Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Italian Regional Cooking – Sardegna

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Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The coasts of Sardinia are generally high and rocky with long, relatively straight stretches of coastline that contain a few deep bays, many inlets and smaller islands off the coast. The Strait of Bonifacio is directly north of Sardinia and separates Sardinia from the French island of Corsica. The region’s capital is Cagliari.

Sardinia

The island has a Mediterranean climate along the coasts, plains and low hills and a continental climate on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges. During the year there are approximately 135 days of sunshine, with a major concentration of rainfall in the autumn and winter.

Traditional Dress

Traditional Dress

During the Second World War, Sardinia was an important air and naval base and was heavily bombed by the Allies. In the early 1960s, an industrialization effort was begun with the initiation of major infrastructure projects on the island. These included the construction of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marshland and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). With the creation of these industries, thousands of ex-farmers became industrial workers.

The Sardinian economy is constrained due to the high cost of importing goods, transportation and generating electricity, which is twice that of the continental Italian regions and triple that of the EU average. The once prosperous mining industry is still active, though restricted to coal, gold, bauxite, lead and zinc. Granite extraction represents one of the most flourishing industries in the northern part of the island. Principal industries include chemicals, petrochemicals, metalworking, cement, pharmaceutical, shipbuilding, oil rig construction, rail and food.

Cork

Cork Trees

Agriculture has played a very important role in the economic history of the island, especially in the great plain of Campidano, where it is particularly suitable for wheat farming. Water scarcity was a major problem that was overcome with the construction of a great barrier system of dams. Now, the Campidano plain is a major Italian producer of oats, barley and durum wheat. Sardinian agriculture is linked to specific products: cheese, wine, olive oil, artichokes and tomatoes that contribute to a growing export business. Sardinia produces about 80% of Italian cork and ranks 5th among the Italian regions in rice production. The main paddy fields are located in the Arborea Plain.

Sardinia is home to one of the oldest forms of vocal music, generally known as cantu a tenore. The guttural sounds produced in this form make a remarkable sound, similar to Tuvan throat singing. Sardinia is home to professional soccer and basketball teams and auto racing. Cagliari hosted a Formula 3000 race in 2002 and 2003 around its Sant’Elia stadium.

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Sardinia boasts the highest consumption of beer per capita in Italy. The discovery of jars containing hops in some archaeological sites are evidence that beer was produced in the region since the Copper Age.

The Cuisine of Sardinia

Thousands of rare species of plants and animals grow and live on the island, some entirely unique to Sardinia. An excellent example of the longevity of Sardinia’s heirloom produce is the Grenache wine grape which dates back to about 1,200 BC. The Grenache grapes grown on the island today are genetically indistinguishable from their ancestors grown thousands of years ago in the same areas.

Wild boar, lamb, pork, eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes, lobsters, sea urchins, octopus, clams, mussels and squid are plentiful. Salty flavors are preferred by Sardinians, such as, bottarga (a pressed and salted mullet roe) and salt preserved sardines.

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Traditional hearty Italian pastas like culingiones (spinach and cheese ravioli) share center stage with Arabic-inspired couscous dishes. Many first-time visitors are surprised by the Sardinians’ liberal use of saffron, which grows well on the island. Saffron is a particular favorite in gnocchi dishes.

A wide variety of herbs, including myrtle (berries, flowers, leaves and stems), flourish on Sardinia and flavor the local dishes. Whether savory, sweet, used for wood smoking or instilled into digestive liqueurs, myrtle is a major part of the Sardinian palate.

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Cheeses are especially important and the island’s most exported food product. Pecorino sardo, Fiore sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano and the famous casu marzu are all made within the region. Casu marzu is illegal now in Italy due to its bizarre culturing and aging process involving the introduction of live cheese fly larvae into the process to bring about a poisonous stage akin to decomposition. Though obviously a risky gastronomic health adventure and definitely not for the timid, casu marzu is nonetheless a very popular black market commodity and is considered a distinctive delicacy by many locals.

For more traditional tastes, you will find local rock lobsters topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and roasted in the oven and cassòla, a flavorful seafood soup, that can have as many as a dozen types of seafood cooked with spices and tomatoes.

Fava beans are cooked with cardoons, wild fennel, tomatoes, salt pork and sausage to create the thick stew known as favata.  Farro, a locally grown grain, is simmered slowly in beef broth with cheese and mint to make su farro.

Chickens are marinated with myrtle leaves and berries, boiled and eaten chilled.  Other Sardinian recipes for meat are agnello con finocchietti, a stew of lamb with wild fennel, tomatoes and onion.  Not people to waste food, Sardinians stew lamb or kid intestines with peas, onions and tomatoes.

Sardinians love pasta in all forms and their cuisine features specialties found nowhere else.  Plump culingiones are shaped like ravioli and stuffed with chard and pecorino cheese and served with tomato sauce. The regional dish, malloreddus, are tiny semolina gnocchi topped with a garlic, basil, pecorino and saffron flavored sausage and tomato sauce.

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Every village has a unique shaped bread, either a round loaf, a long cylindrical loaf or a donut shaped loaf.  Sardinian recipes also include a sweet focaccia flavored with pecorino cheese and a local bitter honey. The entire island loves flatbread and crisp carta de musica or “sheet of music”,  a paper-thin crisp bread. One popular way to serve this cracker style bread is to soften it in warm water, then spread it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and poached eggs.

Sardinian cooking also offers a wide selection of cookies, pastries and cakes. These desserts are usually flavored with spices, almonds, raisins and ricotta cheese.  Pabassinas are pastries filled with a raisin walnut paste.

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Mirto is a liqueur unique to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It is made from the berries of the flowering Mirto (or Myrtle) plant, a distinctive plant that grows throughout the Mediterranean basin but is most prolific on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The berries are dark blue in color and look somewhat like blueberries but bear no relationship to blueberries in taste or other properties.

Sardinia’s wines have little in common with those produced in the rest of Italy. The Island’s remote Mediterranean location, as well as the historic influence from other cultures, gives the wines a unique character that might be considered to have more in common with Spanish wines rather than Italian wines. Production is extensive around the port of Cagliari in the Campidano area, where the little known Girò, Monica, Nasco and Nuragus varietals grow alongside Malvasia and Moscato, all bearing town names: Girò di Cagliari, Monica di Cagliari, Nasco di Cagliari, Nuragus di Cagliari, Malvasia di Cagliari and Moscato di Cagliari DOCs.

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Sardinian Minestrone

Traditionally, it is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula (or fregola) a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dried peeled fava beans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans or cannellini beans
  • 1/3 cup dried chickpeas
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (about 3½ cups)
  • 3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1½ cups)
  • 1½ cups chopped fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2⁄3 cup of Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous, or acini di pepe pasta
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (about 2 ounces)

Directions

Soak the fava beans, cranberry beans and chickpeas in a large bowl of water for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and rinse well.

Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery; cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 20 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley and basil, as well as the drained beans and chickpeas. Add enough water (6 to 8 cups) so that everything is submerged by 1 inch.

Raise the heat to high and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the beans are tender, adding more water as necessary if the mixture gets too thick, about 1½ hours.

Stir in the fregula, salt and pepper. Add up to 2 cups water if necessary. Continue simmering, uncovered, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into each of four serving bowls. Divide the soup among them and top each with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese.

Notes: You can vary the beans in the minestrone: pinto beans make a good substitute for cranberry beans; great northern or cannellini beans, for the favas. Use the stalks and fronds that come off a fennel bulb for the most intense flavor. Add other fresh vegetables from the garden or market, such as zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and cauliflower or broccoli florets.

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Cavatelli with Sardinian Sausage Sauce

Cavatelli pasta is shaped like a small hot dog bun with a long, rolled edge that is good for holding thick sauces.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large pinches saffron
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cavatelli pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a large deep frying pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the remaining oil to the pan. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint, parsley, water, salt and 1 pinch of the saffron. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli with the remaining pinch saffron until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.

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Sardinian Lamb Kabobs over Couscous

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into small florets
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1 3/4 cups canned chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions
In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler.

In a glass dish or stainless steel pan, combine the lamb, 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice.

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, the tomatoes, broth and raisins.

Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the couscous and parsley. Bring back to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Put the lamb on skewers. Sprinkle the kabobs with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Grill or broil the kabobs, turning and basting with the marinade, until the lamb is cooked to your taste, 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Serve the skewers on the couscous.

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“Torta de arrosu”  Saffron rice cake

Ingredients

  • 200 gr / 7 oz rice
  • 150 gr/ 5 oz  sugar
  • 750 ml /  1 ½ pints of milk
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100 gr/ 3 1/2 oz skinned almonds
  • Grated rind of a lemon
  • A pinch of saffron
  • A pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F (180 C).  Grease a 9 inch (24 cm) cake pan.

Put the milk, butter, saffron, sugar, salt and lemon rind in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until all the milk has been absorbed. Let cool and then add the eggs and the almonds.

Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for one hour.  Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Festival Days

 

Make Your Desserts Heart Happy

heartcoverDesserts aren’t off-limits if you’re aiming for a heart-healthy diet. You just have to choose carefully. The high fat content of some desserts, particularly if made with saturated fat—can cause higher cholesterol levels in the body. Over time, elevated cholesterol can lead to heart attacks, strokes, sluggish circulation and kidney problems. If you stick with healthier recipes, have dessert only a few times a week and keep it to reasonable portions—you can have dessert.

Some tips in making good tasting, healthy desserts:

Paying a little extra for high-quality products, like premium chocolate and pure vanilla extract, can pay off. More-flavorful ingredients make lower calorie desserts taste better.

Use two egg whites or a quarter cup of refrigerated egg substitute in place of one egg and you’ll trim about 60 calories and six grams of fat from your treats. In my experience, baked goods turn out really well when using egg substitutes.

Most chocolate chip cookies are much larger than what is considered a healthy portion. Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough. For brownies and sheet cakes, cut them into two-inch squares before serving. Pie slices should be about one and a half inches across at the widest part.

Replacing one cup of white flour with white whole wheat flour adds 10 grams of heart-healthy fiber to your baked goods. Because whole grains are coarser than refined ones, it is better to use no more than a fifty-fifty mix in your recipe.

You can also make graham cracker crusts that will hold together without melted butter. Pulse 10 honey graham cracker sheets (six ounces) into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add two tablespoons of low-fat milk and process for another 30 seconds, or until the crumbs stick when pressed together. Press the mixture into a nine-inch pie dish and bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sugar substitutes have a different chemical consistency and are often sweeter than sugar, meaning you’ll need less. For best results, use sweetener-sugar hybrids developed specifically for baking, like Domino Light or Truvia Baking Blend and follow the directions on the package.

You can use less fat and sugar in a recipe by substituting a portion of the fat and sugar with fruit or vegetable purees. They make desserts denser, so try a 25 to 50 percent trade to find the right combination.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Applesauce

The mild flavor of unsweetened applesauce works particularly well in muffins and cakes. Use an equal amount to replace butter, oil or shortening in your recipe.

2. Canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree

Substitute either one for fat in a one-to-one ratio in spice breads, spice cakes or chocolate desserts. You can also add a can of pumpkin to a box of brownie mix in place of the eggs and oil.

3. Prunes or dates

These add richness and deepen the color of gingerbread and brownies. Blend a half cup with six tablespoons of water until smooth, then use the puree to replace an equal amount of fat.

4. Bananas

Try substituting half the amount of the oil called for with the same amount of mashed banana.

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Chocolate Ricotta Mousse

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Raspberries or shaved chocolate for garnishing

Directions

Place chopped chocolate in a 2-cup glass measure or small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on 70% power (medium-high) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave on 70% power for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until chocolate is melted, stirring every 15 seconds.

In a food processor bowl combine ricotta cheese, half-and-half and vanilla. Cover and process until combined. Add melted chocolate while food processor is running. Process until well combined.

Spoon into small bowls or glasses. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with fresh berries or chocolate shavings.

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Fresh Orange Sorbet

Ingredients

  • 10 medium oranges
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 medium)
  • Grated orange rind
  • Mint sprigs (optional)

Directions

Carefully remove the rind from 2 oranges using a vegetable peeler; discard the white pith. Cut rind into 1 x ¼-inch-thick strips. Set aside.

Cut peeled oranges in half and using a citrus press squeeze juice from the orange halves into a large measuring cup. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 8 oranges until juice measures 2 2/3 cups.

Combine 2 1/2 cups water and the sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Add reserved rind strips to the pan. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Strain sugar mixture through a sieve over a bowl, reserving the liquid; discard solids. Cool completely.

Add orange juice and lemon juice to the sugar mixture; stir well. Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice-cream maker; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Spoon sorbet into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze for 1 hour or until firm. Garnish with grated rind and mint sprigs, if desired.

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Dark Chocolate Mint Bars

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup good quality dark or semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely crushed chocolate wafers (about 19 wafers)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon trans-free, fat-free shortening
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons kale or parsley juice for a natural green color, optional

Directions

Line an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Coat foil with cooking spray. Set aside.

For the crust:

In a food processor pulse oats until fine.

In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup of the chocolate pieces and the butter; heat and stir until melted.

Stir in the processed oats, finely crushed chocolate wafers, cocoa powder and salt. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Chill for 15 minutes.

In the same saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate pieces and the shortening. Heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl beat together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, milk, peppermint extract, vanilla and kale juice, if using for a green color, until smooth.

Spread over the crust and drizzle with the melted chocolate mixture.

Chill about 1 hour or until set. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan. Cut into 24 bars.

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Almond Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 cups reduced-fat milk (2%)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Amaretto or almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

For the Panna Cotta:

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 3 minutes to soften. Cook and stir over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Cook and stir just until the milk is heated through and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in Amaretto or almond extract. Pour into four 6-ounce custard cups. Cover and chill about 8 hours or until firm.

For the sauce:

In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, orange juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and the cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

To serve:

Run a thin knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmold onto individual plates. Top with sauce. Makes 4 (1 panna cotta with 2-tablespoons sauce) servings.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting: Paula Deen

Red Velvet Cupcakes

For a red color without the artificial dye, use either sliced or whole canned beets, whichever costs less. An 8 1/4-ounce can yields slightly more than 1 cup. Look to be sure there is no sugar added or that they are pickled beets. You will not taste the flavor of the beets in the cupcakes. It is best to make these cupcakes the day before you plan on serving them.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned beets, drained
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat buttermilk, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon. baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil, chilled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, cold

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 4 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into a 12-cup regular size muffin pan.

Coarsely chop beets and place in the blender with 1/4 cup buttermilk. Process until beets are finely chopped. Add remaining buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla and process until pureed, making sure no lumps remain.

In a small bowl, combine flour, 6 tablespoons of cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In medium bowl, combine cold oil and sugar. With hand mixer or electric mixer on medium speed, mix until the sugar is evenly moistened. Add cold egg and beat at high-speed until mixture resembles mayonnaise and sugar is almost completely dissolved, takes about 90 seconds.

Add  the pureed beet mixture and mix until combined. Sift dry ingredients into the bowl and mix, either on low-speed or by hand until combined with the wet ingredients.

Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full.

Bake cupcakes for 28-30 minutes, or until tops feel springy. Immediately transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Cupcakes taste the best when stored overnight at room temperature in a covered container.Make the frosting as directed below and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, frost cupcakes, using about 1 tablespoon of the frosting for each. The frosted cupcakes can sit at room temperature for up to 12 hours.

Cream Cheese Frosting

In small bowl, work sugar and cream cheese together with wooden spoon or hand mixer until combined. Mix in vanilla.

This frosting is best when refrigerated 8 hours or overnight, loosely covered, before using. It keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Makes a generous 2/3 cup.

Celebrate Earth

Our Newly Planted Lemon Tree

Our Newly Planted Lemon Tree

Caring about our communities, the environment and our planet shouldn’t be a one day thing. Working to decrease our impact on the planet should be a continuous process. However, Earth Day is also the perfect time to make a personal pledge to start a new good habit.

Here are a few ways to make a difference:

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Turn out the lights when you leave a room. It does make a difference.

Taking a shower uses less water than filling a bathtub and a water-conserving shower head is even better.

To decrease waste, purchase durable, long-lasting products that can be reused, refilled or recharged. If you do use disposables, choose those made with recycled/recyclable materials.

Adjusting your thermostat down just 2 degrees in the winter and up 2 degrees in the summer could save energy consumption.

Buy groceries such as grains, beans, cereals, pasta and snacks from bulk bins when available to avoid excess trash. Plus, being able to buy just the amount you need means no wasted food.

Use reusable cloth bags when shopping to avoid using paper or plastic bags.

Compost your food waste to reduce trash that goes to a landfill. Add  the compost to your garden for nutrient-rich soil.

Plant a tree. A single tree can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

These are just a few suggestions to incorporate an Earth Day mentality into your daily routine.

The more unprocessed foods you eat — especially plant-based foods — the healthier you and our planet are going to be.  While a meat-centered diet deepens our ecological footprint and contributes to pollution, a plant-centered diet requires fewer resources and supports long-term health. But you don’t have to go completely veggie to reap the benefits; try gradually adding a few meatless dishes to your weekly menu. Try some of these delicious, earth friendly recipes.

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Broccoli Calzones

Spinach can be used in place of broccoli.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • Flour, for rolling dough
  • 2 (1 pound each) fresh or frozen pizza dough balls, thawed if frozen
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded (6 ounces) mozzarella cheese
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • Homemade marinara sauce, recipe below

Directions

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion; cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add broccoli, garlic and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Make the calzones:

Divide each ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, stretch each piece out, first to a 3-by-4-inch oval, then stretch again, this time to a 6-by-8-inch oval. (Let dough rest a few minutes if too elastic to work with.)

Stir cheeses into cooled broccoli mixture; season generously with salt and pepper.

To assemble the calzones:

Spread a rounded 1/2 cup broccoli mixture over half of each piece of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border; fold over to form a half-moon. Press edges to seal. With a paring knife, cut 2 slits in the top of each calzone.

Using a wide metal spatula with a thin blade, transfer calzones to 2 baking sheets lined with parchment; reshape if needed.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Serve with heated marinara sauce.

To freeze: Prepare recipe through step 3. Tightly wrap each calzone in plastic; freeze until firm. Transfer calzones to resealable plastic bags; label and date. Freeze up to 2 months.

To serve: unwrap calzones, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets; bake without thawing until golden, 35 to 40 minute

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Makes about 3 cups.

Ingredients

  • 1  28-oz can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

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Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, (about 12), cored and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 pound carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 large eggplant, (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) no salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, for serving
  • Toasted Italian bread, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. with racks on the top and the bottom.

On one rimmed baking sheet, toss together tomatoes, carrots, garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer, with tomatoes cut sides down.

On another rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, chickpeas, Italian seasoning, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer.

Place both sheets in the oven (tomato mixture on top rack). Roast until tender, tossing mixtures halfway through, about 45 minutes.

Using tongs, peel off and discard tomato skins. Puree tomato mixture (including juices) in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a large pot.

Stir in eggplant mixture; thin with 4 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Serve, sprinkled with basil and garnished with toasted bread, if desired.

earth7

Wild Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh spinach, stems removed and washed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced, divided
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds wild mushrooms, (chanterelles, oyster and shiitake), trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup Madeira wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
  • 4 1/2 cups milk at room temperature, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 one-pound package lasagna noodles, parboiled

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon oil in large pan over medium heat. Add half the garlic; saute until light golden, about 1 minute. Add half the spinach leaves, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain spinach in a colander. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of oil, remaining garlic and spinach.

When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze to rid it of liquid. Roughly chop spinach; place in a medium bowl with ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the mushrooms; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute until mushrooms are softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Deglaze the skillet by pouring 1/4 cup Madeira into the hot skillet with the mushrooms and using a wooden spoon to loosen bits cooked onto skillet. Cook mushrooms until liquid has almost evaporated. Transfer cooked mushrooms to a second bowl. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon of butter, the remaining mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and 1/4 cup Madeira. Add to the first batch of cooked mushrooms.

Set aside in a small bowl one-third of the cooked mushrooms to use for the topping. Add ¼ cup of chopped parsley to the remaining cooked mushrooms; stir.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add the flour; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Slowly add 4 cups of milk; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pan from the heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the nutmeg and 1/2 cup grated cheese. Set aside 1/2 cup sauce in another small bowl.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Place a layer of lasagna noodles in the pan; spread 1 cup spinach mixture, 1 cup mushroom mixture and 1/2 cup of sauce on top of the lasagna. Repeat layers several times.

For the last layer, place a layer of lasagna noodles on top; spread 1/2 cup sauce over the lasagna noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese. Bake lasagna until the top is golden brown, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

Just before serving, heat the remaining reserved one-third mushrooms, reserved ½ cup sauce, remaining half cup of milk and ¼ cup parsley in a skillet over medium heat. Spoon some of the mushroom sauce over each serving of lasagna.

earth5

Green Bean, Orange and Feta Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta (6 ounces)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved and roughly chopped
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or nuts of choice

Directions

In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook green beans until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain green beans and spread on a baking sheet to cool.

Using a sharp knife, slice off both ends of each orange. Cut off the peel following the curve of the fruit. Halve fruit from top to bottom, and thinly slice each half crosswise.

In a bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Add feta, oranges, lettuce, onion, nuts and green beans. Toss to combine.

earth6

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Makes about 48

Ingredients

  • 3  egg whites
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts or other nuts, chopped and toasted
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease large cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, beat together egg whites, oil, coffee and vanilla.

In a large bowl, stir together flour and remaining ingredients until well mixed.

Pour egg mixture onto dry ingredients and stir until combined. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half.

Shape mixture into two 12″ by 1″ logs; place both on the prepared cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cool 10 minutes.

Transfer one log to a cutting board. Slice diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick biscotti.

Arrange biscotti, cut side up, on cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining log, using a second cookie sheet, if necessary.

Bake 20 minutes; turning cookies over after 10 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight jar up to 1 month.

earth

Recipes From America’s Italian Communities – Part 5

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As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide.

The South

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Birmingham

Italians arriving in New Orleans often went to work first on Louisiana citrus farms or one of the state’s sugar cane plantations. But word got around that Birmingham offered a chance to earn wages in one of its factories. Attracted by the promise of better pay, many Italian immigrants left Louisiana for Birmingham. They were joined by fellow Italian immigrants who came directly from Sicily or other parts of Italy, or who may have spent some time in a northern city before deciding to head south to seek better paying jobs.

By 1910, Birmingham’s Italian population numbered almost 2,000 and was spread out over several neighborhoods. There was Little Italy in Ensley, a working class neighborhood associated with Tennessee Coal and Iron. There was the Italian community of Thomas, where Republic Steel was located. To the west lay another Little Italy, in West Blocton, where Italian immigrants mined coal and the town is known to this day for its Italian Catholic cemetery. Each community was anchored by a Catholic parish, supplying social and spiritual support and operating schools for Italian speaking children. Corner grocery stores, some of which grew into major supermarket chains, supplemented their owners’ income. Fig trees, small family gardens and even livestock kept Italian food traditions alive.

La Storia: Birmingham’s Italian Community exhibition at Vulcan Park and Museum

Vulcan is the world’s largest cast iron statue and is considered one of the most memorable works of civic art in the United States. Both the Vulcan statue and the pedestal it stands upon, display the Italian heritage that is prevalent throughout Vulcan Park and the Birmingham community. Designed by Italian artist, Giuseppe Moretti, and cast from local iron in 1904, Vulcan has overlooked Alabama’s largest city from atop Red Mountain since the 1930s. Vulcan Park and Museum features spectacular views of Birmingham, an interactive history museum and Birmingham’s Italian immigrant story.

Italian Americans had a huge impact on not only Vulcan Park and the Museum, but also on the city itself. La Storia tells the story of Italian immigration to the city of Birmingham from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century.  While the exhibit showcases prosperity for Italian immigrants, it also documents the hardships these immigrant families endured as a community and how they relied on faith and family to hold them together.

Cassoeula

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A traditional dish that is popular in Northern Italy—particularly in Lombardy. Alabama Italian chef/owner, Marco Morosini shares his expertise in cooking this comforting recipe. B-Metro Magazine December 2013

Ingredients

  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 Spare ribs
  • 8 Italian sausages
  • 8 pieces pork rind (optional)
  • 1 large head Savoy cabbage, shredded
  • Salt

Directions

Place the extra virgin olive oil, carrots, celery and onion in a large pan over low to medium heat. Brown for approximately five minutes. Add and brown the spare ribs. Add the pork rind. After five more minutes add the sausages. Cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add the Savoy cabbage. Stir until all are well mixed. Sprinkle with salt and continue cooking for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Serve over polenta. Serves eight.

part56

Mississippi Delta

Few people associate the South with Italian immigration to America, assuming immigrants settled only in the urban Northeast. Yet, many communities throughout the United States have a significant proportion of Italian Americans. Immigrants gravitated to places where they could find work, whether it be in the garment industry, coal mines, farms, fisheries, canning factories or lumber mills. In the peak immigration years (1880–1910), the American South attracted its share of Italian immigrants.

The first immigrants to the Delta in the 1880s, were hired to repair levees or as farm laborers on the plantations. Some of these families became peddlers selling goods to farmers. In 1895, some Italians crossed the Mississippi River to work in the Arkansas Delta. They were mostly from central Italy and experienced in farm work.

The late 19th century saw the arrival of larger numbers of Italian immigrants, who left Italy seeking economic opportunities. Some Italians from Sicily settled as families along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Gulfport, preserving close ties with those from their homeland. They worked in the fishing and canning industries. Others were merchants, operating grocery stores, liquor stores and tobacco shops. The seafood (and small shipyard) industry of Biloxi was mainly owned by the family of Andrew H. Longino – Governor of Mississippi from 1900 to 1904, who was the first governor of a southern US State to be of Italian heritage.

Life was very challenging for the immigrants. They found the adjustment to the South’s climate especially difficult; Italian farmers did not have experience with cotton and sugarcane crops and many immigrants died as a result of  malaria. While some of the settlers remained in the Delta, bought land and became cotton farmers, others moved to Italian communities in northern Missouri, Alabama and Tennessee.

The Italian Americans were often victims of prejudice, economic exploitation and violence. The Delta states were no exception. Mississippi and Louisiana became a worldwide symbol of Anti-Italianism. In the twentieth century, mainly after World War I , the Italians were slowly accepted and integrated into society. The food and restaurant industry was one of the areas where they gained acceptance and economic success.

Italians developed a distinctive cultural life in the Delta, preserving traditional ways from their Italian ancestry and, yet, adapting to the culture of the American South. Families continued to make wine and cook Italian food with recipes long passed down from their grandmothers.

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Italians established restaurants that helped popularize Italian food in the region. Greenwood, in particular, has several restaurants with deep Italian connections. Lusco’s and Giardina’s both trace their ancestry to families from Cefalu in Sicily. Charles and Marie Lusco were first generation Italian immigrants, who established a grocery store in 1921. Local cotton farmers spent time there, playing cards in the back of the store, eating the dishes that Marie prepared and drinking Charles’s homemade wine. Lusco’s emerged from a grocery store into a restaurant because their food became popular. Patrons and customers began requesting the sauces made in the restaurant to take home. As a result, Lusco’s began bottling and marketing the three most requested salad dressings and sauces.

Beef and Spinach Lasagna

part58

Mississippi Farm Families recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 32 oz (4 cups) homemade spaghetti sauce
  • 14 ½ oz can Italian style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and well-drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 10 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large nonstick skillet, brown the ground beef 8 – 10 minutes until no longer pink. Pour off the drippings.

Season with salt. Add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and red pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, spinach, Parmesan cheese and egg.

Spread 2 cups beef sauce over the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange 5 lasagna noodles in single layer completely covering the bottom. Press noodles into sauce.

Spread entire ricotta cheese mixture on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and top with 2 cups beef sauce.

Arrange remaining noodles in a single layer and press lightly into sauce. Top with remaining beef sauce.

Bake in 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until noodles are tender. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Tent lightly with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting into 12 servings.

part51

Galveston

Galveston was called the “Ellis Island of the West” as it was the primary point of entry for European immigrants settling in the western United States. By 1910, there were more than 1,000 Italian immigrants living in Galveston.  The language barrier and discrimination caused the Italian immigrants to stick together. Most of the southern Italians were fishermen, laborers and farmers, while the northern Italians tended to be businessmen. The northern Italians used their business skills to set up small, family owned shops. At the time, half the grocery stores in Galveston were owned by Italian families, who made up only 2 percent of the population. “There was an Italian grocery store on every street corner,” said Anthony Piperi, 89, who remembers those days well. Piperi said those who did well in business formed benevolent societies to help the new immigrants and the less fortunate get a foothold. “Fifty percent of them owned some kind of small business,” Piperi said. “By the second generation, everybody had a lawyer or doctor in the family.”

The reason the Italian community did so well, he said, was that it put a premium on education. Everybody in the second generation tried to get an education, he said, because their parents knew what it was like to try to make it without one. The emphasis on education allowed those children to have great mobility and freedom — a mixed blessing. “The families spread out,” Piperi said. “A brother would get a job in Houston. Somebody else would get a job in New York.” An American Army captain whose father was an immigrant, said one of the many things about the Italian experience in Galveston was how quickly many of the immigrants succeeded in their new American life.

Joe Grasso from Sicily pioneered the shrimp industry along the Texas Gulf Coast. Arriving in Galveston in 1906, he worked as a fisherman and saved his money to buy a boat. For 15 years he sold shrimp as bait to fishermen and, then in the 1920s, he began freezing shrimp to export to Japan, creating a successful business.

The Galveston Shrimp Company was founded in 1978 by Rosario Cassarino, an immigrant from the Italian island of Sicily. For twenty years he and his wife, Giovanna, unloaded  fish and shrimp boats at the historic Pier 19 and sold the catch of the day to Galveston locals and the visiting tourists. In 1994 their son, Nello, took over the daily  operation and moved the company to a larger facility that was more accessible to highway transportation. The company began to shift its focus from a retail operation to a wholesale seafood company that now supplies  retailers and distributors around the nation.

Texas Cioppino

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Chef Maurizio Ferrarese from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook

Cioppino is an Italian-American seafood stew that originated in San Francisco. This Gulf version using brown shrimp, redfish and blue crab make it a Texas-Italian Cioppino.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds uncooked heads-on shrimp
  • One 4 pound whole redfish
  • 8 live crabs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, minced
  • Small can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3 bay leaves

Directions

Shell the shrimp and filet the fish. Make a stock with the fish bones and head and the shrimp shells and heads. When the stock boils, add the crabs and cook until done, about ten minutes. Remove the crabs and allow to cool. Reserve the crab bodies and claws and return the rest of the crab including the innards to the stockpot. Simmer the stock for a total of 30 minutes adding water as needed, then turn off the heat. You should have 8 cups of stock.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the green onion, garlic and jalapeño; saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes, wine and bay leaf.

Strain the stock and pour the strained liquid into the soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

Cut the fish into 2 inch chunks. Add the shrimp, reserved crab and fish to the soup. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through. Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and some hot pepper sauce, if desired.

Serve with crusty bread and nutcrackers for the crab claws.

part59

New Orleans

Italians flocked to New Orleans in the late 1800s because of the growing business of importing Mediterranean citrus into the port city. Many of these immigrants worked on the docks in the fruit district and, eventually, these workers opened grocery stores and restaurants around the city. Italians made up about 90 percent of the immigrants in New Orleans at the time and dominated the grocery industry. Italian contributions to the cuisine include “red gravy”, a red sauce thickened with roux that is used in everything from Creole Daube to grillades, stuffed artichokes and peppers. Today, the Italian influence in shaping Creole cuisine is unmistakable – Southern Italian and Sicilian ingredients fundamentally transformed the cuisine.

Joseph Maselli was a catalyst for countless American Italian activities in Louisiana, founding the first state-wide organization of American Italians that later became the Italian American Federation of the Southeast, an umbrella organization with over 9,000 members from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Ten years later, he founded the Italian American Renaissance Foundation Museum and Research Library, the first of its kind in the South, which contains more than 400 oral tape histories, vertical files on 25,000 individuals and 5,500 American Italian books. Today, it has been renamed the American Italian Cultural Center. To honor Louisiana Italian Americans who have excelled in athletics, he founded the Louisiana Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Maselli focused his energy on civic endeavors and, in particular, on preserving the Italian culture and heritage and fighting against prejudice on behalf of all nationalities. Mr. Maselli was the publisher of the Italian American Digest which he founded to preserve immigrant values of family tradition, hard work and education.

Parmesan Crusted Breast of Chicken

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Vincent’s Italian Cuisine/New Orleans

Vincent’s Italian Cuisine was founded in 1989 by native New Orleanian, Vincent Catalanotto. From a large, close Sicilian family, Vincent grew up eating wonderful food prepared by his parents who were both great cooks. The “little Italian place on the side street” quickly became Metairie’s hidden jewel. Vincent developed a menu that showcased the finest and freshest ingredients available. In fact, there are no walk-in coolers or freezers at Vincent’s – produce, seafood, meats and cheeses are delivered fresh daily. It wasn’t long before Vincent had more customers than chairs. A second location was added in 1997 on St. Charles Avenue near the Riverbend.

CREAMED SPINACH

  • 2 boxes (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, squeezed dry
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Sambuca Liqueur
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese

Mix ingredients together and set aside.

CHICKEN

  • 6 Chicken Breast Halves – boneless, skinless, pounded thin
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil

Dredge chicken in flour, dip in beaten eggs, then in parmesan cheese, pressing cheese into chicken until well coated.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan; add chicken and sauté until golden brown.

While cooking chicken, heat creamed spinach in a small saucepan or in the microwave.

Spread approximately 3 tablespoons of heated spinach on each dinner plate, then top with a cooked chicken breast.

Finish the dish with lemon butter sauce (as follows).

LEMON BUTTER SAUCE

  • Juice of 2 small or 1 Large Lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry White Wine
  • 1 stick butter, cut up
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Green Onions (tops only)

Mix lemon juice, wine and Worcestershire in a small saucepan and cook until reduced.

Add butter and green onions, stirring until butter is melted.

Drizzle over chicken and serve.

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Italian Regional Cooking – Sicilia

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Mainland Sicilia is the largest island in the Mediterranean and Italy’s southernmost region. Famous for its blue skies and mild winter climate, Sicilia is also home to Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. This fertile land was settled by the Siculi, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Spaniards and Bourbons among others and the remnants of these cultures cover the entire island, from the temples of Agrigento to the priceless mosaics of Piazza Armerina and the ancient capital of Siracusa. Smaller islands, such as the Aeolian, Aegadian and Pelagian chains, as well as Pantelleria, just 90 miles off of the African coast, are also part of Sicilia, offering superb beaches.

Sicily has long been noted for its fertile soil due to the volcanic eruptions. The local agriculture is also helped by the island’s pleasant climate. The main agricultural products are wheat, citron, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, artichokes, almonds, grapes, pistachios and wine. Cattle and sheep are raised. Cheese production includes the Ragusano DOP and the Pecorino Siciliano DOP. The area of Ragusa is known for its honey and chocolate productions.

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Sicily is the third largest wine producer in Italy after Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. The region is known mainly for fortified Marsala wines. In recent decades the wine industry has improved. New winemakers are experimenting with less-known native varietals and Sicilian wines have become better known. The best known local varietal is Nero d’Avola, named for a small town not far from Syracuse. The best wines made with these grapes come from Noto, a famous old city close to Avola. Other important native varietals are Nerello Mascalese used to make the Etna Rosso DOC wine, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wine, the Moscato di Pantelleria used to make Pantelleria wines, Malvasia di Lipari used for the Malvasia di Lipari DOC wine and Catarratto mostly used to make the white wine Alcamo DOC. In Sicily, high quality wines are also produced using non-native varietals like Syrah, Chardonnay and Merlot.

Sicily is also known for its liqueurs, such as the Amaro Averna produced in Caltanissetta and the local limoncello.

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Improvements in Sicily’s road system have helped to promote industrial development. The region has three important industrial districts:

  • Catania Industrial District, where there are several food industries and one of the best European electronic’s center called Etna Valley.
  • Syracuse Petrochemical District with chemical industries, oil refineries and important power stations, such as the innovative Archimede solar power plant.
  • Enna Industrial District in which there are food industries.

In Palermo there are shipyards, mechanical factories, publishing and textile industries. Chemical industries are also in the Province of Messina and in the Province of Caltanissetta. There are petroleum, natural gas and asphalt fields in the Southeast (mostly near Ragusa) and massive deposits of halite in Central Sicily. The Province of Trapani is one of the largest sea salt producers. Fishing is a fundamental resource for Sicily with tuna, sardine, swordfish and anchovy fisheries located there.

Trapani Salt Fields

Trapani Salt Fields

Although Sicily’s cuisine has a lot in common with Italian cuisine, Sicilian food also has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, melon, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, pine nuts, cinnamon and fried preparations are a sign of Arab influences from the Arab domination of Sicily in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Norman and Hohenstaufen influences are found in meat preparations. The Spanish introduced numerous items from the New World, including cocoa, maize, peppers, turkey and tomatoes. In Catania, initially settled by Greek colonists, fish, olives, broad beans, pistachio and fresh vegetables are preferred. Much of the island’s cuisine encourages the use of fresh vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes along with fish, such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish and swordfish. In Trapani, in the extreme western corner of the island, North African influences are clear in the use of couscous.

Caponata is a salad made with eggplant (aubergines), olives, capers and celery that makes a great appetizer or a side to grilled meats. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish, though you’re less likely to find it in most restaurants.

Sfincione

Sfincione

Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and anchovies. Prepared on thick bread and more likely found in a bakery than in a pizzeria, sfincione is good as a snack or appetizer. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and then fried .

Panella

Panella

Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same ceci bean. Crocché (croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Arancine are fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese.

Grilled swordfish is popular. Smaller fish, especially snapper, are sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finnochio con sarde (fennel with sardines). Many meat dishes are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Chicken “alla marsala” is popular.

Cassata Cake

Cassata Cake

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Sicilian desserts are world-famous. Cannoli are tubular crusts with creamy ricotta and sugar filling and may taste a little different from the ones you’ve had outside Italy because the ricotta is made from sheep’s milk. Cassata is a rich, sugary cake filled with the same cannoli filling. Frutta di Martorana (or pasta reale) are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit.

Sicilian gelato (ice cream) flavors range from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese). Granita is sweetened crushed ice made in summer and flavored with lemons or oranges.

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Spicy Clams with Tomatoes

The clams used in Sicily for this dish are tiny vongole veraci.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes,peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds small clams or cockles, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and cook over moderately high heat until they begin to break down, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil and let reduce by half.

Add the clams and cook over high heat, stirring, until they open, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic.

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Pasta alla Siciliana

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces dried pasta, cooked and drained
  • 3/4 cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)

Directions

In a large skillet, cook eggplant, onion and garlic in hot oil over medium heat about 10 minutes or until the eggplant and onion are tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in tomatoes, wine, oregano, salt, rosemary and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve eggplant mixture over hot cooked pasta. Sprinkle with cheese.

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Steak Palermo Style (“Carne alla Palermitana”)

This is a traditional Palermo dish, consisting of breaded, thinly sliced beef, which is first marinated and then quickly broiled, grilled or cooked in a very hot uncovered heavy pan.

In Sicily, calves live in the open field, building meat and strength, at times they are used to work the fields and are butchered when they are well over a year old, resulting in a tough and muscular meat, mostly eaten boiled or chopped; hence the reason that Sicilian meat cuisine usually consists of meatloaf, meatballs and stews. The preparation of this dish makes the meat tender.

A very important part of this preparation is to soak the meat for a few hours in a marinade not only to compliment the taste of the meat with the flavor of the marinade but most importantly to tenderize the meat by breaking down its fibers.

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients

  • 6 boneless sirloin steaks (about 3 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup wine, white or red
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Pinch of oregano
  • Other preferred herbs (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sprigs of fresh parsley and lemon quarters for garnish
  • Wide container with 1 lb. of fine Italian breadcrumbs

Marinade:

In a plastic or stainless steel  bowl that will fit in your refrigerator, whisk the olive oil and wine; add the crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, lemon, chopped parsley, oregano, any other herb(s) and a little salt and pepper.

Steaks:

Trim off any fat and place each piece of meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and flatten the meat to an even thickness with a mallet . Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place steaks in the marinade and turn to coat. Make sure that the marinade covers the meat; if needed add some more wine.

Seal the container or cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least two hours and up to 12 hours or more, turning steaks occasionally to absorb the flavors.

Prepare and heat a grill or a heavy frying  pan. Drain steaks and place one at a time in the container with the breadcrumbs. Press the breadcrumbs into the steaks, pushing heavily with your hands.

Set the breaded steaks onto a pan or dish until they have all been breaded. Place them on to the grill or in the dry heated pan. Cook for 7 minutes on one side and 5 minutes on the other side for rare or to the degree of desired doneness. Turn steaks only once.

Place in a serving dish and garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon quarters.

sicilia05

Orange Salad (Insalata d’Arance)

This Sicilian salad is usually served as a side dish or as a separate course leading into dessert.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

  • 4 large navel oranges
  • 1 large fresh fennel bulb
  • 1 small lemon
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 head of lettuce 
  • Fresh peppermint leaves

Directions

Separate the mint leaves from their stalks. Clean the fennel well and remove the core, stalks and leaves. Peel the oranges and lemon.

Cut the fennel, oranges and lemon into thin slices. Toss together with almonds and mint leaves in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar, olive oil and Marsala wine and toss again.

Chill for a few hours. Toss again before serving on a bed of lettuce leaves.

sicilia9

Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

The cannoli should be filled right before serving. If they are filled several hours before serving, they tend to become soft and lose the crunchiness which is the main feature of this dessert’s attraction.

Makes 10 cannoli

Ingredients

For the Shells

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 oz sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 oz butter, melted
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Marsala wine
  • Lard or olive oil for frying

For the Filling

  • 2 lb ricotta cheese, (preferably from sheep)
  • 1 lb sugar (2 cups)
  • Milk to taste
  • Vanilla to taste
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 3 ½ oz mixed candied fruit (citron), diced
  • 3 ½ oz dark chocolate, chopped

For the Garnish

  • Pistachio nuts, finely ground
  • Confectioners sugar

Directions

To make the shells

Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, melted butter and eggs in a bowl. Then add the Marsala.. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth, then wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for half an hour.

Roll out the cannoli dough and cut it into squares, about 4 inches per side. Then wrap the squares around the metal tubes to shape the cannoli.

Fry the dough, still wrapped around the tubes, in a large pot of boiling lard or olive oil. Let the cannoli cool on paper towels. Once cool, slide out the metal tubes.

To make the ricotta filling:

With a fork mix the ricotta and sugar, adding a little milk and a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon. Pass the mixture through a sieve and blend in diced candied fruit and bits of dark chocolate.

Fill the crispy shells with the ricotta filling and sprinkle the crushed pistachio nuts over the ends. Sprinkle the outside with powdered sugar.

sicilia3

Baking with Vegetables

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Fruits and vegetables can be added to bread to enhance the flavor and create a moister texture. You will find breads and desserts baked with onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach and even avocados. Vegetables can be added raw, canned, dried or freshly cooked to produce delicious baked goods. Vegetable breads are richer than basic breads because the vegetables contribute flavor and texture to the loaves. You can also use potatoes, corn, rutabagas, parsnips and other starchy vegetables to sweeten and bring a soft texture to the bread.

Some vegetables, like zucchini, are 80% to 90% water so you have to remove some of that water before adding it to the dough.  You can do that by mixing the shredded vegetable with a little salt, letting it drain in a colander and squeezing it dry in a paper towel.

Any time that you add vegetables to your bread, be prepared to adjust the amount of flour that you use. Vegetables will add moisture to your bread and if they are grated or pureed (along with the type of vegetables) will determine the moisture added. The kneading process will also extract some water from the vegetables. It’s easy to add a little more flour if the dough feels too watery.  Because it is easier to add more flour than water, start your dough a bit on the wet side and add flour as needed.

Make sure the bread is completely baked.  It should register 195 to 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. If it’s not thoroughly baked, the water in the vegetables will make the bread soggy.

veggiebread1

Corn and Bacon Spoon Bread

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces bacon, diced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen/defrosted
  • 4 large eggs, separated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Heat a 9″ square or round cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until it’s starting to crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard the drippings, but don’t clean the pan.

You can also make the spoon bread in a 9″ square or round cake pan. Cook the bacon in a regular skillet and grease the 9″ pan with some of the bacon drippings.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat it to simmering. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring to prevent lumps from forming.

Add the sugar, salt, pepper, cooked bacon and corn. Stir over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the egg yolks one at a time until incorporated. Allow to cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a small amount of the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture to lighten it a little, then fold all of the cornmeal mixture into the egg whites. Transfer the batter to the bacon-seasoned pan.

Bake the spoon bread for 50 to 60 minutes, until it’s set in the middle and golden brown around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and serve it hot, right out of the pan.

veggiebread3

Sweet Potato Biscuits

One large sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cooked, will yield about 1 cup mashed. I cut my biscuits into squares instead of rounds because it saves time and there is no waste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups flour (you can also substitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour in place of 1 cup of all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Mash or puree cooked sweet potatoes with milk and honey until smooth. Set aside; cool to room temperature.

Mix dry ingredients together  in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Make a well with dry ingredients and add the mashed sweet potatoes. Mix just until moistened.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat dough into a rectangle about to 1-inch thick. With a sharp knife cut biscuit dough into 3-inch squares.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until biscuits are lightly browned on top. Serve warm with butter and jam.

veggiebread4

Orange Carrot Quick Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened orange juice
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream butter and gradually add the sugar, beating well. Beat in milk, orange juice, egg, vanilla and orange zest. Stir in carrots and walnuts. Add reserved dry ingredients. Mix well.

Spoon batter into a 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

veggiebread2

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Since gluten-free batter is thinner than standard batter, the chips and nuts tend to sink to the bottom of the loaf; that’s why it’s important to let the batter rest and thicken for 15 to 20 minutes, then stir to redistribute the add-ins before pouring it into the pan and baking. Another technique you can try is leaving the chips and nuts out of the batter initially, then stirring them into the top third of the batter once it’s been poured into the pan.

Yield: 9″ x 5″ loaf

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup molasses or honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Gluten-Free Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for the zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

Place shredded zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with a little salt and let it drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze the zucchini dry.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, molasses or honey, oil, sugar and vanilla until smooth.

Add the flour, salt, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon, mixing until well combined.

Stir in the zucchini, chocolate chips and nuts. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes, then stir to redistribute the chips and nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the bread for 65 to 70 minutes or until the loaf tests done (a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean).

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a rack.

Cool completely before slicing; store well-wrapped, at room temperature.

veggiebread5

Pizza-Style Dinner Rolls

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup seeded and chopped tomato
  • 1/3 cup  shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough, at room temperature, See recipe homemade below.
  • Milk
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl combine tomato, mozzarella cheese, garlic and basil; set aside.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each dough portion into a 3-inch round.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the tomato mixture into the center of each dough round; shape the dough around the tomato mixture into a ball, pinching the dough together to seal.

Place rolls, seam sides down, in the prepared baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (30 to 45 minutes).

Lightly the brush tops of the rolls with milk and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the rolls for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Easy Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Makes 1 pound of pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water, (105-115°F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast, (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour, plus additional for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

Directions

Stir water, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl; let stand until the yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in whole-wheat flour, bread flour and cornmeal until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, mix the dough in a food processor. Process until it forms a ball, then process for 1 minute to knead.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Spring Dinner Menus

 

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Use in-season spring ingredients to create some healthier dinners this week. After a few weeks of holiday eating and chocolate candy, you may want to eat a bit lighter.

Dinner Menu 1

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Shrimp with Easy Risotto

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen large shrimp in shells or shelled
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion (1 small)
  • 2/3 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein shrimp if needed. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels.

Place shrimp in a resealable plastic bag set in a shallow dish.

For the marinade:

In a small bowl combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano and salt. Pour marinade over shrimp. Seal bag; turn to coat shrimp. Marinate in the refrigerator while you prepare the risotto (15 to 25 minutes).

For the risotto:

In a medium saucepan heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add onion; cook about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Carefully stir in broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in peas. Let stand about 1 minute or until heated through. (Rice should be tender but slightly firm and creamy.) Stir in Parmesan cheese.

Cook shrimp in a skillet or on the grill as described below. Serve shrimp with risotto and lemon wedges.

SKILLET: Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and marinade to the skillet. Cook about 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, stirring frequently.

GRILL: Drain shrimp, reserving marinade. Thread shrimp onto metal skewers, leaving 1/4 inch between shrimp. Brush shrimp with the reserved marinade.

For a charcoal or gas grill, place kabobs on the grill rack directly over medium-high heat. Cover and grill for 4 to 6 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, turning once halfway through grilling.

Dinner Menu 2

lightspring4

Roasted Pork and Spring Vegetables

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds tiny new potatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-2 pound boneless pork top loin roast
  • 6 fresh baby artichokes or use thawed  frozen artichoke hearts, if you cannot find fresh
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups whole baby carrots

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place potatoes in a large bowl.

In a small bowl combine rosemary, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour half of the mixture over the potatoes; toss to coat.

Trim fat from meat. Place meat on a rack in a shallow roasting pan; spread the remaining oil mixture over the meat. Arrange potatoes around the meat. Roast for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash artichokes if using fresh; trim stems and remove loose outer leaves. Cut 1/2 inch off the top of each artichoke. Cut each artichoke lengthwise into quarters. Place quartered artichokes in a medium bowl; toss with lemon juice.

In a covered large saucepan cook artichokes and carrots in boiling, lightly salted water for 10 minutes; drain.

Add artichokes and carrots to the roasting pan, stirring to combine with potatoes. Roast for 15 to 35 minutes more or until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees F and vegetables are tender, stirring vegetables occasionally.

Remove from the oven. Cover meat and vegetables with foil; let stand for 10 minutes before slicing meat.

Dinner Menu 3

lightspring2

Creamy Carrot Soup

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 2 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable stock or broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dillweed
  • Paprika and coarse salt

Directions

In a 3 to 4 quart pot melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook for 10 minutes until tender. Add the carrots, rice, stock and salt. Bring to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cook, covered, for 35 minutes until rice and carrots are very tender. Cool slightly.

Using a handheld immersion blender, process the mixture in the pan until completely smooth. Whisk in milk and creme fraiche.

Heat and stir over low heat. For a thinner texture, stir in additional milk. To serve, sprinkle with green onion, dillweed, paprika and coarse salt, if desired.

lightspring1

White Bean Tuna Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1-15 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2-5 ounce cans tuna packed in water, drained
  • 2 cups lightly packed arugula or spinach
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Crusty Italian bread, sliced and toasted

Directions

In a large bowl combine beans, tuna, arugula, red onion and parsley.

For the dressing:

In a screw-top jar combine vinegar, oil, oregano, salt and pepper. Shake well to combine.

Pour dressing over tuna mixture; toss gently to combine. Squeeze juice from half of a lemon over the salad. Serve with toasted bread.

Dinner Menu 4

lightspring7

Oregano Chicken and Peppers

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds bone-in meaty chicken pieces (breasts and thighs), skinned
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 medium green sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium red sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 8 oz thin spaghetti

Directions

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a deep skillet with a cover. Cook chicken over medium heat about 15 minutes or until light brown, turning once. Reduce heat.

Scatter the garlic, half of the lemon slices, half of the tomato, the olives, onion, parsley and oregano over chicken pieces in the skillet. Sprinkle with ground red pepper. Add the wine and the chicken broth. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining tomato and the bell peppers. Cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes more or until sweet peppers are crisp-tender and chicken is tender and no longer pink.

Cook the pasta to the al dente stage. Drain and place on a serving platter.Place the the chicken on top of the spaghetti and pour the peppers and sauce over the chicken. Garnish with remaining lemon slices.

Dinner Menu 5

lightspring6

Avocado and Asparagus Egg Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
  • Boiling water
  • 1 avocado, halved, seeded, peeled, and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large slices country-style white or whole grain bread
  • 8 slices bacon, crisp cooked

Directions

Place asparagus spears in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Pour enough boiling water over the asparagus to cover. Let stand for 10 to 12 minutes or until bright colored and crisp-tender. Drain. Finely chop three of the asparagus spears; set aside.

In a small bowl use a fork to mash the avocado; stir in lime juice. Stir in the chopped asparagus; set aside.

For the omelet:

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, the water, salt and pepper until combined but not frothy.

Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet with flared sides over medium-high heat until the skillet is hot. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the skillet. Add half of the egg mixture; reduce heat to medium. Immediately begin stirring eggs gently but continuously with a wooden or plastic spatula until the mixture begins to come together. Stop stirring. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until the egg is set.

Remove from heat. Using a spatula, lift and fold an edge of omelet to opposite edge. Transfer to a warm plate. Cover with foil and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the remaining egg mixture to make a second omelet.

Toast bread. Spread avocado-asparagus mixture on 2 of the bread slices. Top with each with half the bacon, half the asparagus spears, omelets and the remaining 2 slices of bread. Cut sandwiches in half to make 4 servings.

lightspring5

Roasted Beet Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh beets with tops
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 ounces sliced ricotta salata cheese or feta cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Cut the tops from beets; set tops aside. Place beets and rosemary on a piece of heavy foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Bring up two opposite edges of the foil; seal with a double fold. Fold in remaining edges to completely enclose. Roast beets about 60 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Carefully open the packet to release the steam. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel skins from the beets and cut into wedges. Discard rosemary.

Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry the beet greens. Thinly slice just the beet greens and discard the stalks.

In a large bowl gently toss warm beets, shredded beet greens and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until the greens are slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

On a large platter or four salad plates arrange the beet mixture. Sprinkle with raisins and nuts. Top with cheese and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

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