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Monthly Archives: October 2018

Focusing on Tomato Sauce

In the late 1800’s, large number of immigrants from Sicily began to settle in south Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, a new dimension was added to Creole food. From the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. It’s sensuous, sultry presence is encountered just beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes.

The most unique feature of Creole-Italian 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. One consistent thread in red gravy is the addition of sugar to sweeten the sauce. Creole-Italian cooking also incorporate local fish and shellfish in their cooking with delicious results in dishes such as Crabmeat au Gratin, Shrimp Pasta and many more.

I have Italian blood from both sides of my family. My father was from Boston and my mother, New Orleans. I have the best of both Italian worlds. When my mother made Red Beans, she would have to cook Italian Sausage for my father. Her tomato sauce was often served with meatballs.

The following recipe is the basis for most Creole Italian cooking. Most Italian restaurants are judged by their red sauce. Many people cook their sauce for hours. I created this recipe for when I want a sauce that is much better than opening a jar. The addition of the sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes.

Italian Red Sauce or Gravy

1 tablespoon Butter
1 tablespoon Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Onions, minced
1 can (29 ounces) Tomato Sauce
1 can (6 ounces) Tomato Paste
1 tablespoon Italian Seasonings
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh Basil, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh Parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons Sugar

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sauté onions and garlic in butter until the onions are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and paste; mixing well, making sure the paste does not remain in lumps. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat.

Chicken Parmigiana is more often referred to as Chicken Parmesan. While there is Parmesan cheese in the dish, the melted cheese aspect that most people associate with Chicken parmesan is from Mozzarella cheese. This cliché Italian dish is easy to make and taste delicious.

Chicken Parmigiana

4 4-ounce Chicken Breast, pounded thin
3 Eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Seasoned Breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 stick Butter, melted
Italian Red Sauce
4 sliced Mozzarella Cheese
Cooked Pasta

Preheat oven to 400℉. Put the melted butter in a 13×9-inch baking dish. In a shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and mix well. Dip chicken in egg then coat with breadcrumb mixture. Repeat the last step double breading the chicken. Put in baking dish and cook 5-6 minutes on each side. Pour Italian Red Sauce around chicken and cook for 5 minutes more. Cover each piece of chicken with a slice of Mozzarella cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Serve with pasta topped with Italian Red Sauce from the pan.

It you were to translate the dish Shrimp Scampi to English from Italian, you would get Shrimp Shrimp. This dish does not use a red sauce. It is made with butter and garlic and is best served over pasta. Make sure you have bread nearby. You will want to eat every drop of the sauce.

Shrimp Scampi

1 1/2 pounds medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
Creole Seasoning
1/3 cup Butter
4 tablespoons Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Green Onions, sliced
1/4 cup Seafood Stock
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 tablespoons fresh Parsley, chopped
Cooked Pasta

Coat shrimp with Creole Seasoning. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter. cook garlic in butter for 1 to 2 minutes or until softened but not browned. Add shrimp, green onions, stock and lemon juice; cook until shrimp are pink and firm, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Do not overcook. Add parsley and serve over pasta.

I have eaten so many Creole Italian dishes that I almost bleed Red Sauce when I cut myself. Or maybe, it just seems that way. That’s a good thing.

New Orleans is melting pot of culture

I grew up on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. There are many great restaurants that non locals don’t know about located there. My favorite restaurant on my side of the river is Mosca’s.

Mosca’s is located in the small town of Westwego, located 20 minutes from the French Quarter. You want to use a GPS to find this gem. It is housed in a white shack that many people pass by the first time they try to find it. Once inside, you will find the best Creole Italian food in the city.

All of the dishes are served family style, in large platters. Plates are placed on the table so you can taste each dish. Unless you are hungry, do not order one dish per person. The entrees are large enough to share. For a table of four, I would recommend the following three dishes, Shrimp Mosca, Chicken a la Grande and Oysters Mosca, with a side of Spaghetti Bordelaise ( Olive Oil, Butter and Garlic). This will fill up even the hungriest teenagers.

These recipes are made with wine. You can find cooking wine at your local grocery stores. When using a cooking wine, reduce the salt in the dish. The cooking wine contains a good amount of sodium. You may also substitute Chicken or Seafood stock for the wine in these dishes.

Most people think that Shrimp Mosca and BBQ shrimp are the same dish. They are two very different flavors. While they both use large shell-on shrimp, the seasonings are quite different. Just make sure that you have enough bread to sop up the sauce in the dish. Some people think that the bread dipped in the sauce is the best part of the dish.

Shrimp Mosca

2 pounds large, headless Shrimp
3/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Dries Rosemary
3 Dried Bay Leaves
6-10 cloves Garlic, pounded
1/2 cup Dry White Wine

Place all ingredients except wine into a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat for fifteen to twenty minutes or until the shrimp are pink and the liquid produced by the shrimp has almost completely disappeared, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat, remove from stove, and add the wine. Return to stove and cook at a low simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about five to seven minutes.

The next dish is Chicken a la Grande. This is a great way to cook chicken without having to turn on the oven. Prepared entirely on the stove, your kitchen will stay cool. It is also a light dish, making it a great summertime dinner.

Chicken a la Grande

3 pound Whole Chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
6-10 cloves Garlic, pounded
1 tablespoon Dried Rosemary
1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
1/2 cup Dry White Wine

Place chicken pieces in a large skillet pan. Pour the olive oil all over the chicken, making certain the pieces are well coated. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, making sure the seasonings are evenly spread. Turn the burner on medium-high. Brown chicken on all sides, turning as needed. This should take about 25 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary and oregano, making certain to distribute them evenly on the chicken. Remove the skillet from the stove. Pour the white wine over the chicken. Reduce heat medium-low. Simmer uncovered until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes.

My favorite dish at Mosca’s is the Oysters Mosca. There are many variations of this dish around New Orleans. In fact, I have my own twist on it. To me, this is the best way to eat a cooked oyster. It is a perfect as an appetizer or an entrée. It is also a dish that can be assembled ahead of time and cooked before being served.

Oysters Mosca

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) Butter
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2/3 cup Italian Bread Crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 teaspoon Dried Oregano
2 tablespoons Parsley, minced
2 teaspoons Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Green Onions, finely chopped
2 – 2/12 Dozen Oysters

Preheat oven to 450℉.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add olive oil and heat slightly. Remove pan from heat and add all remaining ingredients except oysters. Mix well.

Place well drained oysters in au gratin dishes. Spoon equal portions of sauce over each. Bake for about 15 minutes or until browned. Serve immediately.

You can place all oysters and sauce in one dish to cook if preferred.

As you can see, not all of New Orleans food is Cajun. It is a melting pot of Creole, Cajun, Italian, Vietnamese, and many other cultures.