grandfather went to see the Holland I in 1927, the raised submarine hull that was put on display in Westside Park, he said, ‘It looks like the sandwich I sell at my store.’ From that day on, he called his sandwich the ‘submarine.’ People came from miles around to buy one of my Grandfather’s subs.”

Ooey-Gooey Meatball Submarine Sandwich. Photo by Sarah_Jayne

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly toast rolls.
  2. Sprinkle both cheeses in the bottom of the rolls, holding back about 2 tablespoons for the top of the rolls.
  3. Place the meatballs down the centre of the roll and ladle hot Marinara sauce on top.
  4. Sprinkle a tablespoonful of reserved shredded cheese and the Parmesan cheese over top. Sprinkle some dried oregano and basil the over top.
  5. Put meatball sub in an oven-safe dish and return to oven for a couple of minutes to heat through and melt the cheeses. Cool for a minute before digging in and you may need a large napkin. 

If you would like a healthier alternative for Italian Cold Cuts, then you may want to check out Applegate Farm products.
According to Applegate Farm’s policies:

When you pick up an Applegate Farms product, you can be assured that…

  • Our animals are never given antibiotics. Healthy animals don’t need medicine. Instead, we give them space, fresh air, and a healthy diet, which we’re certain beats the alternative.
  • Our livestock eat a completely vegetarian diet with no animal by-products. Cattle in our organic program are grass-fed. Hogs and poultry in our organic program are fed a grain diet that includes corn, soy, barley, and flax that are free from GMOs.
  • Our animals are never given hormones or artificial growth promotants. They grow at their natural rate.
  • All of our products are made with natural and organic ingredients. If you aren’t familiar with a particular ingredient, email us and we’ll tell you what it is.
  • Our products are all minimally processed, allowing for a wholesome texture and taste.
  • Our products never contain artificial nitrates or nitrites. Instead, we use celery juice and sea salt to preserve our products the natural and old fashioned way.
  • Our deli meat, hot dogs, burgers, and bacon are gluten and casein free.
  • Our products are made from natural and organic whole muscle meat. Yes, even our hot dogs! No mystery here.

Genoa Salami

Soppressata

Capacola

Pancetta

Proscuitto

Pepperoni



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