What about a dinner suggestion?
I opened up my email the other day and found a note, thanking me because this young mother had found my blog and used the advice I had given my friend to make quiche for brunch for her in-laws, and it was apparently a success for her as well. Now, however, she wanted to know if I had any good suggestions for a dinner entree to serve to company which could easily accommodate food allergy restrictions.
Within in two seconds, I had the perfect suggestion: Tetrazzini.
If you’re not familiar with tetrazzini, it’s a pasta dish which incorporates protein and vegetables into the pasta with a creamy white sauce. With the exception of mushrooms which every recipe you’ll find seems to have, everything else is pretty much up to your imagination and available food staples.
For a company dish, it’s perfect because you can assemble the dish ahead of time and then just pop it into the oven. It’s filling so you can simply add a salad to accompany it, and it’s pretty when it comes out of the oven. For folks with allergies, it’s highly adaptable.
Some thoughts on Tetrazzini:
1. The pasta: Almost every recipe you’ll find online has too large a pasta to protein/vegetable ratio. For your health and for good eating, I recommend cutting the pasta by half for any recipe. When I make the dish for company in a large 9 x 13 pan I cut the 16 oz of pasta to 8 ounces. Your ratio of protein and vegetables to pasta will be healthier but it’s also tastier in my opinion.
Also the usual pasta used is a long noodle like spaghetti. I like to use small shells because they capture the sauce in their crevices well and are easily spoonable and mix well with any meats and vegetables you add. Ancient Harvest has a gluten free quinoa small shells which taste really good and have a wonderful texture.
2. The meats and vegetables: You can use just about anything in tetrazzini. The most popular meats are turkey and chicken. For company, if there are no seafood allergies, I like to use cooked frozen shrimp. It’s easy and it makes the dish special. The nice thing about tetrazzini is that it’s a great dish for using up your leftovers, so feel free to be creative with whatever you have on hand. You can even use firm tofu. You should cut the tofu into small squares and saute them on all sides first, though, before adding them to the dish.
The same goes for the vegetables. As I mentioned above, a key ingredient in most tetrazzini recipes is mushrooms, but you can leave them out if you don’t like fungi. I happen to adore mushrooms, so I usually use mushrooms and asparagus or broccoli because I like the flavor and color combination. Again, whatever leftover vegetables will work. I’ve often just chopped up leftover zucchini, squash, peppers, etc… and thrown them in with good results. The key is to make sure your vegetables are bite-size.
3. The sauce: The sauce for tetrazzini is just a basic white sauce, so for folks with food allergies, it’s easily adaptable. While many recipes will call for butter, you can substitute olive oil or use a vegan allergy friendly butter. I prefer the taste of olive oil and the added health benefits. For the milk, I’ve found just that other “milks” work just as well, though I tend to use either flax or soy milk myself. For the flour, just about any type will work. I’ve used garbanzo bean, sorghum, gluten free oat, and brown rice flour with success.
Many recipes call for you to just use a cream based soup like cream of celery or broccoli or chicken. You can always go this route as well. It’s certainly easier than making your own white sauce and if you don’t have to worry about sodium or allergies, the taste doesn’t suffer in any way.
4. The seasoning: Most tetrazzini recipes just call for salt and black pepper. I usually omit salt and add thyme, oregano, and paprika. I also use garlic and onions for flavoring.
5. The topping: Many tetrazzini recipes call for a topping but the topping varies. Some say just to put cheese on top, usually parmesan. Others use a nutty topping with almonds combined with the cheese. Some call for bread crumbs. Some just tell you to top with chopped green onions. It’s really up to your tastes and preferences. There’s a lot of vegan parmesan-style cheese these days. I like to lightly saute gluten free bread crumbs in a little bit of olive oil with herbs and mix in the vegan parmesan with the crumbs with some garlic and evenly spread that on top of the tetrazzini because it then gives a little crunch to the dish plus it makes the casserole look pretty.
8 oz Ancient Harvest Quinoa small shells
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
one bunch asparagus, cut into bite size pieces
1 tbsp minced onions
1 tsp mince garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sweet white sorghum flour
2 cups flax or soy milk
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp paprika
16 oz thawed frozen cooked shrimp, tails removed
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup gluten free bread crumbs
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup vegan parmesan
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.Thaw shrimp and remove tails. Set aside.
3. Prepare the shells as directed on the packaging. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Set aside.
4. In a pan saute mushrooms over medium-low heat with 2 tsp olive oil for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add the chopped asparagus with 2 tbsp water, the minced onion, and the garlic. Saute for another 4 minutes and remove from heat.
6. In a pan heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Whisk in the sorghum flour and cook, stirring for a minute. Slowly add the “milk”, whisking continually until the flour is fully mixed into the milk. Cook until the sauce has thickened, stirring continually, about five minutes.
7. Add the pasta, mushrooms and asparagus mixture, and shrimp to the sauce and blend well.
8. Pour the casserole into a 9 x 13 pan.
9. Saute the bread crumbs with the olive oil and oregano for a minute or two. Mix in the paremsan and evenly spread the bread crumb mixture over the tetrazzini.
10. Bake the casserole for about 20-30 minutes until the dish is warmed through and the sauce is bubbling.