from Cajun-Creole Cooking,
by Terry Thompson-Anderson. Please read more about Terry's book: cajun-creole cooking
In the late 1800's, large numbers of immigrants from Sicily began to settle in South Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, a new dimension was added to Creole food. Like the many other earlier influences, Italian cuisine contributed subtle nuances of taste. From the Italians the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. Its sensuous, sultry presence is encountered just barely beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes. My personal theory is that it was from these hearty, vivacious, and fun-loving Sicilians that the Creoles inherited much of their intense love affair with fine food.
Conversely, the spanish roots of the Creole cuisine had a profound impact on Sicilian-American foods. An entire sub-cuisine evolved within the Creole cooking of New Orleans. Today some of New Orleans' finest restaurants are owned by descendants of these Creole-Italians. They serve excitingly different food that started out many years ago as robust Sicilian fare but that, through the years of Creole influence, developed its current piquant patina - due largely to the Spanish love of ground chilies. After you've eaten two or three bites and a warm, titillating glow has developed at the back of your throat, you realize that this is no ordinary spaghetti sauce!
The most unique feature of the cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as "red gravy" or "tomato gravy." This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family. Some red gravies are based on a brown roux. Some contain eggplant. Others contain anchovies, whole boiled eggs, or meat. Two consistent threads in red gravy are the addition of sugar and the frying of tomato paste!
When I learned the secret of frying tomato paste, everything I cooked for a week contained fried tomato paste! The procedure produces a specific taste without which you simply do not have authentic Creole-Italian tomato gravy. After the vegetables are sautéed in olive oil, tomato paste is added and, literally, fried before the liquids are added.
Creole-Italians incorporate local fish and shellfish in their cooking with delicious results in dishes such as Crawfish Fettuccine, Crabmeat in Garlic-Cream Sauce, and many more. Some dishes were borrowed from Creole kitchens and topped with red gravy, as is the case with Creole Daube.
Other dishes, among them some of the best, came directly from the heart of the Creole-Italian homemaker's domain. Spinach Bread is such a dish. This could be filled with nothing but the many versions of this delicious and versatile bread. You can bake loaves of the bread, slice them into inch-thick slices, and serve them in bread baskets as party food. And nothing will complement your best pasta-and-tomato-gravy meal like a hot loaf of Spinach Bread. When your guests lift the napkin covering the basket, the aroma that rises says "Italian."
The Creole-Italians are very serious about their pasta. My favorite New Orleans pasta is made from semolina flour, eggs, and a little dry white or red wine, depending on the sauce. The taste of the wine is not pronounced or even discernible, but it adds a little extra flavor.