I love finding local companies that are doing some really unique things to help make the gluten-free landscape more delicious.  One company that I have absolutely fallen in love with is DeRosa’s Natural Fine Foods out of Staten Island, New York.  My friends at DeRosa’s sent me a fantastic sampling of their prepared products and sauces – thanks Umberto.  The assortment was truly amazing and included: a Meat Lover’s Pizza; Garlic Bread; Ham & Cheese Calzone; Chicken Francese; Chicken Marsala; Chicken Parmigiana; Meat and Cheese Lasagna; Vodka sauce (with Corn pasta); and Sliced Almond Amaretto cookies.  All arrived at my door still perfectly frozen and ready to heat and eat in their containers.  Oh, and their prices are amazingly reasonable considering what you get.  All the products I sampled ranged from $5.99-$8.99 – I mean you cannot even order takeout for those prices, so getting freshly prepared meals at these prices is a steal.

Friends of mine from Staten Island actually served me DeRosa’s gluten-free Stromboli on several occasions but I didn’t realize that it was one in the same with this DeRosa’s because my friends always referenced the store that carried them (Pastosa’s Ravioli).  Their Stromboli is so good I would have my one of my friends from Staten Island actually bring them to the office frozen so I could take them home.  Now when we visit them there is always a frozen take-home Stromboli in the freezer waiting for me.  It  is nice to have such thoughtful friends.

So back to the sampling that took me more than a week to work my way through.  I made a point of brining the entrées for lunch at the office during one week and it was probably the best gluten-free Italian I have come across (and I work in the heart of Manhattan so that is saying something).  I have to admit I was skeptical when it came to re-heating the items.  I mean, would they taste live TV dinners?  Absolutely not!  These tasted as though you were having each meal catered to order.  Chef Luciana DeRosa is responsible for these gluten-free masterpieces and clearly knows what she is doing.  I come from an Italian family and when it comes to eating out Italian, I tend to be hyper-critical because I know how real food should taste.  Luciana managed to make gluten-free versions of some of my favorites that were absolutely undetectable as being gluten-free.  You could serve these to anyone, not tell them they were gluten-free and they would never know. Oh, and most items are also lactose- and casein-free.

First up was the Chicken Marsala.  It was wonderfully battered chicken cutlets swimming in just the right amount of a gorgeous dark Marsala sauce.  The sauce was wonderfully complex with the subtle richness of the wine coupled with just the right amount of spices to really make it standout and compliment the chicken perfectly.  The chicken itself was perfectly butchered breast meat cutlets that were absolutely moist and tender (even after being re-heated).

The next day’s lunch was the Chicken Francese – one of my favorite dishes, but not that easy to find in a mainstream gluten-free version.  Once again, the re-heating could not be easier (I used a microwave and every item came out absolutely perfectly cooked).  The sauce was the traditional light buttery sauces with a delicate hint of white wine and just a super subtle lemon undertone.  In a word, delicious.

The following day it was time to try the Meat and Cheese Lasagna.  Now, again I was hesitant to microwave lasagna but this too did not disappoint.  Oh, and for the record, there are oven re-heating instructions as well, but I was pressed for time and didn’t want to first up the oven at my office.  The lasagna was really a home run.  The pasta was cooked perfectly but the true stand out with this and all of DeRosa’s products are their sauces.  Their sauces are simple amazing.  A good sauce is really the foundation for exceptional Italian cooking – get the sauce wrong and you might as well just move on.  The lasagna has just the right balance of cheese and meat all perfectly layered between sheets of fabulous pasta. 

The next day would be my final office lunch and was the Chicken Parmigiana.  Like the chicken dishes that came before it, this one was just as delicious.  The cutlets were perfectly breaded (not greasy, which is key) and layered with cheese and the truly delicious DeRosa red sauce.  You simply do not know you are eating gluten-free Italian – it was so good I was actually worried – but needn’t be because DeRosa’s takes food allergies very seriously and if you buy gluten-free you are getting carefully made, super high quality gluten-free dishes.

I decided to make the pizza for lunch one weekend afternoon and one pie was enough for both me and my other half leaving us very full.  Again, the sauce really makes this but there was so many types of meat on this one that it really was a full meal in itself.  It had just the right amount of everything from sauce to cheese and being a meat lover’s pizza did not disappoint in the toppings department.  The pizza went straight from freezer to oven and cooked up crisp on the bottom but stayed moist on top – perfect.

As an interlude throughout the week I snacked on the Sliced Almond Amaretto cookies that instantly transported me back to my childhood.  These cookies are a true stand out.  They are wonderfully moist and chewy, just as I had remembered in my pre-Celiac diagnosis days.  The almond flour (often a staple in Italian desserts) gives such a wonderful texture making for a truly unique cookie.  Again, just the right amount of sweetness coupled with the amaretto flavor make for one perfect cookie.  Topped with sliced almonds, I was in absolute heaven.

I saved the Calzone and Garlic Bread for a small dinner party I was having and included them in my repertoire of hors d’oeuvres one evening.  I baked both in the oven and put the out sliced for my guests to enjoy.  The calzone crust was simply perfect.  It was incredibly delicate versus being extremely rigid as is often the case with gluten-free dough.  It was stuffed full of ham and cheese with a hint of sauce making for the perfect consistency.  The garlic bread was so much like the gluten-version it was scary.  I could not believe that I was eating gluten-free garlic bread – it was amazing.  Just the right amount of cheese partnered with a spicy garlic bite.  None of my guests would believe that these both were gluten-free.

The final item left for tasting was the corn pasta that I topped with DeRosa’s Vodka sauce.  The past was among the best I have come across and really had a nice texture to it allowing it to be prepared perfectly al dente.  The vodka sauce was pretty much creamy perfection.  A beautiful rose-colored creamy sauce that was full of flavor but not at all too heavy.

DeRosa’s is the finest pre-made Italian food that I have come across on my Celiac journey.  They do offer mail order and even catering for those in the local area.  If you find yourself on Staten Island, I highly recommend popping into Pastosa’s to check out DeRosa’s gluten-free offerings.  You likely bump into me filling my cart so my freezer is never without.  But just a word of caution, if there is only one Stromboli left, I will be fighting you for it.  Thanks DeRosa’s for knocking gluten-free Italian out of the ball park.  Be sure to check out their Gluten-Free Catalog for a full listing or products and prices.

The Fabulous Almond Cookies and Chicken Marsala

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