In the Kitchen // Cajun Inspired Dishes
Cajun-inspired dishes add flair to traditional Italian menus
By Pasquale "Pat" Bruno

Cajun-Creole cooking is hot (as in trend, but also because customers are taking to spicy-heat dishes like never before). So why not jump on the bandwagon and play along? I am sure your customers will love the variety.

Some of the specialities of New Orleans in particular and Lousiana in general include po’ boys, the famous muffaletta, jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish . . . the list goes on and on.

Critical to most Cajun dishes is the spice mix. There are brands upon brands of ready-to-go Cajun spice mixes, so that’s the easy part. However, should you wish to make your own Cajun spice mix, try this one:

Cajun Spice Mix

3 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons each of cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, onion powder and garlic powder.

1 tablespoon each sea salt or kosher salt, black pepper and sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Makes about 1 cup.

On the other hand, the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun-Creole cuisine is bell pepper, onion and celery. It all depends on what style of dish — pasta, soup, sandwich, pizza — you are going for.

The meats most commonly used in Cajun cookery are andouille sausage, pork sausage (boudin) and chaurice (similar to chorizo).

Here are is a Cajun-inspired sandwich recipe to get you started.

///////// Pasta Jambalaya with sausage and chicken

Serves 4 to 6 (scale up in direct proportion)

1 pound penne rigate, ziti or rotini, cooked in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water (the starchy water enhances the pasta “sauce”). Drain the pasta and set it aside. Keep it warm.

3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound shrimp
¾ pound andouille sausage, diced into ½-inch pieces
½ cup yellow onion, small dice
½ cup green bell pepper, small dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons Cajun spice mix
½ cup chicken stock or broth
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, crushed by hand and drained
½ cup grated Parmesan

Over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil in a large saute pan for 1 minute. Add chicken, sausage, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Add the Cajun spice mix. Stir and cook until the chicken and sausage and bell pepper are cooked through (about 5 minutes). Add the chicken broth and tomatoes. Cook and stir to reduce a bit. Add the reserved pasta water and cook for another 3 minutes.

Put the cooked, reserved pasta in a heated pasta serving bowl. Add the jambalaya sauce and toss to combine. For each portion, sprinkle on the Parmesan just before serving.

//// Muffaletta //// Olive Salad

Yield: 2 quarts

1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup green “Salad” olives with pimientos
1 cup chopped black olives
½ cup pepperoncini
2 ½ cups roasted sweet peppers, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup capers, rinsed
1 teaspoon each white and black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano,
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

Put all the ingredients in a non-reactive container (glass preferred) and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Use after 12 hours. It will keep for about 1 month.

The two meats most commonly used in a muffaletta sandwich are hard salami (Genoa works best) and ham. Mortadella is often used, too. The cheese most commonly used is provolone. The meats and cheese should be thinly sliced.

The bread most commonly used is Italian. The shape of the bread should be round, and it should have some height, since it will be sliced in half horizontally. Size varies, but the bread should be no smaller than 8 inches in diameter. The largest muffaletta sandwich that I ever had was made with a 12-inch round loaf.

The assembly goes like this. Slice the bread in half horizontally. Scoop out some of the bread from the center of the bottom half (this helps to hold in the olive salad). Spoon some of the olive salad into the “cavity” of the bottom half of the bread. Lay in the provolone cheese, then the meats. Smear some of the liquid from the olive salad over the meat. Cover with top half of bread. Press down on the bread to flatten the sandwich just a bit. Slice into wedges and serve. u

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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