With over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it can be served in hundreds of different ways. The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta. Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.
There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago. Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920’s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.
Pasta is a healthy food. It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.
A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.
If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup. You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings. Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.
Different Types of Pasta
You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.
Alternative Grain Pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).
Durum Semolina Pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.
Egg Noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.
Gluten-free Pasta: The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.
Whole Wheat Pasta: This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.
How To Cook Pasta
The term “al dente” in Italian literally means “to the tooth” and can be best translated as “chewy” or pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, yet remains firm. Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index. (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)
For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.
- Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
- To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
- Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.
Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.
My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces. Here are some recipes that are good for you:
Penne with Artichokes
- 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 12 ounces penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.
Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.
Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.
Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce
This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.
- 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
- Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes. Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more. Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
- Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper. Pour into a serving bowl.
- Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.
This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.
- A Gluten Free Pasta Dish Loaded With “Cancer Fighting” Veggies! (beefitwithtracy.com)
- W is for Wheat – Semolina Can Get Chefs Talking Wheat (janiceperson.com)
- The Dish on Pasta: Maligned Food Actually a Healthy Carb (livescience.com)
Years ago, Italians often took three hour lunch breaks and ate mutli-course meals. As times have changed, it is more rare for Italian families to gather at the table during lunch and have a full home-made meal. Italy’s economical situation is such that many mothers have had to take on full-time jobs, children are in school until mid-afternoon and most people do not have time to go home during lunch time. Typically, people working in offices have a 1-hour break and eat lunch at a bar or pasticceria, that offers foods to go, such as fresh made sandwiches, prepared salads, or square slices of pizza or stuffed focaccia. Italian sandwiches aren’t multi-layered, American style sandwiches but, usually, just simple focaccia bread with a few lean slices of prosciutto, some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella or pecorino cheese. Italian pizzas are very thin. have limited toppings and are usually vegetarian. Bread without butter and salads are also very common at lunch. Pastas are also popular and usually full of vegetables. One exception is on Sundays, many families will have a large, 2-3 hour lunch and often eat this meal out in a restaurant.
As a child growing up in an Italian-American home, I remember Sundays were pretty much reserved for family. My father would take us to visit our grandparents or other relatives while my mother prepared the Sunday meal. Sunday lunch was really dinner but held early in the afternoon. After my grandmother died, when I was quite young, my grandfather would often join us for Sunday dinner. As my children were growing up. I tried to make meals an important time to be together and we kept some of the traditions built around meals. Lunch, however, was lunch – a quick meal. Through the years I have gravitated toward lighter and healthy selections for lunch.
My favorite food for lunch is soup, so I keep a number of containers in the freezer to pull out when I feel like soup for lunch. Salads or typical items found on an antipasto tray are also a favorite.
Below are two soup recipes that are substantial enough for lunch and two salad recipes that I hope you will enjoy.
Tortellini Soup with Escarole
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-32 oz. cartons low sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
- 1 bunch escarole (or 8 cups spinach) washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1-9 oz. pkg. fresh tortellini
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan Cheese
In soup pot, heat oil and saute shallots for two minutes.
Add both containers of chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Add tortellini, return to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer about 5 minutes.
Add the escarole and simmer until the greens are wilted.
Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with shaved Parmesan cheese strips.
- 1 lb. dried brown lentils ( about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1 large potato, diced
- 1/2 cup medium pearl barley
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1-16 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cover the lentils with water in a large bowl. Let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Heat oil in a large soup pot and add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and potato.
Cook, stirring several times, for 10 minutes.
Add water, chicken broth, lentils and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Check the lentils and barley, to see if they are tender, after 45 minutes.
Add tomatoes, oregano salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
My favorite salad is made of fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Alternate fresh mozzarella slices with sliced tomatoes, overlapping, in a circular design on a serving plate. (See photo)
Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Just before serving, drizzle with top-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1/4 cup slivered red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1- 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
- 8 ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk olive oil and lemon in a salad bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Chill.
Serve over tender lettuce leaves (such as, Bibb).
I like to top this salad with leftover shrimp or grilled tuna. Roasted red peppers are also a good addition
I have read that Italian breakfasts are very light, usually consisting of coffee (espresso) or cappuccino and some kind of pastry or bread. Biscotti are also favorites for an Italian breakfast. Biscotti are a, not too sweet cookie, that is baked, cut, then baked again to form slices of hard biscuits that are often dunked in coffee . Egg dishes, such as frittatas, are usually eaten at lunch or dinner, never for breakfast.
I can remember going to my grandparents’ home around breakfast time and my grandfather would be having a cup of coffee and eating the heel end from a loaf of Italian bread. This was pretty much his usual breakfast. I am not sure when Italian-Americans began eating specialty pastries from a bakery, but I can remember Italian bakeries were numerous where I grew up in New Jersey. I think the tradition of going to the Italian bakery came about when folks who had just come from church services wanted a special breakfast on Sunday. I can remember long lines at the bakery counter, didn’t like standing there, but liked those pastries. My grandfather even got into the habit and would bring us pastries when he visited us on Sundays. He continued the tradition when my children were little and brought us pastries up until the time that he died. Some of those delicious pastries (just wanted to make you drool) are pictured below. Of course you know they are not a healthy choice.
I recall that most of my breakfasts growing up were the usual cereal and scrambled eggs. Very American. My mother, however, often made traditional Italian style egg dishes, such as potatoes and eggs, or peppers and eggs or spinach frittata and I will share those recipes with you. My children weren’t so fond of fritattas when they were growing up, but they like them now as adults, so I like to make frittatas for breakfast when they visit.
A frittata is a healthy and economical dish that you can eat for any meal of the day. It is a dish similar to a French quiche, an American omelette, or a Spanish tortilla. Frittatas generally consist of eggs, vegetables, cheese, and herbs.
In my house, the contents of a frittata usually consist of whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator that day. Italians are frugal and know how to use leftovers creatively.
You will want to pick items that have a natural affinity for each other. Think of things that you might find on a plate together anyway, or on a pizza and cheese is a key ingredient in any frittata. Making this dish is very simple as long as you have an ovenproof skillet. Sauté whatever veggies you are putting into the dish and heat through any cooked meat leftovers.
Here are some ideas:
- 1 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed until soft, 2 diced plum tomatoes and 4 ounces of diced or shredded Fontina.
- A bag of cleaned spinach cooked in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/4 pound sliced Prosciutto, some grated Parmesan cheese and some shredded Mozzarella cheese
- I prefer to use reduced- fat shredded cheeses from Kraft or Sargento and substitute half of the eggs with egg substitute to save on calories.
General techniques include
- Turn on the broiler. Place a non-stick skillet with an oven safe handle on the stove over medium heat.
- Heat the pan and add 1 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot add the frittata vegetables, stirring until warm, and then pour the eggs beaten with the egg substitute over the vegetables.
- Slowly cook the frittata until the edges start to firm up. When the frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way through, scatter the top with shredded cheese and move it to the heated broiler.
- Set the frittata about 6-inches below the broiler.
- When it is just golden brown and puffed up, remove the skillet to your stove top.
- BE SURE TO PROTECT THE HOT HANDLE WITH A HOT PAD SO YOU DO NOT BURN YOUR HANDS!
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
5 eggs and 1 1/4 cups egg substitute
8 ounces chopped raw spinach (or 1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat oil in a 10 or 12 inch skillet with a heat-resistant handle over medium heat. Saute onion in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese. Whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions and spinach. Return to low heat and cook 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden brown and cut into wedges.
Some Traditional Italian Style Egg Dishes
Peppers and Eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute (such as, Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden.
Add the peppers, cook 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
Cover skillet and cook 5 more minutes until they are tender.
Mix the eggs, oregano, salt and pepper together and por over the peppers in the skillet.
Stir fry the eggs and peppers to allow the uncooked portions to reach the bottom of the skillet.
Remove from heat when the eggs are done to your liking.
Potatoes and Eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the potatoes until tender and golden brown. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and onions. Stir fry the mixture turning the ingredients with a spatula over and under until the eggs look cooked to your liking.
Completing the Breakfast Menu
The best accompaniments to the egg dishes featured here are bread and fruit, such as, melon or berries. Certainly a loaf of Italian bread would be good, but I like to serve Focaccia.
Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion, cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough but is usually baked in a deep dish pan. The bread bakes up thicker than pizza and can be used for sandwiches.
In Ancient Rome, foccacia, was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house. As the tradition spread, the diverse regions and the different local ingredients resulted in a large variety of breads. The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine, a coastal region of north-western Italy. In America, it is referred to as focaccia bread.
Here is a recipe I have adapted from King Arthur.
This bread is just about the easiest home-baked bread recipe that I have found because it can be made without kneading and is ready in under 2 hours.
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
Italian seasoning or other herbs of choice
Grated parmesan cheese
Drizzle the bottom of a 9″x 13″ pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil.
Combine all of the ingredients and beat at high-speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds.
Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan. If you spray a spatula (or your fingers) with cooking spray, the dough will be easier to smooth out.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger. Drizzle it lightly 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated parmesan cheese.
Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The ancient ancestors of eggplant grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C. Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country with which it has long been associated, in the 14th century. The eggplant made its first appearance in Sicily, and then, in other Italian southern regions, such as Naples and Calabria.
Eggplant Parmesan was often seen on our dinner table and my mother was fond of making this dish. As a child, I always enjoyed Eggplant Parmesan and I would look forward to when my mother made this for us. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how fattening Eggplant Parmesan can be when made in the traditional way because it is breaded, fried and covered in melted cheese. I have worked out a recipe that is delicious and healthy, if not traditional. I will share that preparation with you in this post.
Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration or scars or bruises, which usually indicates that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
I am fortunate to participate in a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) where I live and I am able to get wonderful eggplant all summer long. With so much eggplant at one time, I learned to prepare the eggplants for the freezer during the summer for future use.
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in storing them. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold . Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for only a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since the plastic will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel will react with the eggplant flesh and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends before peeling.
Making Eggplant Parmesan
Eggplant Parmesan is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation, which makes this an ideal vegetable to work with in your food preparation.
I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:
- 1 pound eggplant, peeled
- 1/2 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
- 1 cup Italian style Progresso bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker). You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a zip lock freezer bag. Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.
To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an 8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
- 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see earlier post for the recipe)
- 1-8 ounce package Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese (You certainly can use mozzarella cheese, if that is your preference.)
Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 6 servings and each serving is less than 200 calories.
Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable
One of my daughters-in-law is crazy about eggplant, so I try to come up with numerous dishes that fit different occasions for when she visits. The following recipe for Eggplant Rolls ( Eggplant Rollatini) is an excellent appetizer dish. Some chefs do not peel eggplant for this dish, but I prefer peeled eggplant because the dish will be more tender without the peel.
- 1 eggplant about 1 lb. Peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices. (Try to pick an eggplant that is more long than wide.)(See photo below.)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
- ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce
Combine the ricotta, Sargento cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.
Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice. Roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Place the eggplant rolls in a greased baking dish and drizzle with marinara sauce.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Arrange on a serving plate with fresh herbs to decorate.
Makes 8 appetizer servings.
Suggested Dinner Menu For Entertaining:
Appetizer: Marinated Roasted Red Peppers, Artichoke Hearts, Olives, Celery Sticks, Fresh Mozzarella Slices and Bread Sticks.
Entree: Italian Pot Roast; Spaghetti and Green Salad.
Dessert: Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake.
How To Make Pot Roast:
I developed this recipe for family get-togethers and special occasions many years ago. Gradually, through the years, I worked on the ingredients until they came together the way I wanted this recipe to taste. This dish became a family favorite and was requested for birthdays, christenings, and parties. Pot roast is an excellent choice for a company dinner because it can be made several days ahead of time. The roast actually tastes better a day or two later and preparing the main dish ahead of time, gives the host time to prepare other menu items.
The Italian name for this dish is Stracotto, a recipe common in most regions of Northern and Central Italy. “Stracotto” means overcooked in Italian. The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery, and pancetta, finely diced, and continues with the addition of red wine and sometimes fresh tomato or tomato paste. Pancetta, Italian bacon, can be substituted with un-smoked bacon, but most delis carry pancetta now.
In order to keep this recipe healthy, it is important to choose the right cut of beef – one that is lean and benefits from long, slow cooking. Many pot roast recipes call for a chuck roast but this is a very fatty piece of meat. Chuck cut can be used if the fat can be removed from the sauce after the meat is chilled. For the Italian pot roast, the sauce contains a vegetable base and removing the fat would be difficult. This sauce is served with the meat and over a side course of pasta. As you can see in the photo below, the chuck roast contains a lot of fat.
I have found that any one of the following roasts are perfect for this recipe because they are a solid, lean piece of meat, that does not break up or shred during the long cooking process.
Italian Pot Roast
- 4 pound rump, eye of the round or top round beef roast
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Flour for coating meat
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ounce pancetta, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 large celery stalk, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 cups medium-bodied Italian red wine
- 2 cups low sodium beef broth
- 1 28-32 ounce container Italian plum tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb. spaghetti
Trim most of the fat from the meat. Pat dry with paper towels. Season generously with the salt and pepper and lightly rub with all- purpose flour. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the roast and brown on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Transfer the meat to a platter.
Reduce the heat to medium and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the pancetta, carrot, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, tomato paste and rosemary and stir about 1 minute.
Add the wine and stir to incorporate the vegetables. Add the beef stock, the tomatoes, the bay leaf and the roast with any juices accumulated on the plate. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer on very low, turning and basting the meat every half hour or so, until the meat is very tender, about 4 hours. (You can also put the pot into a 300°F oven and turn the roast every hour.)
Boil the water for the spaghetti.
Remove the meat from the pot and place it on a cutting board, covered loosely with aluminum foil to rest for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust sauce seasoning, remove bay leaf and keep the sauce hot.
Cook the spaghetti.
Cut the meat into thick slices and place in a deep serving dish. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and reserve the rest to add to the cooked pasta.
You can certainly serve this roast with mashed potatoes or polenta, but my family likes spaghetti with this dinner.
Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake
- Butter for the pan
- 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained overnight in the refrigerator
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for the pan
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur or rum
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Set rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 1/2 inch springform pan, and tap out excess flour.
- Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl, and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula. Stir the sugar and flour together and thoroughly mix into the ricotta. Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the vanilla, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest, Amaretto and salt. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours to 1 3/4 hours, until a light golden color. Make sure the center is fairly firm, and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Cover, and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from pan before serving.
- Pot Roast craving means fall (goerie.com)
- Pass the Pot Roast: Your Sunday Supper Meal Plan (artofmanliness.com)
One of the seven original grains cited in the Bible, farro was popular for hundreds of years until modern baking techniques left it behind. Americans are finding it again and realizing that this savory and tasty grain has many modern uses. Italians not only like to use it in breads but also cakes, pizza and soups. Related to wheat but very different, this grain is friendly to the body, a great source of fiber and naturally contains high levels of nutrients, vitamins and protein.
Farro with Artichokes
Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each
In this dish farro stands in for rice in a risotto-like dish, full of tomatoes, artichokes and fresh basil.
1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed
1 sprig fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1-15-ounce can, no sodium added, diced tomatoes, drained well
1 9-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 1/2-2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1. Place farro in a large saucepan and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the farro is tender but still firm to the bite, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the herbs and drain.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the farro, tomatoes, artichokes, basil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Add 1/2 cup broth (or water), bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until most of the broth is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining broth (or water), adding it in 1/2-cup increments and stirring until it’s absorbed and the farro is creamy but still has a bit of bite, about 10 minutes total. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and lemon zest. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Italy‘s Other National Dish-Polenta
Polenta, a coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal, has been called by some the “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the hominy grits that are so popular in the southern United States. The key to the popularity of Polenta is its versatility. It can be served with nearly anything and that is why it has spread to every corner of Italy, where Italians always make use of what is locally grown or raised. Soft polenta is often a replacement for bread during a meal, or instead of the pasta course, served with butter and cheese and possibly shaved truffles. Polenta can also be served as a contorno (side dish) to regional meat dishes such as Osso Bucco, chicken and fish. Polenta in cake form can be layered with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and baked.
Italian Style Braised Pork Chops With Polenta
- 4 boneless loin pork chops (about 1 inch thick) and trimmed of all fat
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 1 onion, sliced thin
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup of sliced white mushrooms
- 1-15 oz. can of diced tomatoes ( no salt added)
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Dredge chops in flour.
Heat oil in large skillet with cover. Brown chops on both sides. Add onions, sweet peppers, garlic and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and cover and let simmer for about an hour until tender.
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cups of instant polenta
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Extra squares of Polenta can be frozen for future meals.
- Faking Risotto- Farro with Squash and Kale (jazzinthekitchen.wordpress.com)
- Healthy Grains & Cooking Grains (williams-sonoma.com)
- Rustic Farro Soup With Sausage and Mushrooms (aptkitchen.wordpress.com)
Many vegetables have been assimilated into Italian cooking from other cultures. Some vegetables that we associate with the Italian cuisine, such as tomatoes and peppers, actually came from the Americas in the sixteenth century. However, it is what Italian cooks do with vegetables that have made them identifiable with Italian cuisine and what makes them taste so good. A classic example would be roasting red peppers. Red bell peppers are ripened green bell peppers.
Roasting brings out their sweetness and gives them a different, richer flavor that also doubles the amount of vitamin C. As the pepper turns from green to red on the vine, the amount of Vitamin A is also increased. Red peppers contain more folate and are rich in the phytochemicals that help protect us from many different chronic diseases. Red peppers rank among the top ten foods for beta-carotene, lutein and other important antioxidants.
Roasted red peppers can be used in a variety of dishes from pizza to salads. You can even puree them and put the puree in your pasta sauce. They are a staple on the antipasto tray and I like to use them for stuffing meat entrees and for sandwich fillings.
Home roasted peppers taste so much better than the store bought peppers in a jar and it really isn’t very difficult at all. I am including a link here for a video that demonstrates the technique for roasting red bell peppers.
Heat a broiler (or BBQ grill) to high. Rinse the peppers (I usually roast 6 at one time) and place them directly on the oven rack right underneath the flame or on the grill rack. The flame will cause the peppers to bubble and turn black. We want this to happen. Once the top side of the pepper turns black, rotate it. Repeat this process until the whole pepper has blackened.
Place the peppers in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The peppers will continue to cook in its container. This also loosens the skin. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bowl and let them cool down a little bit. Save any liquid that collects in the bottom of the bowl if you are going to make marinated peppers. To cut the pepper, insert the knife on top and cut around the stem. Slice it in half and remove the seeds. With the knife, gently scrape off the skin. You can slice the pepper into strips as thick as you want them.
You can use roasted peppers in the following recipes.
4 roasted red bell peppers
Reserved liquid from the roasted peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Cut the flesh into broad strips or bite-size pieces and set them aside.
In a bowl add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Put the peppers back into the bowl with the sliced garlic, pepper liquid and carefully toss to combine. If you are planning on serving the peppers the same day, allow them to sit at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
4 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz each) or chicken breast halves, trimmed and pounded thin into 4 cutlets
4 roasted red pepper halves
4 slices provolone cheese (deli style)
8 basil leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Salt, Pepper and dried basil
Lay your chicken breasts out flat.
Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top, then a pepper half and 2 basil leaves.
Roll the chicken breast up as tightly and evenly as possible and secure with toothpicks.
Season rolls with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with dried basil and add wine, cover, and cook over low heat, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer rolls to serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Boil juices in skillet until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Diagonally slice rolls into thick pieces, drizzle with pan juices, and serve.
I like to serve this dish over a bed of sauteed swiss chard or spinach.
Video link on how to prepare a chicken breast for stuffing.
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup a big hit (ramblingprose.wordpress.com)
- Spanish-Style Chicken Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (themoveablefeasts.wordpress.com)