Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Italian Christmas Dinner
Buon Natale! A classic Italian menu with a gluten-free and dairy-free twist
I grew up in an Italian household where Christmas was a generous affair. The presents were piled knee-high underneath a massive ornament-laden tree that filled our entire front room. But the real center of our Christmas was the kitchen where my mother bent over bubbling pots, my aunts rolled pasta dough, my father filled glasses with homemade wine and my cousins and I decorated cookies. The result was a long dinner table crowded with delectable Italian dishes that marked the holiday as a mouth-watering celebration of culinary treasures.
I had planned to hand these traditions down to my daughters until I discovered I had celiac disease. After I was diagnosed, I wondered if these wonderful banquets would become a thing of the past. So much of the Italian experience involves gluten-rich food!
Rather than concentrating on what I could not eat, I decided to turn to the same cuisine for answers. I began a culinary quest that led to reshaping and re-creating classic dishes into delicious fare that everyone, including me, could enjoy.
Here’s a festive spread (antipasto, bread sticks, pasta dish, main course and desserts) that celebrates the very best of Italian tradition—without gluten and dairy. Add a fresh green salad and a side of mashed potatoes or polenta.
Gluten-Free Chickpea and Vegetable Crostini
SERVES 8 TO 10
This antipasto starts with a simple chickpea flatbread. Add roasted tomatoes, pan-fried artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and olives. Serve all ingredients on a large tray so that guests can help themselves. They’ll have fun building their own crostini.
1½ cups chickpea or garbanzo bean flour
2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided + more for drizzling
2 teaspoons sea salt + more for drizzling
1. Whisk flour and water together in a medium bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours. Batter is watery at first but will thicken with time.
2. Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and add to chickpea mixture.
3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees or the highest temperature your oven will go. This flatbread is traditionally made in a wood-fire oven, so a conventional oven must be extra hot.
4. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Grease paper surface with remaining olive oil. Or use a well-seasoned cast iron pan without a paper lining and coat with 2 tablespoons oil.
5. Remix batter and pour it into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until light brown on top and edges are crisp.
7. Cut and drizzle with more olive oil and sea salt. Transfer to serving tray.
Each flatbread contains 101 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 47mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 3g protein.
Roasted Peppers and Tomatoes
2 red peppers, cleaned and quartered
4 fresh tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs (flat leaf parsley, basil or oregano)
- Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon capers, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
2. Brush tomatoes and peppers with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Lay peppers skin side down on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn peppers and add tomatoes to pan. Bake another 10 minutes or until peppers are easily pieced with a fork.
3. Slice roasted peppers and toss with capers, if desired. Transfer tomatoes and peppers to serving tray.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (15 ounce) can artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained and quartered
½ cup Gluten-Free Bread Crumbs
1 large egg or ¼ cup milk of choice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup marinated olives, pitted and chopped
1. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet.
2. Place gluten-free bread crumbs in a bowl.
3. In a second bowl, mix together egg (or milk of choice), salt and pepper. Dip artichokes in liquid and then in bread crumbs. Add to hot oil.
4. Without stirring, cook artichokes for about 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving tray.
5. Add your favorite marinated olives, such as calamata, to the serving tray.
TIP To save time, buy prepared peppers, marinated olives and artichoke hearts in oil at your local specialty store.
Each crostini contains 218 calories, 13g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 22mg cholesterol, 869mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 6g protein.
MAKES 1 CUP
Your favorite homemade gluten-free bread makes ideal bread crumbs for special dishes. Store crumbs in the freezer and use when needed.
2 thick slices gluten-free bread or 1-2 gluten-free rolls
2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons dried herbs (parsley, basil, thyme or combination), optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut bread into chunks and pulse in a food processor until coarse crumbs form.
3. Place crumbs in a small bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs, if desired.
4. Spread evenly on prepared baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
5. Store crumbs in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
Light and Airy
Gluten-Free Herb and Garlic Breadsticks
These breadsticks are family favorites and take only minutes to prepare.
½ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
¾ teaspoon salt
- Dash pepper
- Pinch fresh nutmeg
½ cup Mary’s All-Purpose Flour Blend
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, basil), chopped
1 clove garlic, minced, optional
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat water, oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg over medium heat until liquid begins to simmer. Mix flour blend with xanthan gum and immediately add to saucepan, stirring until dough forms. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly.
3. Pour the hot mixture into a food processor. Add eggs, herbs and garlic, if desired, and pulse until ingredients are incorporated and dough is smooth and elastic.
4. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag. A #14 bag with the coupling attached and no tip is just the right size for breadsticks. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a large Zip-lock plastic bag with about ½-inch of one corner trimmed off. Squeeze out long, thin mounds of dough (8-10 inches long, ½ inch wide) onto prepared baking sheets. Use wet fingers to lightly press down the ends.
5. Bake breadsticks in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 to 24 minutes.
Each breadstick contains 51 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 23mg cholesterol, 105mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 1g protein.
Capone’s Marinara Sauce
MAKES 6 CUPS
My family has made this recipe for generations. My grandparents harvested fresh tomatoes from the garden, blanched them (removing the skin and seeds) and diced them fine to create a base sauce. Fortunately, whole tomatoes from a can achieve the same wonderful flavor.
2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes in basil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano,chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt, more to taste
-Fresh ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1. Run tomatoes through a food mill to remove skin and seeds or push by hand through a colander into a 6-quart saucepan. Discard tomato pulp left in the food mill or colander.
2. Warm tomatoes over medium heat and add basil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a slow simmer until bubbles appear. Then cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until tomato sauce resembles a thin oatmeal. Do not overcook. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Add more herbs for additional flavor, if desired. If sauce is too sweet, add a pinch of salt and pepper. If it’s too salty, add a pinch of sugar.
3. In a small pan, heat oil and add minced garlic. Cook until lightly brown or just beginning to color. Stir oil and garlic into sauce.
Each ½ cup serving contains 67 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 236mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g protein.
TIP For marinara sauce, use whole canned tomatoes, not diced or pureed.
Gluten-Free Potato and Italian Sausage Gnocchi
Don’t be put off by homemade gnocchi. This delicious dish is quite easy to make. For a vegetarian option, omit the sausage.
1½ pounds baking potatoes (about 4 medium)
1 cup Mary’s All-Purpose Flour Blend
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 egg or egg-free substitute
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg, optional
½ pound gluten-free Italian style sausage, casing removed, cooked and diced
1. In a large pan, boil potatoes with skin on until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and peel.
2. Put potatoes through a food mill or grate them on the large side of a cheese grater onto a clean work surface.
3. Combine flour blend and xanthan gum. Add to potatoes and knead dough, forming a mound with a well in the center, like the shape of a bird’s nest.
4. Break egg in the center and add salt, nutmeg and sausage. Knead dough until ingredients are well incorporated. (Depending on what kind of potato you use, your dough may be too sticky to handle. If so, add a little more flour blend after you add the egg.) Dough should be smooth and stay together when rolling. Dust your work surface lightly with flour blend, adding only enough to handle dough.
5. Divide dough into 4 parts. Roll each part into a long, sausage-like shape about 1½- inches in diameter. With a knife or pastry cutter, cut each long roll into individual dumplings, each about 1 inch long.
6. Set fork face down on the end of your board. Gently roll each gnocchi over the back of the fork prongs.
7. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Drop in a few gnocchi at a time, only enough to fill the bottom of the pot in a single layer. Gnocchi will soon rise to the surface of the water. Cook for additional 2-3 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon to a serving platter.
8. Cover with Capone’s Marinara Sauce or your favorite tomato sauce. Serve immediately.
Each serving contains 324 calories, 13g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 64mg cholesterol, 582mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 10g protein.
Memorable Main Course
Gluten-Free Roast Chicken with Fig and Pancetta Stuffing
SERVES 6 TO 8
Il secondo, the second course, is the center of every Italian holiday feast. This scrumptious dish calls for a whole chicken that’s deboned. Ask your butcher to debone it or use whole boneless chicken breasts with skin on. With nimble hands, this recipe can be prepared in less than 1 hour. The results are worth it.
½ cup figs, diced
½ cup dry white wine
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ pound pancetta or gluten-free bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dry, divided
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
2 cups coarse gluten-free bread crumbs
1 cup gluten-free chicken broth, divided
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 whole chicken, deboned (about 3 pounds) or 3 whole boneless chicken breasts, skin on
1. Place diced figs into ½ cup wine. Set aside.
2. In a large frying pan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook about one minute. Add pancetta or bacon and rosemary and sauté until bacon is a light brown, about 5 minutes.
3. Add red pepper and spinach and sauté for 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl to cool slightly.
4. Remove figs from wine, reserving wine for later use. Add bread crumbs, ½ cup broth, figs and salt and pepper to bowl and mix well.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay chicken, skin side down on a clean surface. If using chicken breast, first pound the breast between two sheets of plastic wrap to ¼-inch thickness. Lay breasts skin-side down, overlapping slightly.
6. Line the center of the meat with stuffing. Pull up the sides to meet in center, overlapping slightly. Truss with kitchen or butcher’s string.
7. Rub outside of the skin with olive oil, remaining rosemary and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
8. Place in 9x13-inch baking dish on center rack in preheated oven. Baste with reserved wine and remaining broth. Bake for 50 minutes or until desired doneness.
9. Let sit for 10 minutes to set flavors. Then carve into slices and serve.
Each serving contains 373 calories, 19g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 90mg cholesterol, 928mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 28g protein.
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Holiday Lemon Sugar Cookies
MAKES 36 COOKIES
Lemon extract makes these cookies burst with flavor. The dough holds up to any rolling pin.
1¼ cups Mary’s All-Purpose Flour Blend
½ cup tapioca flour/starch
½ cup potato starch (not potato flour)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter or dairy-free substitute, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg or egg-free substitute
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon gluten-free lemon extract
1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine first five ingredients. Set aside.
3. In the large bowl of a mixer, combine butter and sugar and beat for 3 minutes until mixture is a pale yellow.
4. Add in egg, vanilla extract and lemon extract.
5. Add dry ingredients, slowly mixing until dough forms. Place bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
6. Remove half the dough and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to ¼-inch thickness. Use star shapes or other cookie cutters to cut out cookies and place them on prepared cookie sheets. Reroll scraps of dough. If dough becomes too sticky, chill again. Repeat with second half of dough.
7. Bake in preheated oven 12 to 15 minutes until light brown. Remove and let cool thoroughly before handling and decorating.
1½ cups confections’ sugar
1 large pasturized egg white or powdered egg white mixed with water to equal 1 egg white
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon gluten-free lemon extract
- Food coloring
1. Beat sugar and egg white with electric beater.
2. Add lemon juice and lemon extract and beat until ingredients are incorporated.
3. Separate icing into small bowls and stir in a drop or two of different food coloring, as desired.
4. Chill icing until you’re ready to decorate cooled cookies. Spread icing on cookies, as desired.
Each cookie with icing contains 125 calories, 5g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 19mg cholesterol, 79mg sodium, 19g carbo-hydrate, 0g fiber, 1g protein.
TIP For egg-free icing, replace egg white with 1½ teaspoons egg replacer mixed in 4 teaspoons warm water. Add mixture to sugar and proceed with recipe, as instructed.
Note: Gluten-free egg replacer is available from Ener-G Foods, ener-g.com.
Luscious Chocolate Souffle Dessert
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Nonna’s Christmas Cake
My grandmother made this wonderful dessert at Christmas. The moist, rich center complements a crusty chocolate outside. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and rim cake with fresh raspberries, strawberries or candied fruit. Slice cake thinly and it will serve a crowd. Recipe can be halved for a smaller group.
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1¾ cups (3½ sticks) unsalted butter or dairy-free substitute
12 large eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons gluten-free raspberry extract
¼ cup Mary’s All-Purpose Flour Blend
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (use 8½ or 9-inch pan if recipe is halved).
2. In a double boiler, melt chocolate. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.
3. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.
4. Separate eggs. Place whites into a large bowl and yolks into large bowl of a mixer. Beat yolks until light yellow, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until mixture drops from a spatula in a heavy ribbon, about 5 to 7 minutes.
5. Add vanilla and raspberry extracts and mix on slow speed just until ingredients are incorporated.
6. Fold in melted chocolate and butter with a large spoon or rubber spatula just until mixed.
7. In another bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Sprinkle on top of batter and fold in gently.
8. Whip egg whites to soft peaks and fold into batter just until whites are mixed. Pour batter into springform pan.
9. Bake in preheated oven for 75 minutes. If using the half recipe, bake for 50 minutes. Cake will rise like a soufflé and fall when it cools. Let it cool completely and then sprinkle with powdered sugar and decorate with fruit of choice.
TIP A traditional soufflé is served piping hot directly from the oven. This cake, however, is better after it sits and literally collapses, creating an uneven crusty top and a soft, delicate center. To achieve this, just let cake cool.
Each serving contains 301 calories, 24g total fat, 14g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 141mg cholesterol, 138mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 6g protein.
MAKES 6 CUPS
A combination of white and brown rice flour lightens the texture of baked goods. For a more nutritious mix with lower glycemic index, use all brown rice flour, a total of 4 cups flour.
2 cups brown rice flour
2 cups white rice flour
½ cups potato starch (not potato flour)
⅔ cup tapioca starch/flour
1. Mix ingredients together. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator until used.