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.