May 12th, 2014

Saltimbocca, sort of

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We all know the trouble with the mind and memory. It isn’t always reliable. Images called up from the past can be hazy. Concepts and techniques once learned can be hard to access. Sometimes, the mind makes up things up. Or, two or three stories will meld into one.

That last memory misfire is what happened when I was trying to figure out what to make mom for her Mother’s Day lunch.

No doubt the pot of blooming sage on my front stoop was the source of inspiration, a recipe came to mind that I hadn’t made in years: Saltimbocca. Italian for “Jump into the mouth,” the traditional Roman roll of prosciutto, fresh sage and pounded veal is so quick and delicious, it can leap from skillet to mouth to satisfy hunger pronto.

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Instead of preparing it with veal, I decided to make the dish with chicken breast–already a veer, albeit an acceptable one, from tradition. Early Sunday morning, I went to the market to get my ingredients. And that’s where things went further off course. There wasn’t any prosciutto, so I chose Black Forest ham. I thought I needed fontina, also not to be found–pickin’s are slim after a busy Saturday at the grocer–so I substituted muenster. I also bought cream, and hurried home.

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Bill observed as I pounded the chicken breasts, arranged the slices of ham, cheese, and pretty sage, and rolled up the fillets and said, “Looks like you’re making Chicken Cordon Bleu.”

This was a remarkable statement, coming from a man who 1) doesn’t cook 2) hasn’t touched fish, meat, or fowl for over 20 years because it was True.

I realized I had fused another recipe, also unmade for years, into this one.

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Today’s recipe is that faulty memory merge of two classic Old World dishes, Saltimbocca and Chicken Cordon Bleu. Maybe I should call it a happy marriage, as the result was simply delicious.

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You see, true Saltimbocca has no cheese in its filling, no cream in its sauce. Roman cooks argue on the point of dredging in flour.

Cordon bleu, (which means “blue ribbon’) gained widespread popularity Stateside in the ’60s. It is anchored in Swiss, not French, cuisine. Cheese (often Gruyere) is paired with ham, rolled inside the chicken, which is dipped in egg, dusted in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Sage has no place in this dish. A cream-based sauce is often napped over the crunchy roulades.

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But here’s what I like about my fusion: A melty white cheese helps to keep the chicken breast moist, and gives a cushion for the sage and ham. The seasoned flour is a touch more assertive–enhanced beyond the usual S&P, with paprika and granulated garlic. The dredging not only helps hold the roulade together (although a toothpick does the trick, too!) it adds browned bits to the skillet–which, in turn, boost the flavor of the sauce. I will also note that I am not alone in this recipe fusion—check out this appealing array of stuffed chicken breast recipes at Cooking Light.

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You can see how sumptuous the juices look, deglazed in the pan with dry white wine. The small amount of flour dusted on the chicken contributes a bit to the thickening of the sauce—although the reduction of wine and small pour of cream do most of the work. More fresh chopped sage—ah, meraviglioso, merveilleux, wunderbar…

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Yes, you will be happy to have this jump into your mouth.

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BLUE RIBBON CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA
1 1/4 pounds boneless chicken breast
4 slices prosciutto or thinly sliced deli ham
4 slices fontina, or muenster
8-12 fresh sage leaves

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Slice the chicken breast into thin (1/4″) scallops. Place each piece between a stretch of plastic wrap and pound to flatten and tenderize.

Arrange a slice of cheese, ham, and sage leaves on top of each chicken cutlet. Roll, and secure with a toothpick if you like.

In a small bowl, mix the flour with the seasonings: salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, paprika.

Dredge the roulades in the seasoned flour, dusting off the excess.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Heat and swirl together.
Place the chicken roulades in to brown, taking care not to crowd the pieces. Brown the chicken for 3 minutes and turn.
Continue browning for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the fully browned pieces and place them into a baking dish. Cover and keep warm.

Return the skillet to the burner, still set on medium, and make the sauce: (recipe follows)
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WHITE WINE CREAM SAUCE
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 sage leaves, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste

Pour one cup of dry white wine into the skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Cook and reduce the wine as you continue to deglaze the pan. When the wine is reduced by half (about 5-6 minutes) stir in the heavy cream. Add the chopped sage leaves. Taste for salt and black pepper; adjust as needed.

Pour the sauce over the roulades.

Serves 4.

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Sauces | 20 Comments »




April 7th, 2014

Spring Supper: Fennel braised Pork, Beets-and-Blue Salad

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One Sunday last spring when we were visiting our friends in Rome, we had the good fortune to accompany them on an outing to the small municipality, Pisoniano, a fifty minute drive east of the Eternal City. Their good friends had invited us to spend the day. Our host, Serge, an architect, had been born in this charming hill town. He knew everyone, and held the title as its unofficial mayor.

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This particular Sunday felt magical. On this sun-filled day, the town was celebrating L’ Infiorata, or Flower Art Festival. Through the center of the main street ran a long series of “organic mosaics.” Each one was a vibrantly colored image or symbol of Christian faith created out of flower petals, stems, and seeds. Townspeople and visitors such as ourselves, families and friends, gathered to spend the afternoon enjoying the art and fellowship.

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Each intricate image was connected to next, forming a brilliant carpet over the cobbles–a carpet you dared not step on! As meticulous and ephemeral as Tibetan sand paintings, each work was a collaborative effort created over thirty-six hours leading up to the festival. No doubt, there were many months in preparation.

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After we spent time strolling the flower carpet sidelines, examining each tableau, astonished by the color, texture, and attention to detail, we all went to lunch at Trattoria Bacco. This was no ordinary meal, but one that had been designed by the chefs in keeping with the season and the celebration. Our multi-coursed luncheon began around 1pm and lasted for three hours!

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We began our leisurely meal with a plate of antipasta: folds of prosciutto over melon, wrinkled pungent olives, a whip of ricotta, bites of radish. The pacing of service was slow and deliberate. It allowed for lively conversation–eight of us at a community dining table– and time to savor each dish.

We were able to enjoy our company and each course without feeling stuffed–well, at least, not until the end. The servers brought platters of house made ravioli cloaked in red sauce, followed by Tonnarelli alla Verdure, a Roman square-cut egg pasta tossed with seasonal green vegetables: spinach, artichoke, scallions, and small peas.

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The supper’s centerpiece was a pork dish, Coscio di Maiale, a fresh ham long simmered in a wealth of garlic, bay leaf, and fennel seeds. Fresh rosemary and thyme were also in the mix, playing background roles.

The meat was sumptuous; juicy and fatty in its fragrant brown gravy. It was that trio–garlic, bay leaf and toasted fennel seeds, remarkable in combination, assertive in amount, that made the pork shine.

Inspiration! I knew that I would have to make this when I returned home.

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I haven’t recreated the dish perfectly, not yet.

A fresh ham is not always available at our market, and this cut, with its bones, rich meat and layers of fat, is key to the dish. For my first try, I used a different cut, the sirloin tip. No bones, little fat. Nonetheless, the pork was delicious. And, the gravy, the result of browning then braising hunks of pork with that trio, came close to my remembrance. What a pleasure to have the connection of food, place, and memory: spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in the company of family and friends, at the table, doing as the Romans do.

Quantities for both pork and salad recipes are for a large group—10 to 15. With spring here at last, you might be having family and friends over to celebrate. Take time on a Sunday afternoon to relax and dine and visit.

Also, with beets being such a versatile vegetable for spring and fall, be sure to check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Beets for care, storage, growing, and preparation.

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PORK BRAISED WITH GARLIC, BAY LEAF, AND TOASTED FENNEL SEED
8 lb. boneless pork roast, such as sirloin tip
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
coarse ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bulb (8-10 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons fennel seed, lightly toasted
sprig or 2 of rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Rub the oil all over the piece(s) of meat. Liberally season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Brown the meat on all sides, rotating the piece(s) every 5 minutes. This could take 15-20 minutes.
When the meat is almost finished browning, add the sliced garlic. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then dust the flour over the meat.
Rotate the piece(s) around in the pan, so that the flour browns a bit.

Pour in water–2-3 cups—enough to almost cover the meat. Stir, loosening up the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.
Plunge in the bay leaves, fennel seed, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the pork cook, undisturbed, for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Remove the meat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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Increase the heat on the pot to medium high, stirring the remaining sauce, allowing it to reduce and slightly thicken.
Slice the meat and pour the sauce over it. Pour extra sauce into a gravy boat or bowl.

Delicious with roasted potatoes or rice.

Makes 12-15 servings

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BEETS AND BLUE SALAD
1/2 pound spring lettuces
3 ruby beets, roasted, peeled and chilled
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Place a layer of lettuces on a platter. Slice the beets and arrange over the lettuces, followed by a ring of sliced citrus, and red onion.
Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese. Repeat the layering.

Drizzle with Sweet Heat Dressing and serve.

Serves 8-10

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SWEET HEAT DRESSING
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into a pint jar. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Drizzle over the salad.
Serves 8-10

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads | 18 Comments »




January 13th, 2014

Pan-seared Potato Gnocchi with parsnips

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In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.

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This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!

Before it vanished.

Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.

The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.

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There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.

Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.

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The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.

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While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.

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Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.

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There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.

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Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.

Elusive no more.

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PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish

Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.

Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.

In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.

Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.

Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 17 Comments »




December 16th, 2013

Funky Kitchen Karma and Yummy Eggplant “Lasagna”

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It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!

The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.

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Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.

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As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.

More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.

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And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.

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Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.

In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.

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I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.

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ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”

Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.

RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato

4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.

Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

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“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.

ROASTED EGGPLANT
3 large eggplants
kosher salt
olive oil

2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.

Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.

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ASSEMBLY

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.

Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 15-20

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »