Italian Family Secrets..

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have Italian in my blood. My mother’s father is from a little part of Italy called Calabria. Though I’ve been to Italy, I never went to his home down. My parents and my mother’s siblings and spouses have been though – they even got to see where he grew up.

My grandfather had a tough start to life in Canada. He came over by boat at age 13. When he arrived, he was placed in elementary school because of his lack of English. A fight got him kicked out of school early on and he never went back. Despite never having received a formal education, my grandfather was very hard-working and married a wonderful woman. Together, they had 4 kids in a house filled with lots of love and tradition. And food. Lots of food. My grandmother was French Canadian (what language my grandparents spoke must have been amusing.. neither spoke English very well). She learned to cook all of the Italian staples as though she herself was Italian.

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood and when I try to picture my grandfather’s house, my memory is vague. But I remember the kitchen (including the little glasses that had playing card suits on them), the outline of the dining room, that there was a little bedroom off the dining room, the basement we never really went down to because it was musty and concrete. I remember the front room with the blue sofa.. and the fact that my grandfather watched a lot of football and baseball. He loved his Montreal Expos. He lived on a street with lots of other Italians and lived near his siblings. Somehow when we were all there we fit around the table.

I remember the smell. It always smelled slightly old, and slightly like spaghetti sauce. This last part might have been because the majority of the time we went there he was cooking spaghetti sauce, but it’s what I remember. I have very vague recollections of eating lunches at his house – platefuls of spaghetti with sauce, and he always made “tsk tsk” noises at me for putting on so much parmesan cheese, but then he looked at me with his balding hair and bright smile when he saw I could twirl the spaghetti with a spoon.

My mom makes the most amazing sauce – similar to his if I recall. Her chicken cacciatore is to die for. My aunt’s lasagna could make a mouth water from 3 miles away, and her brajoles (an italian appetizer similar to meatballs but more log in shape) fly off the plate the second they’re done.

I carried on a few traditions. I make a mean chicken cacciatore. My lasagna is pretty stellar. And my husband now makes brajoles that might even rival my aunt’s (brajole bake-off family?).

There’s one big difference though. We’ve translated all these recipes into gluten-free. And they STILL taste amazing.

The other night I went one step further. I made my lasagna vegan. I tweeted out:

“I can’t decide if my Italian grandfather would be proud that I’m making lasagna vegan, or if he’d be rolling in his grave..”

My mother replied with:

“He would probably say “that’s not lasagna!”  :)”

So true. But sometimes, you need to do what’s right for your body. Now truthfully, I can’t call my lasagna vegan, because I didn’t cook it separately from my husband’s so I’m sure some of the “juices” got mixed. But friends, this was the best gluten-free vegan soy-free lasagna I could have dreamed about. It smelled divine. It looked divine. I put one bite in my mouth and sighed. It was THAT good.

I cooked mine in the slow cooker. If you’re going to make it in the stove, assemble it and cook at 350 for 40 minutes or so.

1/3 cabbage – diced-ish. I roughly cut mine into smaller than bite-sized pieces.
2 celery stalks, diced
handful of baby carrots, diced
1 zucchini diced (or put it in the sauce)
one package gluten-free lasagna noodles
Sauce – you need about 4 cups of sauce – I used leftover homemade – my sauce has zucchini
Daiya cheese (optional)

1. Saute the diced vegetables in a little bit of olive oil until softened. Remove from heat.
2. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of the slow cooker – no need to spray the slow cooker with any anti-stick stuff.
3 – place down one layer of noodles (I kept mine uncooked) – you have to break up some for them to fit. (I used a 6 qt slow cooker)
4 – Spread half the veggie mixture on top.
5 – Add another cup of sauce and spread over veggies. Sprinkle some daiya cheese if using (mozzarella would be best but I used cheddar with good results)
6 – Repeat – noodles, rest of veggies, sauce
7 – Add one more layer of noodles and one more layer of sauce then sprinkle some “cheese” on top.
8 – Add about 1/4 cup of water on top – this will help the noodles cook.
8 – Put lid on, cook on low for 5-6 hours.

It’s easy, amazing, and I was all cleaned up by the time lunch was done. And even though there was no ground beef in it, no ricotta, no sauce to smother on top and top with Italian sausages, it was still delicious. And it still smelled like my grandfather’s house.

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