Layered Vegetable Baked Pasta (gluten-free Vegetarian Lasagna)

Now that it's officially winter I'm thinking more and more about baked and roasted dishes. And one of my all-time favorite baked dishes is lasagna. I could eat lasagna three times a day and not get tired of it, (and have!). The only trouble is getting a hold of gluten-free lasagna noodles. I've seen and used them before, but most stores only carry gluten-free- penne, spaghetti, and sometimes rotini. Not a big deal, I simply substitute a layer of penne pasta for the lasagna noodles. It still tastes great, the only downside it that you can't officially call it lasagna.

Last night I got home from visiting the in-laws for Christmas. I was tired and was planning to heat up some left overs, but while taking inventory of my fridge I found an eggplant that would soon be on it's way out if I didn't use it soon. That got me thinking. Next I found some ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and that was all the inspiration I needed to cook up a tray of baked goodness!

First I made a simple tomato sauce, here is a link to my recipe. link to my recipe. If you don't have time you can used a good jar of sauce. I recently used Classico sweet basil sauce and it wasn't too bad. I made this dish with eggplant, green peppers and spinach, but you could also use zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, or just about any other vegetable that strikes your fancy. Or you can substitute 1 lb. of ground beef seasoned with garlic and onions for the vegetables to make it a meat lasagna.

Layered Vegetable Baked Pasta (Gluten-Free Vegetarian Lasagna)
Serves 3-4

8 oz GF Penne pasta
2 cups tomato sauce
olive oil
12 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 small eggplant (or 1/2 large eggplant)
1/2 large green pepper, cut into bite sized strips
1 cup frozen spinach OR 3 cups fresh spinach
1 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp fennel seed
Salt and pepper

5" x 9" x 2.75"(deep) baking pan


• Wash the eggplant and cut it into @ 1/4 inch round slices. Salt each side of the eggplant and lean each piece against the side of a colander to drain for 40 minutes.
• Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the GF pasta until not quite done, strain and set aside.
• Using paper towels wipe away the moisture and salt from each side of the eggplant, sprinkle the eggplant with pepper, dried basil, and oregano. (about 1 Tsp of each)
• Heat a frying pan with @ 2 Tbsp olive oil to medium, saute the eggplant, cooking for about 5 minutes on each side add more olive oil of the pan gets too dry.
Put the cooked eggplant aside, in the same hot pan heat another Tbsp of olive oil. Add the green pepper strips, and sprinkle with the remaining, dried basil, oregano, parsley and fennel seed as well as salt and pepper to taste. cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
• Stir the frozen spinach in with the pepper and spices, mix all together and cook until the spinach is fully thawed (if using fresh spinach cook until all is wilted). set aside.
• Mix the egg in a bowl, add the ricotta cheese and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, mix all together well.

Preheat oven to 350º
Using a 5" x 9" x 2.75"baking pan assemble the layers in the following order.
1/3 of the tomato sauce
1/2 of the pasta
1/2 of the spinach/pepper mixture
1/ 2 of the cheese mixture
1/2 of the eggplant laid flat
1/3 of the tomato sauce
Remainder of the pasta
Remainder of the spinach/pepper mixture
Remainder of the cheese mixture
Remainder of the eggplant laid flat
Remainder of the Sauce
top with 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• Cook covered at 350º for 30 minutes covered, cook an additional 15 minutes uncovered.
• Let it cool about ten minutes before serving. Mangia!


Merry Christmas!

Christmas picture of our girls! My talented wife, Lynley came up with this concept and took the pictures and I did the photoshop work. It took four separate photos to make this picture work.


Almond-Apricot Stuffing

The holidays are a difficult time to be Gluten-free! Everywhere I go there seems to be piles of cookies, cakes, pies, candy, and more cookies. A few years ago I would have simply had two or three of everything! Now I glance over to see what I'm missing and see if, by chance someone has left some fruit out! Sounds really lame, I know. The one consolation is that I now weigh 30 lb. less than what I did before I went on the gluten-free diet. 30 lb. of weight that I didn't need, all from to cookies, cakes, pizza and beer!

As someone with is greatly restricted as to what I can put in my mouth during the holidays it is a consolation that there are some things that I can eat and will taste just as they should, thankfully stuffing is one of those things. I made this recipe for thanksgiving this year and no one suspected it was gluten-free. I've always liked fruit in stuffing, in the past I've used apples, pears, or dried cranberries, but there is something special about dried apricots, they are intensely sweet and bursting with flavor. These days we are told not to stuff our turkeys because of the risk of bacteria, but there's nothing like stuffing cooked right in the bird. If you choose to stuff the turkey just make sure to use a thermometer to insure that the temperature in the center of the bird is at least 170 degrees F.

Almond-Apricot Stuffing
Serves 6-8

1 loaf Gluten-free bread
8-10 dried apricots
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup chicken (or Turkey) stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 stalks celery- chopped fine
1 medium onion- chopped fine
3 cloves garlic- minced
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp white pepper (or black)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley (or 1 Tbsp dried parsley)
1 Tsp dried tarragon
1 Tbsp chopped Fresh Sage (or 1Tsp dried sage)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Separate the slices of bread, place them on a pan uncovered and leave them out overnight, or few a few hours.
Cut the dried bread into about 1/2 inch cubes, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350º
Heat a large pan to medium heat, melt the butter, but don't let it burn.
Stir in the onion, garlic and celery, saute for about one minute.
Mix in the apricots, sage, parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper. Mix together well.
Add the chicken stock and white wine, bring to a slight boil.
Mix the bread cubes and almonds, stirring and coating them with the liquid and seasoning.
Transfer all to a roasting pan, cover and bake in the oven at 350º for 45 minutes, serve and enjoy!

Happy Holidays!!!!

Split Pea Soup

We've been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather lately. Last week we broke several high temperature records here in Raleigh, NC with a high of eighty degrees! Well that all changed this weekend when the cold and wet weather set in. That's all the reason I needed to cook up a nice hot pot of soup, split pea to be exact. It's hot, hearty and bursting with flavor. You can find split peas in the grocery isle with the dried beans, but unlike the other dried beans, these don't have to soak before cooking, making this much less time-consuming than other bean soups. This recipe may also be a good use of the post-holiday ham bone that sits unused in most peoples refrigerators. I've added potatoes to this to make it even more hearty and filling, this is definitely a "soup that eats like a meal".

Split Pea Soup
serves 4-6

1Lb. dried split peas- rinsed and picked through for debris
2 Tbsp olive Oil
3 cloves garlic- smashed and chopped fine
1 medium onion- chopped fine
2 stalks celery- chopped fine
2 carrots- skinned and cut to bite-size
1 medium potatoes- skinned and cut to bite-sized
1 bay leaf
1 Tsp sea salt- or to taste
2 Tsp Pepper
1 Tsp dried Thyme
4 whole Cloves
1 Tsp Jamaican Allspice
1 Ham hock - or ham bone with meat
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups filtered water

Heat olive oil in a large pot to medium, stir in onions, cook about a minute until soft.
Stir in garlic and celery, cook for another minute, add the salt, pepper thyme, cloves, bay leaf, allspice and ham hock.
Add the rinsed split-peas, and carrots. Heat and mix all together well
Pour in the chicken stock, water and potatoes, bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
Once boiling reduce heat to to a simmer, cook uncovered for 1 hour stirring occasionally.
Remove Bay leaves, 4 cloves and ham hock. Remove the meat from the ham-hock, cut to bite size and return it to the pot (optional)
Take about 1/4 of the total soup and run it in a food processor or blender until smooth, return it to the pot and stir all together, serve.


Simple Tomato Sauce

One of my favorite things to eat is good old tomato sauce over pasta. This past Sunday I made my dad's sauce. The recipe was passed down from his grandfather to his father, my dad continued the tradition. I always make this sauce on Sunday's when it's cold out while watching football in the background, that's exactly how my dad made it. Growing up we ate his tomato sauce every Sunday during the cold months (most of the year in Buffalo, NY!), and the leftovers on Tuesdays. This is a sauce that needs to cook for a minimum of 6 hours. When it's done it is worth every minute, but who has time to cook a 6-8 hour sauce? Having said all that I'm NOT going to post the recipe here, (I've got to reserve some secrets!) But I will post a delicious, simple and quick homemade tomato sauce with fresh clean flavors that is much better than the sauces you can get in a jar.

Simple Tomato Sauce

15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 cloves garlic- chopped fine
1/ 2 cup onion- chopped fine
1/3 cup red wine OR cooking sherry
1 Tsp sugar
1/2 Tsp pepper
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp fresh basil- chopped OR 1 Tsp dried basil


Heat a pan to medium-high, add olive oil.
Add onion, saute for a about 1 minute. stir in garlic, salt and pepper, and dried basil, cook for another minute (if using fresh basil it doesn't go in until the very end)
Mix in tomatoes, wine, and sugar, bring to a boil.
Once boiling reduce heat to low, simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve over rice or corn pasta, sprinkle with fresh basil, and parmesan cheese, enjoy!


Asian Style Ginger Vegetables

There is no comparing fresh ginger to the powdered ginger you can get in the spice isle. Powdered ginger definitely has its place in cooking and baking, but the young fresh root (actually a rhizome) is indispensable in Asian cooking. When using fresh ginger I use a vegetable peeler to just barely remove the tough exterior skin because the most tender part lies just beneath. When choosing ginger at the store look for one that is crisp with smooth, unblemished skin.

Using authentic ingredients makes a real difference when cooking Asian food, and making gluten-free Asian food requires even more specific products. Using normal soy sauce is out! Many people don't know that soy sauce is brewed with wheat, it is far-from gluten free. I once got into a argument with the elderly owner of a Thai restaurant over whether or not there was wheat in soy sauce, he kept telling me "there is only soy in it", finally I said, "OK, whatever you say, just please don't put any in my food!" I've used a few different products as a soy sauce substitute, but by far my favorite is San-J's Organic Wheat Free Tamari. It is very similar to soy sauce, just a bit thicker and darker.

I love to "play" with different Asian flavors, spices and vegetables. I've made this recipe several times with sight variations, but the following seems to work the best. I'm recommending using green cabbage but, red cabbage is great as well but it can turn the entire dish purple.

Asian Style Ginger Vegetables
Serves 2

@1- 1/2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp Tamari, or GF Soy Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1 tsp white (or black) pepper
1 Tsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1 cup of green peas (thaw if using frozen peas)
1 cup fresh carrot, julienned
1 medium piece of zucchini, julienned
1/2 cup fresh green cabbage, julienned


Heat a frying pan to medium-high, pour in peanut oil
add the onion, cook until soft (about 60 seconds), stir in the garlic and ginger and pepper, cook for another minute or so.
Mix in the Tamari, chicken broth, and brown sugar, bring to a slight boil.
Add the peas, carrots and zucchini, reduce the heat to medium low, cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the cabbage, cook for another 90 seconds.
Serve hot over rice (I recommend basmati) as a main course, enjoy!

Roasted Eggplant Hummus

I hate to post two recipes with the same ingredient back to back, but I feel compelled to by my sheer love for the eggplant! Known as Melanzane in Italian, a word derived from the Latin mala insana, or "mad apple" because it was originally thought to be poisonous, being a member of the nightshade family which includes the deadly belladonna and jimson weed.Technically the eggplant is a Fruit, due to the fact that it has seeds. if you want to learn more about eggplant check out this link to, for more information than you will ever need.

In the process of looking up more information about eggplant I found out that in some middle eastern cultures eggplant is so prominent that it can be served in every course. In one story a foreign visitor in a Middle Eastern country, after eating a large meal asked for, "just plain water, if you please, without eggplant." Which brings me to my recipe for today, a marriage of two middle eastern staples; eggplant and chickpeas: roasted eggplant hummus.

Hummus makes a great ap
petizer or snack, it's inexpensive, quick and easy to make. Hummus has large amounts of iron and vitamin C, It also is a good source of protein and dietary fiber. I've got to admit that not everyone loves hummus, it seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" things. Some people are crazy about it there is even a blog only about hummus! The first time I heard of it was when I was 17 years old and I was working at a health food stand called The Juicery in the middle of Delaware park in Buffalo. It was part of my job to mix huge batches of Hummus. We served it on pita bread with feta cheese and an awesome Miso dressing (which I would kill to get my hands on!) I worked at the Juicery for two years and never liked the hummus at all, and frankly didn't understand it, or why anyone would like it. Well luckily my experience with food and my palate has grown since then, and I've come to appreciate it for the rich and tasty food that it is.

Roasted Eggplant Hummus

1 15 oz can chickpeas- rinsed and drained OR 2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled, and chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley OR 1tsp dried parsley
fresh eggplant


Wash Eggplant, lay sideways on the cutting board, remove the stem and cut 5 or 6 thin round slices (1/8")
Sprinkle salt and pepper and rub olive oil on each side of the pieces, place on a baking rack and place under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes on each side, remove before it burns. Set aside.
Combine all of the ingredients, including the eggplant in a food processor.
Run the food processor, until all of the ingredients mix together, if it's too dry to turn add a little water until it processes.
Serve with corn chips or potato chips or fresh veggies, enjoy!


Eggplant Parmesan

One ingredient that is hard to cook without is bread-crumbs. I have only had gluten-free bread-crumbs one time, I haven't been able to find any since. I have tried to make them from dried-out gluten-free bread, but it never worked well. I wasn't about to let a lack of bread crumbs keep me from having breaded fried dishes like chicken parmesan and one of my favorites, eggplant parmesan! In place of the bread-crumbs I used a combination of dried herbs, fine-graded parmesan cheese and my secret ingredient, potato chips! Last night when I made eggplant parmesan I went to the deli section and bought three, one ounce bags of plain Lays potato chips, I crushed them up right in the bag before mixing them with the herbs, spices and cheese. We had company for the meal, and they never suspected that they had anything besides normal bread-crumbs until I told them after the meal. I would be curious to find out if anyone out there has used other bread-crumb substitutes successfully? Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables, but it needs to be prepared correctly or it can be bitter and mushy. After washing and cutting the eggplant (into 1/2" thick circular discs) I always sprinkle salt over both sides, and stand them on end, leaning against the side of a bowl to drain for at least 30 minutes. Doing this pulls out the bitterness of the eggplant and drains off excess moisture, preventing it from becoming mushy.
I like to serve my eggplant parmesan over a bed of pasta with a homemade tomato sauce, with fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil. However it's good without the pasta and with sauce from a jar (if you must) as well.

Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4

2 medium Eggplants
1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
3 eggs
Olive oil

2 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
2 Tbsp Dried parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
@ 3 oz plain potato chips- crushed fine
1 Tbsp black pepper
salt to taste


Wash the eggplant, discard the top and bottom. Lay it on it's side and slice it in about 1/2 inch round pieces.
Sprinkle all of the pieces liberally with salt on both sides, and drain for about 1/2 hour standing up, leaning against the sides of a colander, or leaning against the outside of a bowl on the cutting board.
While the eggplant is draining, mix together the basil, oregano, garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese, crushed potato chips, salt and pepper in a large bowl, set aside.
Pour the 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour into a dish, set aside.
Beat together the eggs in a bowl, set aside.
Using a paper towel, dab away the moisture and salt from the eggplant slices, set pieces on paper towel.
Now we'll set up a "breading station" line up the flour plate, eggs, and bread-crumbs in that order, Dip each piece of eggplant in the flour, covering it, then in the eggs, covering it again, and then place in the bread-crumb bowl, sprinkling the bread-crumbs over each side, set each piece aside on a plate. Repeat the same process for all of the pieces.
Heat about 1/2 inch of olive oil in a pan on medium until its hot. carefully place 3 or four pieces of breaded eggplant (depending on the size of the pan) in the hot oil. Cook on one side until the bottom becomes golden brown (about 3-5 minutes). carefully flip the pieces over and cook for a few more minutes until the other side becomes golden brown. Once done place on a plate with a paper towel to drain the excess oil.
Repeat process with the remaining pieces of eggplant, replenish and reheat the olive oil between batches as it will absorb into the eggplant while cooking.
Serve with tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and/ or over Gluten-free pasta and MANGIA! (Eat! - in Italian)