Growing up, the daughters of renowned Chef Emeril Lagasse enjoyed savory, home-cooked meals. But when the Lagasse girls were diagnosed with gluten allergies, they adjusted by tweaking their diets and creating the dishes that they know and love – minus the gluten. In The Gluten-Free Table (Grand Central Life & Style, Oct. 2012) they share their favorite recipes.
"The dishes are our comfort foods," says Jessie. "These are the dishes that we eat regularly, make for friends and family, and crave on a regular basis."
Brimming with Southern cuisine staples, the cookbook features recipes for Sweet ‘n’ Sticky Chicken Drumsticks, Hearty Butter Bean and Ham Soup, and Slow-Cooked Rosemary Chicken with Apples and Fennel, among many others.
"There is truly something for everyone in this book," says Jilly.
Jessie discovered her gluten sensitivities during her trip to Italy, in 2000. "I'd been feeling ill for a while, but was so excited to eat all of that delicious Italian food," she recalls. But after sampling those hearty pasta meals, she became sick and shed ten pounds by the end of the trip.
When she arrived back in the states, Jessie consulted a naturopathic doctor. The doctor conducted several tests and came to the conclusion that Jessie has gluten sensitivity. "Once I eliminated the culprit foods, my health dramatically improved," says Jessie.
Two years later, Jilly received her diagnosis of Celiac Disease, which meant that she – like her sister – has gluten sensitivities. "I had been ill for ages and no one could figure out what was wrong with me," she says. Once Jilly, who was living in London at the time, eliminated gluten from her diet, the ailments disappeared. "I had energy," she recalls. "My proper diagnosis changed my life."
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease that can eventually become debilitating. When individuals with Celiac disease consume foods with gluten, because of an autoimmune reaction, the gluten damages the villi in the small intestines. Damaged villi cannot absorb such basic nutrients as proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins. One out of 133 people in the United States suffer from Celiac disease. The cause of Celiac's remains unknown.
But the Lagasse girls did not let this diagnosis slow them down or prevent them from eating delicious food.
Together, Jilly and Jessie compiled a collection of inspired recipes, for food-lovers with gluten sensitivities or Celiac disease.
"Food is such a key part of who we are. And sharing food is central to our families and our lives,” says Jessie. “It just seemed natural to share our gluten-free recipes, so that other families could enjoy them like we do," says Jessie.
"Yes. You will have to change the way you look at food and cooking," says Jilly. "But, that doesn't mean you can't truly enjoy and love the food you're eating now."
And because Jilly likes to try the hip, new restaurants on the local dining scene, she has developed a skill for pinpointing eateries that offer gluten-free dishes. She notes her affinity for Vietnamese food and – when in New Orleans – visits Pho Noi Viet, at least once a week. “It’s just fantastic," she exclaims. "I also love Nirvana, which satisfies the incredible hankering for good Indian food that I acquired while living in London," she adds.
London fueled Jilly’s interest in ethnic fare, indeed. "It exposed me to so many wonderful cuisines, cultures and flavors," she explains. Over the course of eight plus years, she enjoyed Pakistani and Moroccan delights, along with Lebanese and Turkish dishes. But Jilly also relished the traditional English meals, like a standard Sunday roast feast, along with fish and chip meals. Traces of these cuisines have influenced her current cooking and cravings. "I've embraced all of those flavors and cultures."
As a wife and mother of two young children, Jessie also searches for creative, family-friendly options. She prepares chicken nuggets, along with freezable staples, like red beans and shepherd's pie, without gluten. Jessie notes that her little tykes keep her busy, so cooking on a daily basis can be difficult. "I'm hoping that as they get a bit bigger and more self-sufficient, I'll be able to scrounge together enough time to cook yummies like I used to," she says.
When it comes to family, both Jilly and Jessie treasure long, joyful feasts, with their father, Emeril Lagasse. "Of course, all my four-year-old wants is corn chips – regardless of what delicious creation his Grandpa Em has prepared," Jessie jokes.
"It's always a blast," says Jilly. "I always walk away feeling so lucky and blessed to have the family I have—full of love and always a bit too full of Daddy's good cooking!"
It seems that the Gluten-Free Table is merely an exciting chapter in the constantly evolving lives off the Lagasse Girls. So stay tuned.
For recipes and information on the cookbook, visit: LagasseGirls.com
Lagasse Girls’ Jazzy Jambalaya: Serves 8 – 10
For anyone raised in Louisiana, this dish is pure New Orleans nostalgia in a pot. All the smells and tastes bring back wonderful memories of being children, attending Mardi Gras parades and warming up with a bowl of hot jambalaya when we got home. If Andouille or Cajun Sausage is not available to you, substitute any gluten free smoked sausage you can find, such as Polish Kielbasa. – Lagasse Girls
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 LB. fresh raw shrimp, medium sized, cleaned, peeled and de-veined
- 2 tsp. Emeril’s Original Essence Seasoning
- 1 ½ LB. Gluten free Andouille Cajun sausage, sliced into bite size rounds
- 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1 cup red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp. oregano
- 6 Ounce can of tomato paste sauce
- 14 Ounce can of diced or chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp. celery salt
- 4 cups vegetable stock or water
- 2 cups uncooked white rice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 stalks green onions, finely sliced for garnish
- In a large 10 Quart soup pan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.
- In a small bowl, combine the shrimp and essence seasoning and coat all sides evenly. Set aside.
- Add the garlic and sausage to the pot and cook for 5 minutes to allow the sausage to brown.
- Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, bay leaves, cayenne, thyme, oregano and the tomato paste to the pot. Stir well, turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add in the diced tomatoes, celery salt, stock, salt and pepper to taste into the pot. Stir well and cook a further 5 minutes.
- Add the seasoned shrimp to the pot, cover and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes.
- Add the rice to the pot, stir well and bring heat up to a gentle boil over medium high heat, uncovered.
- Once boiling, return heat to low and cook 25 minutes covered until the rice is cooked through, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking on the bottom of pot.
- Uncover, add the green onions, stir well and cook a final 5 minutes.
- Taste and re-season if desired. Turn off heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.
- Remove bay leaves if possible before serving in bowls with a sprinkling of sliced green onions on top for garnish.