Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Beans

beans

Beans play an essential role in Italian cooking and, consequently, they are grown throughout the country. From Sicily in the south to Piedmont and Veneto in the north, various regions produce different kinds of beans, all of which are enjoyed by the Italian culture. While many cooks will substitute one white bean for another, each type provides its own individual shape and texture to a given dish.

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Borlotti (cranberry beans) is a favorite bean in northern Italy. These red, tan and brown speckled beans turn  dark brown on the outside and  yellow on the inside when cooked. They add a creamy consistency to any recipe.

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The region of Tuscany is famous for Cannellini, white kidney beans, and are simply referred to as fagioli. Other popular Tuscan white beans include sorani, toscanello, corona and schiaccianoci.

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Chickpeas (Cece) or Garbanzo Beans are the most widely consumed legume in the world and have been adopted in every region of Italy. The chickpea has a round shape and are beige in color. They have a firm texture with a flavor somewhere between chestnuts and walnuts. Chickpeas can be cooked in soups and stews, added to pasta, eaten cold in salads and ground into a gluten-free flour.

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Corona, a large white bean,  is a member of the runner family and when cooked, they almost triple in size. This is one reason this hearty bean is often called the “poor man’s meat.”

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Fava beans are a staple of Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania, as well as Sicily. A staple of southern Italian cuisine, fava beans are hardy and widely available.

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Lentils, or lenticchie, are eaten all across Italy. With their nutty taste, lentils are ideally small and brown. The most select lentils are grown in Umbria, Abruzzo and Sicily. Although lentils do not require soaking previous to cooking, they are best when soaked for about an hour.

With all beans, keep in mind that the fresher the bean, the better it will taste when used in your favorite recipes.

A diet rich in fiber is a great preventative of coronary heart disease and colon cancer. Beans can provide a reduction in serum cholesterol levels and are also thought to prevent diabetes in at-risk individuals. Additionally, beans contain more protein than any other vegetable; some beans even rival chicken or meat in protein content.

Cooking beans at home is a simple way to save money and provide the base for many healthy meals. It requires little effort and they’re easy to keep on hand in the refrigerator or freezer. You can quickly put together soups, salads, dips and spreads.

Basic Directions for Cooking Dried Beans

Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried beans
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:

Traditional soaking method: In a large bowl, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, remove pot from heat and set aside, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot. Cover with 2 inches of cold water, add onion and bay leaves and bring to a boil; skim off and discard any foam on the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain beans, discard onions and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Beans develop flavor as they cook, but the flavor is subtle. You can boost the flavor of cooked beans by adding aromatic root vegetables, herbs and spices or meat to the pot near the end of cooking—the last 10 to 30 minutes. The flavor of the vegetables, herbs and meat is infused in the water and in turn is drawn into the bean. The conventional wisdom about salting beans is that salt toughens the skins as they cook. So it is best to add salt at the end of the cooking time. Do not add acidic ingredients, like vinegar, tomatoes or tomato juice, as this will slow the cooking process. Instead, add these ingredients after the beans are cooked.

Here are several flavoring options to add near the end of cooking dried beans:

  • Sauté separately diced aromatic vegetables—onions, celery, carrots, leeks, celery root, parsnip, garlic–in olive oil until just soft then stir them into the bean pot with about 10 minutes left to cook.
  • At the end of cooking, stir in salt and pepper to taste, add a bouquet garni–a few thyme sprigs, parsley stems and two bay leaves tied in kitchen twine–to soak.
  • Add a ham hock or a piece of prosciutto to cook with the beans for a deep meaty flavor. Diced bacon or ham steak added to the liquid will also deliver flavor to the beans, as will chunks of beef, pork or lamb.
  • When using beans in a soup, you can thicken the soup by transferring a cup or two of the cooked beans and broth to a blender and purée thoroughly. Then return the purée to the cooking pot.

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Orecchiette Pasta with Spinach and Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta (small ears)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 12 ounces fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups cooked cannellini beans, drained
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

Cook the orecchiette in boiling water  for 1-2 minutes less than the recommended cooking time. Drain and do not rinse.

While the pasta is cooking, saute garlic and red pepper flakes in oil in a saute pan for 1-2 minutes.  Do not allow garlic to brown. Add spinach, salt and pepper. Saute until the spinach is wilted. Add broth and simmer about 5 minutes. Add beans and drained orecchiette to the broth mixture. Stir to combine and cook 1-2 more minutes. Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

TIP: If you under cook pasta by a few minutes and then add it to your soup to finish the cooking time, the pasta will absorb some of the broth and be more flavorful.

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Bean and Sausage Stew

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 4 Italian sausage links, either pork or turkey, cut in half
  • 1 cup cooked beans, drained
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed 6-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium high. Brown the sausages on all sides for about 10 minutes and remove onto a plate.

Add the onions to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, until slightly translucent. Add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, return the sausage to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low.

Cook, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste.

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Herbed Lentils with Spinach and Tomatoes

Serve with pita bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons diced shallots
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
  • 14 oz. diced tomatoes, slightly drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the lentils in a pot with the water and let rest one hour. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Drain any excess water from the lentils and set them aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lentils, basil and parsley to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until warmed through. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper and serve.

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Beans and Broccoli 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried large white beans (corona), soaked overnight
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese with rind
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • Kosher salt
  • 1½ pounds broccoli, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained, finely chopped
  • 2 wide strips lemon zest, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

Drain beans and place in a large heavy pot. Remove the rind from the cheese and add to the beans along with the onion and garlic. Pour in water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, adding water as needed to keep beans submerged, until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Season with salt. Let the beans cool in the liquid. Discard vegetables and Parmesan rind, then drain.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix broccoli with ¼ cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred, 15–20 minutes. Let cool. Finely chop the broccoli.

In a large bowl combine the anchovies, lemon zest, lemon juice, remaining ¼ cup of olive oil and beans. Mix gently. Add the broccoli and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Shave Parmesan cheese over the mixture and serve.

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Braised Chicken with Fennel and White Beans

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cut-up whole chicken (about 3 lbs)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher or sea) salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 can (28 oz) Italian whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 cups cooked beans
  • Chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions

In a deep 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces to the skillet; cook 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until chicken is light golden brown. Remove chicken from skillet to a platter.

Add onion, garlic, fennel and bell pepper to the skillet. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add browned chicken, tomatoes, wine and rosemary. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, turning chicken once, until chicken is tender.

Stir in beans. Cook uncovered about 5 minutes longer or until sauce is slightly thickened and juice of chicken is clear, when the thickest area reads 165°F on a meat thermometer. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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Sausage consists of meat, cut into pieces or ground, that is stuffed into a casing along with other ingredients. Ingredients may include a starch filler, such as breadcrumbs, seasoning spices and sometimes vegetables. The meat may be from any animal, but most often is pork, beef or veal. More common today are sausages made from chicken and turkey. The lean meat-to-fat ratio is dependent upon the style of sausage. Speciality sausages with other ingredients, such as apple and leek, are also popular.

In some jurisdictions foods described as sausages must meet regulations governing their content. For example, in the United States, The Department of Agriculture specifies that the fat content of different defined types of pork sausage may not exceed 30% to 50% by weight. Italian sausage must be at least 85% meat. Most Italian sausage contains salt, pepper, fennel and/or anise and no more than 3% water. Optional ingredients permitted in Italian Sausages are spices (including paprika) and flavorings, red or green peppers, onions, garlic and parsley, sugar, dextrose and corn syrup. The italian Sausage i buy from Fortuna does not contain any preservatives or sweetners and is low in fat. See the post I wrote recently on this type of sausage.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates that fresh sausage contain no sodium nitrite and/or potassium nitrite or nitrates. However, cured sausages normally contain one of these preservatives, which are suspected of contributing to cancer. Many people are allergic to nitrites and nitrates, as well as some fillers, such as soy, so beware of these ingredients in commercial cured varieties. Read the ingredients label. There are a number of brands available today without nitrates.

Cured varieties also contain high amounts of salt, necessary to the curing process, which could be a potential problem for those with high blood pressure.

Precooked chicken sausage is convenient. Keep a package or two on hand to accompany Sunday morning pancake breakfasts or to sauté with sliced peppers and onions for a quick weeknight dinner. Two brands that I like are Applegate Farms and Al Fresco. These companies also make excellent breakfast sausages.

Many traditional styles of sausage from Europe and Asia contain only meat, fat and flavorings. In the United Kingdom and other countries with English cuisine traditions, many sausages contain a significant proportion of bread and starch-based fillers, which may comprise 30% of the ingredients.The filler used in many sausages helps them to keep their shape as they are cooked. As the meat contracts in the heat, the filler expands and absorbs moisture and fat from the meat. Many nations and regions have their own characteristic sausages, using meats and other ingredients native to the region to create their traditional dishes.

There are a wide variety of different sausages available throughout the world, however, they all fall into just a few basic categories.

Typical Sausage Classifications

  • Cooked sausages are made with fresh meats and then fully cooked. They are either eaten immediately after cooking or must be refrigerated. Examples include hot dogs, Braunschweig and liver sausage.
  • Cooked smoked sausages are cooked and then smoked or smoke-cooked. They are eaten hot or cold, but need to be refrigerated. Examples include kielbasa and mortadella. Some are slow cooked while smoking, in which case, the process takes several days or longer.
  • Fresh sausages are made from meats that have not been previously cured. They must be refrigerated and thoroughly cooked before eating. Examples include Boerewors, Italian pork sausage, siskonmakkara and breakfast sausage.
  • Fresh smoked sausages are fresh sausages that are smoked and cured. They do not normally require refrigeration and do not require any further cooking before eating. Examples include Mettwurst and Teewurst which are meat preparations packed in sausage casing, but squeezed out of it to serve (just like any other spread from a tube).
  • Dry sausages are cured sausages that are fermented and dried. Some are smoked, as well, at the beginning of the drying process. They are generally eaten cold and will keep for a long time. Examples include salami, Droë worst, Finnish meetvursti, Sucuk, Landjäger (smoked), Slim Jim and summer sausage.
  • Bulk sausage refers to raw, ground, spiced meat, usually sold without any casing.
  • Vegetarian sausages are made without meat. The ingredients are usually soy protein or tofu, with herbs and spices. Some vegetarian sausages are not necessarily vegan and may contain ingredients such as eggs.

Cooking Sausages

Unless you are cooking sausages in a casserole dish or in a sauce, the key to great-tasting fresh sausages that do not get dried out is this: simmer them in beer or water until partially cooked and then finish in the oven or on the grill or stove top.

Fall is a popular time of year to cook with sausage. Tailgating and heartier meals are perfect for this meat. To keep sausage recipes healthy be sure to buy sausages that are pure meat with no fillers and not too much fat or salt. Stretch the amount of sausage used with vegetables and hearty grains.

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Roasted Brats with Apples and Butternut Squash

Serves 8 to 10

Great for busy weeknights. The apples and butternut squash in this recipe go well with bratwurst, but any mild sausage will work.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 apples, sliced
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes
  • 1 small red onion, halved and cut into thick slices
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 fresh (uncooked) bratwurst (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, combine squash, apples, grapes and onion. Sprinkle with oil, caraway seeds, salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Arrange brats over the top. Roast until brats are browned and hot all the way through and the squash is very tender, about 35 minutes.

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Vegetarian Sausage and Quinoa One-Pot Supper

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces vegetarian sausage, cut into (1/2 inch) cubes
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sage
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups chopped kale or spinach leaves, lightly packed

Directions

In a large skillet with a cover, cook sausage, onions and sage over medium-high heat until just browned, about 10 minutes. Add cider, quinoa, cranberries, salt and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is just absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in kale, cover again and set aside off of the heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and serve.

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Chicken Sausage with Potatoes & Sauerkraut

The flavor of the dish will vary depending on what type of chicken sausage you choose. Roasted garlic or sweet apple sausage are best for this recipe. Opt for the crisp texture of refrigerated sauerkraut over canned. Serve with roasted carrots and some mustard to spread on the sausage.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 ounces (4 links) cooked chicken sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes.

Add potatoes, sauerkraut, wine, pepper, caraway seeds and bay leaf; bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

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Mediterranean Penne with Italian Sausage

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, quartered lengthwise, cored and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound Italian sweet or hot sausage, casings removed
  • 3 cups homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 1 lb whole wheat penne pasta
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the bell peppers, fennel bulb, onion, eggplant and garlic. Cook, stirring often, over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the fennel starts to soften. Add the sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage with the back of a spoon, for 3 minutes, or until no longer pink.

Add the marinara sauce, fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes. Stir to mix. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta to the al dente stage. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Place the pasta in a serving bowl. Top with the sauce. Add the reserved cooking water and parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

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Black Beans and Smoked Sausage

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound kielbasa or other smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, diced small
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving

Directions

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add sausage and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add carrots and shallots to the skillet and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add black beans and broth and bring mixture to a boil. Add sausage, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until carrots are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Serve with hearty country bread.


casseroles

Casserole is a French word for “pot” or “pan” and it refers not only to mixed-ingredient, one-dish meals, but also the vessel they are cooked in; a casserole is a type of cooking pan. The idea of casseroles dates back as far as the thirteenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that they started to gain widespread popularity. The scarcity of food (and rationing) during the World Wars, the invention of canned foods (especially soup), and the changing role of women in society as they joined the workforce all contributed to the success of these convenient and economical one-dish meals. By the middle of the twentieth century, the casserole craze was in full swing.

Casseroles are still popular today for many of the same reasons; most are easy to make, cost very little to put together and can be made ahead and stored away for busy nights. A make-ahead casserole is perfect for just about any occasion. You can welcome new neighbors, have a dish ready for an upcoming party or plan next week’s meals.

Make-Ahead and Freezing Guidelines

• To bake a casserole ahead of time, cool completely, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

• To freeze a casserole, you can either assemble and freeze or bake and freeze, depending on the recipe. Either way, cool completely and cover tightly with plastic wrap, and then with heavy duty foil. Add a label with the name of the recipe and the date. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

• Whether refrigerated or frozen, bring a casserole to room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour (but no longer) before baking or reheating. You may need to add extra baking time when a dish has been refrigerated.

• Reheat casseroles in a moderate (around 350 degrees F) oven, covered, so that they do not dry out. If a casserole seems to be dry, you can stir in a little more of the liquid that was called for in the recipe. Reheating in a microwave will warm the food but will also soften crispy toppings.

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Rolled Lasagna Florentine

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounce carton ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces package (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 12 dried lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 cups Tomato Meat Sauce, recipe below
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

Directions

For the spinach-cheese filling:

In a medium bowl combine egg, ricotta cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and the spinach. Spread mixture over each cooked lasagna noodle. Starting from a narrow end, roll up each noodle.

For the sauce:

In a medium bowl combine Tomato Sauce, Ground Beef or Turkey filling, Italian seasoning and fennel seeds.

Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Arrange lasagna rolls on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Top with the remaining  2 cups of sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Save any remaining sauce for another meal.

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap. Place casserole in a resealable freezer bag. Seal and freeze for up to 2 months.

To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap; cover with greased or nonstick foil. Bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until heated through.

Ground Beef or Turkey Filling

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onions (3 medium)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (1 stalk)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Directions

In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven cook ground beef, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic over medium heat until meat is browned, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat. Stir in salt and pepper.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Directions

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until garlic is lightly golden. Carefully add tomatoes, wine, tomato paste and salt.

Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 for 40 minutes or until slightly thickened and reduced by about one-third, stirring occasionally. (You should have about 5 1/2 cups.)

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Sausage, Mushroom and Polenta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Italian (hot or sweet) sausage, casing removed
  • 1 medium fresh chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (6)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed, divided
  • 1 ½ cups polenta
  • 2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella or provolone  cheese (8 ounces)

Directions

In a large skillet cook sausage, chili pepper and 2 cloves garlic over medium-high heat until the sausage is brown, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat. Stir in marinara sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour into a large mixing bowl and cover.

In the same skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, green onions, remaining 2 cloves garlic and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally. Stir in heavy cream, wine and salt. Cook over low heat about 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally.

For polenta, in a large saucepan bring chicken broth, the water and remaining Italian seasoning to a boil. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture returns to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Spread half of the sausage mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Working quickly, spread half of the polenta over the sausage mixture in the baking dish. Top with mushroom mixture and half of the cheese. Quickly spread the remaining polenta over the top as evenly as possible. Top with the remaining sausage mixture and the remaining cheese. Cool completely.

Cover baking dish with plastic wrap, then with foil. Freeze for up to 1 month.

To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight (casserole may still be a bit icy). Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap; cover with foil. Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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Zucchini Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch slices
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups (16 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) light sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced

Directions

Cook rice according to package directions.

In a large skillet, heat oil and cook the green pepper, onion and zucchini for 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Set aside.

Place rice in a greased shallow 3-qt. baking dish. Add 1-1/2 cups cheese.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, salt and oregano.

Spread over the cheese layer.

Add the sautéed vegetables and tomato. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

If not cooking immediately, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator thirty minutes before heating.

Bake, covered, at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until heated through and the cheese is melted.

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Tuscan Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shredded kale (thick stems removed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 2 19 ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
  • One 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto or cooked ham, cut into bite-size strips
  • 1/4 cup fine dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saucepan cook kale in a small amount of boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes until tender. Drain well in a colander.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the empty pan over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender.

In a large bowl combine cooked kale, onion mixture, beans, tomatoes, prosciutto, 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs, the sage, garlic, and pepper. Transfer mixture to an ungreased 2-quart casserole.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 tablespoons bread crumbs and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle over the bean mixture.

Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until heated through.

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Bulgur, Beef Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 8 large red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, with stems if possible
  • 2 cans (14 to 14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups bulgur
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed with press
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 package (10-ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 cans (28-ounce) crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

Cut 3/4-inch slice from the top of each pepper; reserve tops, including stems.

Remove seeds and ribs and cut a thin slice from bottom of each pepper, if needed, so they will stand upright.

Arrange 4 peppers and their tops (separately) on the same microwave-safe plate. Cook, uncovered, in the microwave on High 4 minutes. With tongs, transfer tops to a paper towel. Microwave peppers 4 to 5 minutes longer or until just tender. Invert peppers onto a double thickness of paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining peppers and tops.

In a microwave-safe large bowl, combine chicken broth and bulgur. Cook, uncovered, in the microwave on High 12 to 15 minutes or until bulgur is tender, but still slightly chewy, and most of broth is absorbed. You can also do this on top of the stove. Bring the broth to a boil and stir in the bulgur. Reduce the heat and cook the bulgur until tender, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a deep 12-inch skillet, heat oil on medium until hot. Add onion and garlic, and cook 5 minutes or until onion begins to turn golden, stirring frequently. Remove 1/4 cup onion mixture and reserve. Add beef to the remaining onion in the skillet and cook 6 to 8 minutes or until beef is no longer pink, breaking up beef with the side of a wooden spoon.

Remove skillet from the heat and stir in cooked bulgur, spinach, Italian seasoning, 1 cup crushed tomatoes and 3/4 cup mozzarella. Fill peppers with bulgur mixture, using a generous 1 cup for each; sprinkle each pepper with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Replace pepper tops.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wipe skillet clean and combine remaining crushed tomatoes, reserved onion mixture, salt and coarsely ground black pepper in the skillet; heat to boiling on medium-high, stirring occasionally.

Divide tomato sauce evenly between two 2-quart casseroles or 8″ by 8″ glass baking dishes. Place 4 peppers in each dish.

Cover one dish with foil and bake 35 minutes or until peppers are hot. Cover the second dish and freeze for another day.


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Autumn officially arrived on Tuesday. What better way to welcome the season than making a delicious soup using ingredients that are hitting the farmers markets now? Soup is perfect in any season, but Autumn is especially a perfect time to make soup. When the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, nothing hits the spot like a bowl of warm soup. Store-bought varieties are convenient, but they can be salty and taste overcooked. Homemade is better.

The fall season aligns well with some interesting seasonal ingredients. For example you can add any of the fall ingredients to your standard soup recipes:

Squash, acorn, delicata, kabocha or butternut squash
Apples
Kale
Cabbage
Kohlrabi
Parsnips
Turnips
Parsnips
Swiss Chard
Sweet Potatoes

Orzo, Squash and Chicken Soup

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Make it vegetarian by omitting the chicken, substituting vegetable broth and serving with shaved Parmesan. You can also substitute a different type of squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 4 delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 small skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 sage leaves, torn into pieces
  • 4 cups chicken broth

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking pans with parchment paper.

Mix the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on one prepared baking pan.

Place the chicken on the other baking pan, brush with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the squash on the top rack in the oven and the chicken on the lower rack. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reaches 160°F, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and continue to roast the squash until it is tender and caramelized, about 10 minutes longer.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Put 6 cups water in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt and the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the remaining oil  Add the onion, garlic and sage and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chickenbroth and bring to a boil. Add the cooked orzo, chicken and squash and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Vegetable Farro Soup

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Omit the Parmesan cheese for a vegan dish.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup farro or wheat berries
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 quarts water
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and add the celery, onion and leek. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until softened, 5 minutes.

Add the farro and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated and shiny, 30 seconds.

Add 1 quart of the water, sweet potato and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender, 30 minutes.

Add the peas, cover and cook until tender, at the most 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, top with basil and Parmesan cheese, if using. Serve with bread sticks.

Pea Soup with Ham and Sherry

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 cup sliced carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 – 14 ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup dried green split peas
  • 3 ounces reduced-sodium ham, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • Whole wheat croutons* (optional)
  • Plain Greek yogurt (optional)

Directions

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic and thyme. Reduce heat to medium; cook about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Stir in the chicken broth, the water, split peas, ham, crushed red pepper, black pepper and nutmeg. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or the until split peas are soft.

Stir in frozen peas and parsley; cook about 5 minutes more or until the peas are heated through. Stir in sherry and remove from the heat.

Top the soup with croutons and/or yogurt.

*For homemade croutons, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cut up whole wheat bread slices into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces; place on the prepared baking pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden, turning or stirring once halfway through the baking time.

Hearty Greens, Bowtie Pasta and Tomato Soup

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Use any hearty greens that are in season in this filling soup. I save the rinds from wedges of Parmesan cheese in the freezer for making this type of soup.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard including chard stalks or kale (about 3/4 pound)
  • One Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, plus grated Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach
  • 1/2 pound bowtie (farfalle) pasta, cooked al dente

Directions

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and tomatoes and cook until most of the tomato liquid is released and absorbed, about 5 minutes more.

Add carrots, celery, salt, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Stir in chard and Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer one hour.

Stir in spinach, cooked pasta and season. Simmer 15 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaf and cheese rind from the soup. Add salt and pepper, if needed, and ladle into bowls, Garnish with grated cheese.

Pork, Rosemary, Chianti Wine and Pasta Soup

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Ditalini pasta
  • Two 16-oz cans Italian diced tomatoes
  • 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 whole sprig of rosemary
  • 2 slivers lemon zest
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/3 cup Chianti wine
  • 1½ pounds pork shoulder fat trimmed, diced ½ inch pieces
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, optional
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shredded, optional

Directions using a slow cooker:

In a slow cooker, combine all the ingredients except for the pasta and parsley. Set to low and cook for 8 hours.

Once the soup is cooked, remove the rosemary sprig, garlic and lemon zest.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta to the al dente stage, drain and add to the soup. Heat until all the ingredients are hot.

Garnish with fresh parsley, drizzle with olive oil and top with cheese, if desired, before serving.

Stove top directions:

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot and brown the pork cubes.

Mince the garlic and add to the pot with the rosemary leaves and lemon zest. Saute for one minute. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan.

Add the carrots, parsnips, tomatoes and beef broth; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours.

The meat should be very tender. If not, simmer for another 30 – 45 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add to the soup along with the parsley. Heat for a few minutes and serve with the optional ingredients.

A green salad goes nicely with this soup.


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Football season is back! And the return of America’s most popular sport means the return of many beloved traditions – including lots of fried and fatty foods washed down with calorie-laden drinks. When football season arrives, there seems to be a different type of energy floating around in the air. Rivalries between friends pop up for 18 weeks or so. Saturdays and Sundays (and now we can add Monday and Thursday evenings) are filled with large quantities of beer and food; not to mention, sitting in front of the TV most of the day.

Your waistline won’t be affected if you skip a workout or indulge every now and then. However, for 18 plus weeks indulging in football style food (chips, dip, pizza, wings…you know…) could lead to weight gain.

Instead of sabotaging your healthy routine, why not do something about it. Create healthier snack options and incorporate exercises throughout the day. Give these  ideas a try next time you find yourself glued to the couch watching football.

Baked pita crisps and cut-up raw veggies served with salsa, guacamole, hummus, bean or other low-fat dips.

Snack mix made with mini whole-grain cereal squares, seeds (toasted sunflower or pumpkin), unsalted nuts, mini-pretzels, dried cranberries.

Popcorn – air-popped or microwaved (save money – to make about 5 cups –  put 1/4 plain popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag, fold over the top a few times and press closed, cook on high for about 2 1/2 – 3 minutes), add 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted margarine high in omega-3’s, low in saturated fat and without trans-fat and seasonings that you like; go light on the salt.

Pistachios or peanuts in their shells slows down the eating.

Salsa: Use in place of mayonnaise-based dips to save loads of calories and fat grams.

Cut-up fruit.

Greek yogurt: Use in place of sour cream for dips. Greek yogurt offers the same flavor at a fraction of the calorie tally.

We all like to munch on crunchy snacks while watching football. However, chips and a dip are not the best option, especially when the whole bag can be devoured in the span of an hour. Why not swap the chips for nutritious veggies? Put a variety of bright colors on the table. It’s eye-catching and full of flavor to lay out carrots, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes or broccoli.

For Subs choose 100 percent whole-grain bread with fresh turkey or grilled chicken, avocado and lots of veggies. Cut the sandwiches in quarters to keep portion sizes in check.

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Who doesn’t like grilled food? Grill instead of ordering in pizza and wings.

Swap the Buffalo wings for lean chicken breast tenders. Chicken breast (without skin) is a great source of protein and a better option than fatty, breaded wings. To get your Buffalo wing fix, grab your favorite hot sauce and drizzle it on the chicken as it grills on the BBQ. Grill sliders with interesting toppings, instead of regular size burgers.

Beer and football seems to be the trendy thing. However, for every beer you drink have a glass of water.Try to limit your beer intake, as beer packs on the pounds. Have iced water with fruit slices in a pitcher. It’s easy to make and it’s full of flavor. (I like to thinly slice a lemon, a lime and an orange to add to a pitcher of ice water.)

During commercial breaks move around. Stand up and stretch or take walking breaks. Create a challenge with your friends and do x-number of push ups, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, planks, etc.

If you are at the game, take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Get up and stretch or walk around the stadium periodically.

Remind yourself to only eat if you are hungry – not just for something to do during the game.

Here are some healthy recipes for your game day fun.

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Barbecue Spice Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • 2-15 ounce cans no-salt-added garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon barbecue spice
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium bowl combine garbanzo beans, oil, barbecue spice, paprika, chili powder, garlic salt, celery salt and onion powder.

Spread in an even layer in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Roast about 30 minutes or until browned and crisp, stirring once halfway through roasting. Cool completely.

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Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lower-fat tub-style margarine (50% to 70% vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 12 cups popped popcorn

Directions

In a Dutch oven heat and stir the brown sugar, granulated sugar, margarine and salt over medium heat until just boiling and sugar is dissolved. Stir in vanilla. Add popcorn and toss until coated.

Place coated popcorn in a shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 300 degrees F oven for 15 minutes, stirring once. Transfer to a large piece of foil to cool.

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Italian Parmesan Pretzels

Ingredients

  • 1 pound homemade or frozen whole wheat bread dough, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons light butter with olive oil, melted

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Divide dough into 10 equal portions.

Roll each portion into a 15-inch-long rope.

To shape each pretzel: hold one end of a rope in each hand and form a U-shape. Cross the ends over each other and then twist. Then lift the ends across to the bottom of the U-shape; press to seal.

Arrange shaped pretzels on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with waxed paper; let stand in a warm spot for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small bowl stir together Parmesan, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Brush pretzels evenly with the melted butter and sprinkle with the Parmesan mixture.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until browned. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack. Serve warm or cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack.

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Yogurt Fruit Dip

Ingredients

  • 1-6 ounce carton plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Dash ground cloves
  • Ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 apple, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 pear, cored and cut into wedges
  • 6 slices fresh pineapple
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries

Directions

In a small bowl combine yogurt, maple syrup, the 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, the nutmeg and cloves. If desired, sprinkle dip with additional ground cinnamon. Serve fruit with the dip.

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Grilled Shrimp with Red Pepper Dip

Make a double batch of the roasted red pepper dip and add your favorite cut up vegetables in a bowl alongside the shrimp.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen extra jumbo shrimp in shells (about 32 total)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 whole roasted red sweet peppers or use 2 whole jarred roasted peppers
  • 8 ounce carton reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails intact. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Thread shrimp onto small wooden (soaked in water) or metal skewers, leaving 1/4 inch between pieces. Lightly brush shrimp with the oil.

For a charcoal grill, grill shrimp skewers on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals until shrimp are opaque, turning once halfway through grilling. Allow about  8 to 10 minutes for the shrimp. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place shrimp skewers on the grill rack directly over the heat. Cover and grill as directed.)

Place cooked shrimp skewers in a shallow dish. Cover and chill for 1 to 24 hours.

For dip: in a blender or food processor combine roasted peppers, sour cream, salt and black pepper. Cover and blend or process with on/off pulses until mixture is coarsely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill for 1 to 24 hours. Serve shrimp skewers with dip.

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Smoky Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1-16-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-14 1/2-oz can diced no-salt-added tomatoes
  • 1-15 ounce can no-salt-added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried chipotle chile pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • Reduced-fat sour cream, optional

Directions

Put a large nonstick soup pot on medium-high heat and add the oil and beef. Break the meat up into small chunks with a wooden spoon. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, beef is no longer pink and no excess liquid is left in the pan (about 5 minutes).

Add remaining ingredients except the salt, pepper, cheese and sour cream. Stir, then cover the pot and cook over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly, then remove the bay leaf. Pour into serving bowls or mugs and top each with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

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Healthy Turkey Meatball Subs

Meatballs

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/4 lbs lean ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • Marinara sauce, recipe below
  • 12 small whole wheat hoagie buns or firm hot dog rolls, split and warmed
  • 12 slices (one ounce each) mozzarella cheese, cut in half

Directions

Make the marinara sauce.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further two minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.

Once the onion mixture has cooled, add the turkey, bread crumbs, egg, salt and parsley and mix thoroughly. Using wet hands, shape tablespoons of the meatball mixture into 1 ½ inch balls and then transfer to a baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Bake the meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Turn over halfway through baking.

Add the baked meatballs to the marinara sauce and heat.

To make the sandwiches:

Spoon the hot meatballs with some sauce over the bottoms of the rolls. Place a slice of mozzarella, cut in half, over the meatballs. Spread a little more sauce over the meatballs, then fold the tops of the rolls over and serve.

The sandwiches can be assembled and wrapped individually in foil. Rewarm the sandwiches in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes before serving.

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (26-28 ounce) containers crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots and the salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.


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Away from the rolling hills, sweeping vineyards and expanses of the sunflower fields inland, on the Tuscany coast facing Elba Island where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his time in exile, perched high above the Baratti Gulf is the walled town of Populonia. The Populonia Bay is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy, a perfect fusion of nature and history. The Baratti Gulf and the Populonia cape have always attracted inhabitants. Today this area is the site of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia (close to Piombino, in the Livorno Province). The town sits next to the archeological park which contains the remains of a huge Etruscan settlement. The park tells the story of the Etruscans, a group of people who had an important impact on this territory.

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Populonia is especially known for the wealth of Etruscan archaeology in the area and an impressive collection of artifacts unearthed from the surrounding area, from tools to helmets, weapons, casks and jewellery. Positioned on the summit of a hill for safety reasons, the Etruscans constructed a necropolis at the base to house their dead dating from the late Iron Age (600 BC). Populonia, the only Etruscan town built over the sea, was composed of two different parts: Populonia Akron, the acropolis, the upper part, where there were the temples and the public buildings. Populonia Polis, the lower part, situated close to the Baratti Gulf contained the port, where the main economic and artisanal activities took place.

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The Etruscans were very enterprising and traded with many people from the East. Iron-work was the main economic activity of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations. This region also contained other precious metals, like copper. The Etruscans would sail from the Baratti Gulf to Elba Island, where they would transform the hematite into iron. Because of the region’s economic prosperity immigration increased: people from Spain, Sardinia, Campania and Corsica came to Populonia hoping for a new life. The Etruscans also created a mint: they needed coin for their commercial exchanges and to pay the soldiers who were protecting the area. The coins were made in silver and bronze.

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Many archaeologists tried to discover the remnants of the Etruscan civilization, but they couldn’t succeed due to the terrain The first discoveries were objects found in fishermen nets and at grave sites The Archaeological Park stretches over almost 200 acres between the slopes of the Piombino Mountains and the Gulf of Baratti. The Park includes a significant part of the ancient town of Populonia and is spread over a vast area, which enables visitors to appreciate the transformation that has taken place over the centuries.

The wooded coast overlooks the archipelago and the silhouettes of the islands, including Elba and Corsica, create a picturesque scenes. This is the landscape of the 8th-9th Century B.C., when important houses were built on the Acropolis to accommodate the aristocracies of Populonia. These houses are the remains of the summit of the acropolis and from the beach area on the Gulf of Baratti, one can view the remains of Populonia.

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A network of roads join the houses and temples to the industrial city and the cemeteries which lie on the first hills surrounding the inlet. As in ancient times, the routes follow the original roads, crossing the woods and the scrub areas and opening up to unexpected views over the Gulf of Baratti and the open sea. The deep wooded areas contain the remains of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico that tell of a lost city and the natural resources and minerals that were once part of the region.

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Inside the park one can walk along three paths: the “Iron Route”, the “Quarries Route” and a naturalistic path. The “Iron Route” goes through the areas where the Etruscan ovens used to be. Then, going up the hills, the ruins of the industrial district can be seen. The “Quarries Route” is a path where the Etruscans used to extract the “panchina stone”, that was used to build Populonia.

Inside the park is an experimental archeological laboratory and a museum that includes vases, precious jewels, bronzes, coins and graphic reconstructions of Etruscan landscapes and activities.

The Etruscans

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The Italians in Central Italy today are descendants of the Etruscans. Not only that, but the Italian language has its roots in the Etruscan language. The Etruscans revered women, so women and men were on an equal footing. The men were clean-shaven and were primarily sailors and merchants. They were also good sportsmen, warriors and skilled farmers.

The Etruscan hillsides were abundant with olive groves and modern potters continue the practice of decorating their ceramics with olives and olive leaves.

The Etruscans grew crops beside the grapes and olives and grew barley, millet, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas and spelt. They also grew beans, peas, garlic and onions, figs, melons, apples and berries.

They kept livestock, especially pigs, chickens, ducks and goats and hunted game from the surrounding forests, such as rabbits, deer and boar. Fish were taken from the rivers and the seas and they were making pasta with the use of a rolling pin.

The Etruscans ate two meals a day, enjoyed holding banquets and made good wine. Their culture and civilization was influenced by the Greek culture and they, in turn, influenced the Roman culture and, in turn, the Tuscan culture, as we know it today.

Etruscan food traced from archaeological findings and frescoes depicts food that is still eaten today. They used herbs like rosemary to flavor their meats, honey to sweeten desserts and they had utensils such as saucepans, pans, graters, pots, colanders, goblets and pitchers and beautiful dining plates. They baked and cooked over open fires and produced a variety of breads, one of which is still eaten today – flat grape bread. Wine was plentiful and stored in terracotta jars underground. It was strong and often drunk watered down. Today you will still Italians who drink wine diluted in this way.

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Grape Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds seedless black grapes

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. When the mixture foams, after 5 minutes, stir in a pinch of salt, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough that is not sticky.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 5-8 minutes until firm, smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Set the dough aside for about an hour to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Enough dough should hang over the edge of the pan to completely cover the top when folded.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan. Spread 3/4 of the grapes over it, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Fold the overhanging dough up over the grapes, covering them completely. Press lightly to seal. Scatter the remaining grapes over the dough, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake the bread until golden brown and the grapes are soft for about 45-60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)

This Etruscans served this sauce over what is called bollito misto or mixed boiled meats.

Ingredients

  • 1 bundle of parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tablespoons capers (in vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons of mixed pickled vegetables (in italy you will find carrots-cauliflower in the jar)
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Directions

Boil the egg and mash it together with the other ingredients – the mixture you will obtain should be smooth and fine. (Use a processor)

Place it in a bowl – add salt, pepper and start pouring in  olive oil until you obtain a creamy sauce.

Before using the sauce, let it rest for some time so that all flavors can blend in.

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Peasant Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb italian sweet sausage, links
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, cleaned, rough chopped
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with basil oregano and garlic, undrained
  • 1 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat olive oil in heavy 4 quart sauce pan.

Cut sausage into 1/2 inch pieces.

Brown sausage in pan until no longer pink.

Add onion and garlic and stir until softened.

Add spinach, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, beans and red pepper.

Heat to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

park8

Etruscan Pici

Ingredients

For the pasta

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00
  • A generous 1 cup semolina  
  • Salt

For the sauce

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 1⁄2 – 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Grated pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

To make the pasta, mix together the flour, semolina and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to make a firm, elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in a clean dish towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Chop the hard-boiled egg with the garlic, parsley, basil and mint, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Gradually drizzle in enough oil to make a fairly liquid sauce.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Unwrap the pasta.Taking a small piece at a time, rub it back and forth on the work surface (counter) with your fingertips until it resembles thick spaghetti.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and cook and for 2–3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, add to the sauce and toss well.

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve immediately.

park9

Guinea Fowl in Porcini

Ingredients

  • 1 guinea fowl, cut into 4 pieces
  • 8 small sprigs sage
  • 8 small sprigs mint
  • 4 slices pancetta
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5 1⁄2 cups porcini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F

Stud the pieces of guinea fowl with the sage and mint sprigs and arrange a pancetta slice over each.

Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a casserole and add the guinea fowl. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a shallow pan with the garlic cloves.When the garlic begins to brown, remove with a slotted spoon and discard.

Add the mushrooms, mint leaves and tomatoes to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Remove the guinea fowl from the oven, add the pieces to the pan with the mushrooms and cook for 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the guinea fowl and mushrooms to a serving dish and serve immediately


lunchtime

The healthiest meals you can make are ones that you prepare from scratch using unprocessed foods. If you don’t have time to home-cook all of your meals, try to make healthy choices about the processed and prepared foods you do consume. Choosing baked or grilled foods over fried, drinking water instead of soda and sharing a dessert are just a few ways you can eat healthy while still eating well.

Choose ingredients located in the perimeter aisles of your grocery store, where the produce, fresh meats and unprocessed foods are typically located. Make healthy meals by forgoing prepared meals that come in boxes or frozen meals in bags, which all contain high amounts of preservatives and unhealthy salt that can contribute to high blood pressure. Refined grains lack the outer husk of the grain, which contains the health benefits of fiber that cleanses the intestines and creates a full feeling sensation during a meal. Choose brown rice instead of white and cook with whole oats, not instant.

Bake, braise, broil or grill meats, fish and poultry. These are healthier cooking methods because fats drain away from the foods while they are cooking. Low fat dairy products help decrease your risk of high cholesterol and weight gain because you will consume less animal fat.

Consume less food when eating out by splitting your entrée with a friend or taking a portion of the dinner home and look for foods that haven’t been fried. Choose lower fat options when available. Lunchtime is probably one of the least healthiest meals, if you buy your lunch. Fast food is an expensive but convenient option that often comes with a side of guilt. One in every four Americans eats fast food at least once a day. Unfortunately, many fast food meals contain a whole day’s worth of calories and fat all in one meal. When you consider the benefits that come from taking your lunch to work or preparing lunch at home with fresh ingredients, the prospect of making your own lunch quickly becomes more appetizing. Here are some ideas for appealing and healthy lunches that can be made ahead and warmed at work or at home in the microwave. Add your favorite seasonal fruit, a bottle of water and you are all set.

lunchtime1

Focaccia Pizza Sandwiches

This sandwich can also be layered with sliced fresh tomatoes and pesto instead of marinara sauce and pepperoni.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup prepared or homemade marinara sauce
  • 2 (4-inch) squares focaccia, halved horizontally
  • 2 tablespoons sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 ounce sliced uncured (such as Applegate Farms) pepperoni, ham or prosciutto
  • 4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 6 small leaves basil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place focaccia bottoms on a baking pan. Spread marinara sauce on one side of each of the 2 bottom pieces of focaccia. Top the sauce with olives, pepperoni or other meats and the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the focaccia tops next to the bottoms on the baking sheet.

Bake until cheese is just melted, pepperoni is warmed through and focaccia is crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to plates, top bottom halves with basil, add focaccia tops and serve.

lunchtime3

Meatball Pitas

Serves 4

Savory beef meatballs makes this a satisfying sandwich for lunch or a light dinner. Adding bread soaked in milk to the meat mixture keeps meatballs moist and tender. This recipe uses some of the pita tops for just that purpose.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 4 whole grain pita breads
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or your favorite ground meat
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup finely sliced romaine lettuce

Yogurt Sauce

  • 3/4 (6-ounce) cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray olive oil on a medium baking sheet.

Cut the top third off the pitas. Tear 2 of the tops into pieces with your fingers and place the pieces in a small bowl; save the remaining 2 pita tops for another use. Add milk to the bowl and let the bread soak until very soft, about 15 minutes.

Combine beef, onion, oregano, cayenne, pepper and the 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. With your hands, gently squeeze excess milk from pita tops; add the bread to the bowl with the meat; discard milk. Mix with your hands or a rubber spatula until well combined. Form the mixture into 16 balls, each about the size of a ping-pong ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake, shaking the pan once or twice, until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt, cucumber and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill each pita with tomato, lettuce and 4 meatballs. Spoon yogurt sauce on top.

lunchtime2

Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup

Serves 4

This soup is simply made from pantry staples including vegetable or chicken broth, diced tomatoes, canned beans and dried pasta. Look in the freezer section of your store for some frozen spinach or other favorite vegetables to add.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dried pasta (any shape), cooked according to package instructions
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced Italian tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces frozen or 4 cups fresh spinach
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and saute garlic for a minute.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add beans, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and lower to a simmer. Add spinach and cook until softened and bright green.

Place pasta (about 1 cup per serving) into soup bowls, ladle soup over the top and garnish with Parmesan cheese..

lunchtime4

Leftover Frittata

A frittata is the savvy cook’s solution for leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups chopped cooked vegetables and/or meat (asparagus, onion, ham, potatoes, spinach, sausage, chopped bell pepper etc.)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese – any kind you like
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil or chives
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, beat eggs and stir in vegetables and/or meat, herbs and salt and pepper, if needed. Reserve the cheese.

Heat a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add oil and carefully swirl around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the skillet.

Add egg mixture, spread out evenly and cook, without stirring, until the edges and bottom are set and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (Carefully loosen an edge to peek.)

Sprinkle the cheese on top and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the eggs are completely set and the frittata is deep golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes more.

Remove the skillet from the oven. (The handle will be hot!)

Loosenthe  edges and bottom of the frittata with a table knife and spatula; carefully slide onto a large plate. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold, cut into wedges.

lunchtime5

Italian Tuna Salad

Servings: 2

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 can (5 oz) Tonno (tuna) in 0live oil, drained and oil reserved for use in the vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons canned white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup cooked cut fresh green beans
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 2 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves

White Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of choice)
  • 3 tablespoons oil (combine tuna oil and olive oil to make 3 tablespoons)
  • Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Prepare Balsamic Vinaigrette:

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside. (Stir vinaigrette mixture later before pouring on the salad.)

Prepare the Salad:

In a medium bowl, combine garbanzo beans, white beans, green beans, tomatoes, salt, pepper and half of the vinaigrette, stir gently.

In a separate bowl, toss salad greens with the remainder of the vinaigrette.  Divide the tossed salad greens between two salad plates and top each plate with an equal portion of the bean mixture. Divide the tuna in half and add to the top of the bean mixture. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with your favorite bread.



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