Starting the year off right – Gluten-Free Recipe for Italian Ragu

Ragu Reale Gluten-Free Pasta Sauce8152

There is an Italian proverb that states “Quello che si fa il primo dell’anno si fa tutto l’anno.” Translated: “That which you do at the beginning of the year you will do the rest of year.” This year I kicked off 2011 on January 1st by making a full Italian dinner including my friend’s recipe for “Ragu Reale.”

During a trip to Puglia (the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’) in 2002 I stayed with my friend Loredana’s family and entertained them all with the fact that there is a whole line of tomato sauces in the United States branded “Ragu.” Loredana’s sister Margherita felt she needed to remedy any American misconceptions about what a real ragu was and set out to teach me her favorite recipe for a Sunday night family meal – a tomato meat sauce she called “Ragu Reale” – The Real Ragu!

Armed with this fabulous new recipe, I returned home and treated my friends to this new found treasure. My friends raved and this warm and tasty “Ragu Reale” became a reliable favorite that winter. This most recent winter, with Jack Frost an all too regular visitor, my mind hearkened back to that “real ragu” that would be just what I needed to combat Mr. Frost. So I scrambled through boxes of old handwritten letters until I excitedly found that precious envelope from Margherita containing the prized recipe.

I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my memories but it turned out to be just as rich and wonderful as when I first had it in Italy. Enjoy! Happy New Year!

Recipe for Authentic Italian Veal and Pork Ragu (recipe adapted from Italian version by my friend Margherita)

Serves 6-8, freeze for up to 3 months

2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
5 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork (you can substitute one pound of either pork or veal if you don’t have access to both)
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt*
8 cups strained tomatoes (I used Pomi brand)

Add olive oil to a large saucepan or stock pot and bring pan to medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onions and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add the pork and veal and continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for 10-15 minutes over low to medium heat, until the liquid reduces slightly. Add the salt and tomatoes and continue to simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t burn.

You want the sauce to reduce down so that it’s thick and can almost “stand” on the pasta.

How To Make Ragu Reale Gluten-Free Pasta Sauce

Serve on a short, textured, gluten-free pasta like fusilli or farfalle and top with a grated hard cheese such as parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano.

I highly recommend serving it with this gluten-free garlic cheese bread.

To take your decadence to the next level, indulge in dessert – try this warm Indonesian-style banana topping on top of ice cream and a gluten-free brownie.

Indonesian Banana Ice Cream Sundae GlutenFree8156

*It’s tempting to add extra salt if you taste along the way, but wait until you are actually serving the sauce before adding any if you absolutely must. The coarse salt takes longer to break down and as the sauce reduces the concentration of salt becomes stronger. Also the final dish will include the salt from the pasta (if you salt the pasta water) and should be topped with a salty hard cheese like pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano. I am usually VERY generous with my salt but you could make this sauce irreparably salty which would just be tragic after all of the work you’ve done.

Original recipe in Italian from the the region of Puglia (the heel of the boot):

“Ragu Reale” di Margherita Santillo Castaldo

500 gr di carne macinata (vitello o maiale)
2 litri di salsa di pomodoro
1 bicchiere di vino bianco
5 cucchiai di olio di oliva
Mezzo cucchiaio di sale grosso
2 carote
1 cipolla
1 gambo di sedano

Tritare la carota, cipolla e sedano, mettere queste cose nella pentola con l’olio, far soffriggere, un po’ e mettere la carne farla soffriggere e mettere il vino bianco, far aciugare il vino, mettere il sale e la salsa di pomodoro, far cucinare per 2 ore, ma controlla sempre che non si bruci!

Buon Appetito :)

Foreign Food Porn – Gluten-Free Travel in Spain

Thanksgiving at El Bulli

I recently returned from the most delicious trip of my life.  Full write ups to come, but the photos from my Spain and London food adventure can be seen here. (including an amazing Thanksgiving at El Bulli)

Happy Holidays!

Congratulations to the Little Lad’s Popcorn Winner

Puppy cuteness that will slay you

Congratulations to YuShan, winner of the Little Lad’s Popcorn sampler.

Now with Luca around, photos of my nephews will take a back seat to my little pup when winners are announced.

Happy Holidays!

Winner selected by

Food Crush and Giveaway – Little Lad’s (gluten-free) Popcorn

web Little Lads Herbal Corn Gluten-Free Popcorn Appetizer (3)

I love popcorn. I mean serious, obsessive lurve. I’m pretty sure I could eat popcorn every day for a month without getting tired of it.  So when I find a new version of the snack that heightens my crush, it’s almost a magical experience.  I found Little Lad’s “Herbal Corn” when looking for a cheap way to feed guests at a happy hour I was throwing.

Their addition of “natural flavors and herbs” create little kernels of delight – explosions of flavors really. I brought this to a friend’s birthday party recently and another guest declared: “You just changed my life!” (no joking).  Not only is it tasty, it’s also labeled “gluten-free” right on the package which always warms my heart a bit.

web Little Lads Herbal Corn Gluten-Free Popcorn Appetizer

So far, I’ve only seen Little Lad’s at Whole Foods in NYC, but I’m offering a giveaway so at least one of you can try Little Lad’s even if you aren’t lucky enough to live in NYC.

One reader will get two small bags of Little Lads Herbal Corn. To enter, leave a comment telling us what your favorite topping for popcorn is by 6pm Eastern on Monday November 1st, you must live in the U.S. to be eligible. Blog or tweet about this giveaway and link to this post and you can comment twice (be sure to put @yumcat in the tweet) which will increase your chance of winning.

Easy Appetizers – Crunchy Wasabi Shrimp Spread

web Spicy Wasabi Shrimp Spread Gluten-Free Appetizer (1)

I didn’t taste wasabi for the first time until after I graduated from college. More than 20 years of my life went by without this delightful spicy horseradish passing over my lips. Yes it will clear your sinuses in large quantities, but it hurts so good. Perhaps I’ve been making up for lost time, for now it seems that I am drawn to anything that uses wasabi to heighten flavor. Yes it’s usually the unappreciated middle child on a plate of sushi, but in this recipe it is the star. Sure, you can throw the ingredients together without wasabi and it will be fine. But wasabi will take it from a forgotten dish you eat to avoid awkward conversation at a party to something you crave because it haunts your memories.

This may also be one of the easiest party dips you can pull together. I’m all about maximum flavor with minimum effort. Even my mom, who hates food and cooking, was able to prepare this for a recent party to rave reviews. This is an especially good one for the summer since no actual cooking is involved.

Crunchy Wasabi Shrimp Spread Recipe (serves 8-10 as a party appetizer)

One 8 ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained and diced
Two 4 ounce cans tiny pink shrimp, drained
3/4 cup wasabi mayonnaise
1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
salt and pepper to taste

gluten-free crackers or toasted baguette for serving

In a medium bowl combine water chestnuts, shrimp, mayonnaise, relish, a dash of salt and pepper. Stir to combine completely. Add salt and pepper to taste (be generous with the pepper).

For a low-fat version, replace mayonnaise with non-fat greek yogurt and 2-3 teaspoons wasabi powder. You could also eliminate the wasabi if you can’t handle the heat, but what would be the fun in that?

Another super easy appetizer to pair with this? Tamari Roasted Almonds.

Friends and Gluten-Free Cookies

Mark's Ranger Cookies

My friend Mark, mentioned in my previous post on Annisa and Savoy, recently became very domestic. A man who previously avoided the kitchen, leapfrogged over a simple weeknight meal to dive right into the more complicated world of pastries. Then not satisfied with the relatively simple challenge of a ‘regular’ cookie, he decided to take on gluten-free baking as well. I’m not quite sure what has come over him, but I am happy to be a benefactor.

When he first came to me for advice on how to adapt his Ranger Cookies recipe to be ‘Catherine-friendly’ I sent him a link to this gluten-free cookies post and told him he needed to experiment along the way. He was meticulous in making sure that none of his ingredients or supplies were cross-contaminated in his care or in previous processing. When he brought them to a BBQ I threw earlier in the summer, no one could believe they were gluten-free. My friend Erica even got nervous when she saw me eating them, because “they are too good to be gluten-free.”

Gluten-Free Ranger Cookie Ingredients

I am lucky to have such caring friends, so I feel the need to pay it forward by sharing the recipe with you. He tells me this version is even improved from the batch he brought to the BBQ; they were a resounding success with his coworkers. He’s offered to make some for my upcoming birthday. I can’t imagine a more delicious way to celebrate.

Gluten-Free Ranger Cookies (makes 12-14 three-inch cookies)

1 cup Gluten-Free Pantry all-purpose flour mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups gluten free corn flakes (crush them to lessen the air in the
measuring cup)
1/8 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I find about 1/2 cup starts
getting too sweet)
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats (quick oats work better but can’t find gf version)
1 cup flaked coconut (packed into the measuring cup since flakes have
lots more air than shredded coconut)

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs room temperature


Preheat oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Stir in corn flakes, flax seeds, chocolate chips, oats, and coconut. In a large stand mixer combine sugar, butter, salt, vanilla and eggs. Gradually add the dry mixture 1/2 cup at a time while beating on low speed until thoroughly mixed.

On a slightly greased cookie sheet place heaping tablespoons of cookie dough at least 2″ apart.

Bake for 12-13 minutes, until golden brown around the edges, be careful not to overcook, checking at 10 min for doneness.

Photos (and cookies) by Mark Chen.

Gluten-Free Guide to London

London Phone Booth

Traveling somewhere exotic for Thanksgiving may be my new obsession. Ok, so maybe it can’t be an obsession if it only happens once a year. But I had the chance to go to London for Thanksgiving this year and it was incredible. I know, you may be thinking, “but Catherine, you’ve done so much work getting your gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes just right. You can’t always leave – what about your family?” Well, I do love a traditional Thanksgiving but it sometimes seems silly to go all the way back to CA for one big meal when I am going to head there again in December. Though I must admit, I didn’t abandon the Holiday entirely since my friend Christos, who lives in London as an ex-pat, hosted an American-style Thanksgiving dinner to give his British friends a taste our most gluttonous day.

Gluten Free Thanksgiving in London

The UK in general is a gluten-free dream. During a trip to Scotland and now two trips to London since going gluten-free, I found everyone to be so well-educated about the gluten-free diet it made eating out simple. I had incredible meals this year at The Fat Duck and St. John but we also got gluten-free take out from Imli Indian and satisfied my curry craving again at Masala Zone.

Imli restaurant London Gluten Free (76)

If you are looking for a classic English High Tea – you can book a gluten-free tea service at The Ritz or The Savoy. Small tea sandwiches service on gluten-free toast and gluten-free pastries tasty enough to make your gluten-eating companions look longing at your plate.

web 2009 Thanksgiving Dinner Gluten Free (14)

During my first gluten-free trip to London in 2006, I went to Wagamama noodle shop. They have a gluten-free menu. Not a huge number of options, but since I wouldn’t normally expect to be able to eat at a noodle shop I wasn’t terribly disappointed.

wagamama restaurant London Gluten Free (53)

The list of restaurants in London with gluten-free menus is constantly expanding. Though I would feel comfortable eating in many places without specific gluten-free menus because they are so much better educated about Celiac disease.  And if you are cooking for yourself, almost every grocery store, even small urban markets, has a dedicated gluten-free section with a plethora of products.

web London Gluten Free (55)

The “Genius” gluten-free bread, launched at Tesco, is getting lots of hype over there. I must say, it was as good of a pre-packaged gluten-free bread as I’ve ever tasted. Soft and chewy right out of the package – no toasting necessary. The stay-at-home mom who came up with the recipe when baking for her gluten-intolerant son is now a self-made millionaire.

web London Gluten Free (66)

I planned my trip to London as a food adventure and was not disappointed. Though, I think the raclette at Borough Market alone was enough of a reason to book a ticket.

Raclette at Kappacasein stall Borough Market
[side note: Yes I realize it’s May and Thanksgiving is far from everyone’s mind, but it took me a little while to get this post done – I’ve had a new addition to the family and his name is Luca : ) ]
It's tough to leave this face

It’s Finally Spring – Enjoy a Gluten-Free Treat!

Making Toasted Marshmallow Peeps

Did you know that you can roast Peeps just like you would a regular marshmallow?  Only when you roast a Peep, the sugar crystallizes into a sweet shell of delightful crunch.

Toasted Peeps

And they are “naturally” gluten-free.

Peeps Are Gluten-Free
Happy Holidays!

Gluten-Free Restaurants NYC – Pizza at Keste

Opus Pizza web

Starting this week, Keste Pizza & Vino will be serving gluten-free pizza every Monday and Tuesday.  The gluten-free pizzas are prepared with a special gluten-free flour mix and cooked in a separate electric oven dedicated to the gluten-free pies. Gluten-free diners will have the option of three different pies – margherita, marinara or lardo-topped mastincola.

A fellow gluten-free food and pizza aficionado went to check out their offerings yesterday and  the praise is high.  He proclaimed it to be “the best gluten-free pizza in NYC, followed by 2. Mozzarelli’s and 3. Pala.”  And this is from someone who had made it his mission to sample all of the gluten-free pizza options including Risotteria, Uno’s and Opus.

Keste Pizza & Vino

Address: 271 Bleecker St., nr. Morton St.;

Telephone: 212-243-1500

The Gluten-Free Diet and Tax Deductions


One of the frustrating things with Celiac Disease is how expensive ‘gluten-free’ versions of mainstream products are. $5 for a box of Italian gluten-free pasta, $7 for a bag of gluten-free bagels, $8 for a loaf of decent tasting gluten-free bread. It can quickly become quite a burden to a family or even an individual to live on a diet with gluten-free replacements. Well there is some good news at tax time, you may be eligible to deduct some of that extra expense on your taxes.

Suzanne on the NYC Celiac Meetup message board and were great sources in helping me to pull together this guide to tax deductions and the gluten-free diet.

If you refer to IRS ruling 02-19 & IRS medical pamphlet 502 & COMPLY with their REQUISITES you can include your gluten-free food, toiletries, cosmetics, even envelopes with gluten-free glue as part of a medical deduction.

A few things you need first:

  • This will be part of your medical expenses deduction so you must have sufficient medical expenses (as a % of your earnings) to itemize your deductions.
  • A doctor’s letter to substantiate your condition as DIAGNOSED Celiac Disease.
  • Receipts.

What you can deduct:

  • You can claim mileage expenses, and postage/shipping fees for special needs shopping.
  • The price difference between regular and gluten-free products. If you were buying wheat pasta for .99 and now buy gluten free pasta for $5.00, you have to deduct the difference and that amount is used for the deduction. If you eat cereal, for example & regular corn flakes are $3.50 but gluten-free corn flakes are $5.49 for a box half the size, you have to figure the cost per ounce then calculate the difference.
  • The full cost of some replacement items such as gluten-free flour and xanthan gum. Some items are not interchangeable i.e. rice flour is not a one-to-one replacement for wheat flour the way pasta or cereal is so the entire cost is deductible.
  • Restaurant surcharges – any extra fees that restaurants charge for gluten-free bread or pasta can be completely deducted.

According to

“After you file, your IRS office may refer you to Publication 17 and tell you these deductions are not permissible. IRS representatives have ruled otherwise and this is applicable throughout the US Refer them to the following Citations:

Revenue Ruling 55-261
Cohen 38 TC 387
Revenue Ruling 76-80, 67 TC 481
Flemming TC MEMO 1980 583
Van Kalb TC MEMO 1978 366″

I am not an account or a tax attorney so please read all of the pamphlets carefully to check for updates and be sure that you are following their guidelines correctly.  While it’s not super-convenient or easy, it has the potential to provide substantial savings each year.  And if you are already tracking your spending with one of the many tools now available for free online it may not even be that inconvenient.