Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Beans

summerdinner

Being outside, we need to be aware of dehydration, skin sensitivities and vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may happen to our bodies during the peak of summer. Nature has a bounty of different fruits and vegetables that are just right for the summer. These vegetables and fruits are high in water content and are light on the stomach and easy to digest.

Easy to digest food items are best for the summer, as they do not stay in the stomach for long and do not make you feel heavy or lethargic. Junk food, fries, fried foods and other foods that are high in fat content will make you feel excessively hot after a short period of time. This is because fat in the body acts like an insulator for body heat. On top of drinking water, fresh juices and smoothies, eating fresh fruit can also help your body stay energized and hydrated.

Foods that are especially good for you in the summer are:

Beverages – Potassium rich water with lemon and coconut water
Fruits – Mango, watermelon, melons, cherries, berries and banana
Vegetables – Squash, cucumber, corn and tomatoes

For summer dinners forget about processed foods. Instead, use fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a balanced meal that includes vegetables, salad, proteins and healthy snacks like hummus.

  • Use legumes — beans, peas or lentils — to make salads or side dishes. They are high in fiber and vitamins and are much healthier than sugar-loaded baked beans or calorie-laden mayo-based potato or macaroni salads.
  • Use healthy oils and vinegars to add flavor to salads. For example, blend olive with different types of vinegar or citrus juices.
  • For snacks, try raw unsalted nuts, marinated olives, guacamole and sliced vegetables.
  • For grilling, choose lean cuts of meat and trim away excess fat. Don’t forget fish – it is wonderful on the grill. Be sure to add vegetables and fruit to the grill. Good choices include red, yellow and green peppers, green or yellow squash, mushrooms, red onions and peaches.

Try these dinner menus to get you started.

Dinner One: 6 servings

  • Tuna Zucchini Cakes
  • Remoulade Sauce 
  • Grilled Corn Salad

Tuna Zucchini Cakes

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Yield: 6 servings: 2 patties each.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 12 ounces fresh cooked tuna or canned tuna in water, chopped
  • 2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs, divided
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten or 1 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 2/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons seafood seasoning (Old Bay)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Remove from heat.

Add tuna, 1 cup bread crumbs, zucchini, eggs, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to onion mixture; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape into twelve 1/2-inch thick patties; coat with remaining bread crumbs.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add 6 patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and heated through. Repeat with remaining oil and patties. Serve with Remoulade Sauce.

Healthy Remoulade Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon coarse-grained mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 teaspoons drained capers, rinsed
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions
Whisk mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, lemon juice, anchovy paste and cayenne in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in capers and parsley.
Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Grilled-Corn Salad

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Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Few dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
  • 6 fresh ears corn (with husks)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 medium sweet bell peppers, seeded and halved
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • Romaine leaves

Directions

For the dressing:

In a screw-top jar combine olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the hot pepper sauce. Cover and shake well; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Peel back the corn husks but do not remove them. Gently rinse corn and scrub with a stiff brush to remove silks. Spread butter over corn. Sprinkle with rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Fold husks back around corn and tie with kitchen string or strips of husk.

For a charcoal grill, grill corn on the grate of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 20 to 25 minutes or until corn kernels are tender, turning and rearranging ears occasionally. Add sweet peppers to the grill the last 8 to 10 minutes of grilling, turning often to brown evenly.

(For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place corn and sweet peppers on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as directed.). Cool corn for 30 minutes.

Remove string; peel back husks. Cut kernels from the cobs. Remove stems from sweet peppers and cut peppers into bite-size pieces.

In a large bowl combine corn, peppers, cheese and dressing; toss lightly to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature over a bed of romaine leaves.

Dinner Two: 4 servings

  • Grilled Garlic Shrimp
  • Spaghetti with Fresh Lemon & Basil
  • Sliced Tomatoes Drizzled with Italian Dressing

Grilled Garlic Shrimp

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb large shrimp
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
Combine the oil, shrimp and garlic in a plastic ziplock bag. Let the shrimp marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Turn it from time to time to let the marinade cover all of the shrimp.

Heat an outdoor grill to medium and remove the shrimp from the refrigerator. Place the shrimp on metal or soaked wooden skewers and brush with the marinade from the bag. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side. Make sure the heat isn’t too high. Turn the shrimp over, brush with the marinade and cook for another minute.

Spaghetti with Fresh Lemon & Basil

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4 servings

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice from 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest from the juiced lemons
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions

Whisk the oil, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large pasta serving bowl to blend. Set the lemon sauce aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Add the spaghetti to the lemon sauce and toss with the basil and lemon zest. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well to moisten the pasta.

Transfer to individual bowls and serve with extra Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Dinner Three: 2 servings

  • Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
  • Baby Lettuces with Tomato Dressing 
  • Coconut-Mango Frozen Yogurt

 

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

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2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet red bell peppers
  • 1 cup canned stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
  • 3/4 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cut peppers in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place peppers in an ungreased shallow microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. (You may also boil the peppers.)

Combine the tomatoes, rice, beans, corn, onions, Italian seasoning and pepper flakes in a mixing bowl; spoon into the pepper halves. Place in a baking pan just large enough to hold the peppers. Sprinkle with cheeses.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the peppers uncovered for 30 minutes.

Baby Lettuces and Green Beans with Tomato Dressing

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Ingredients

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, cut into eighths

Salad

  • 2 oz green beans, trimmed
  • 2 cups mixed baby lettuces
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula

Directions

In a blender or processor combine olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and shallot just until combined. Add chopped tomato and process or blend just until the tomato is chopped into small pieces. Set aside. This dressing recipe makes more than you need for this salad.

Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain; run under cold water.

In a serving bowl, combine green beans, lettuce and arugula. Toss with some of the dressing and serve immediately.

Coconut-Mango Frozen Yogurt

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain coconut water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 small mango (about 10 ounces), peeled and diced
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the coconut water and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Let the sugar syrup cool.

In a blender or food processor, puree the diced mango with 2 tablespoons of the sugar syrup.

Transfer 1/4 cup of the puree to a bowl and whisk in the Greek yogurt, coconut milk, lemon juice and the remaining sugar syrup.

Pour the mixture into a glass baking dish and freeze for 1 hour, until frozen around the edges. Whisk the mixture to break up the clumps and return to the freezer. Freeze for about 2 hours longer, whisking frequently, until the mixture is nearly frozen. Spread the remaining mango puree on top and, using a butter knife, swirl it into the yogurt. Freeze until nearly solid.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the shredded coconut over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until it’s golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer the coconut to a plate and let it cool.

To serve, scoop the frozen yogurt into bowls and top with the toasted coconut. Alternatively, in a tall glass, layer the coconut between small scoops of the frozen yogurt, like a parfait.

Dinner Four: 8 servings

  • Orange Marinated Flank Steak
  • Chopped Salad
  • Easy Black-Pepper Breadsticks

Orange Marinated Flank Steak

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Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
  • 2 lb flank steak, fat trimmed
  • 2 large navel oranges, peeled & sliced thin
  • 8 sprigs mint, for garnish

Directions

In a shallow glass or ceramic dish, combine garlic, orange zest, juice, vinegar, pepper, mustard and mint. Add steak to the marinade; turn once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning steak twice in marinade.

Remove steak from the marinade, scraping any bits of marinade clinging to meat back into the bowl.

Transfer marinade to small saucepan and bring to a boil; reserve.

Lightly grease the grill rack and preheat a charcoal grill until coals have turned a gray ash color or preheat a gas grill to high heat.

Place steak on the grill directly over the heat source and sear 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Brush with a little reserved marinade and continue cooking, covered (with lid down or tented with foil), for approximately 4 minutes, turning once and brushing frequently with marinade.

Transfer to a carving board, tent with foil, and let rest for 7 minutes before slicing. Arrange orange slices in overlapping pattern around the outside of the platter.

Slice steak diagonally across the grain into very thin slices. Arrange down the center of the platter and garnish with mint.

Chopped Salad

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Ingredients

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Salad

  • 4 small new potatoes or fingerling potatoes (6 ounces), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3/4 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup chopped English cucumber
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot (1 medium)

Directions

For vinaigrette: in a screw-top jar combine vinegar, oil, oregano , honey, salt and pepper. Cover and shake well. Set aside.

In a covered medium saucepan cook potatoes and green beans in enough boiling water to cover for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender; drain. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking; drain again.

In a large bowl combine potatoes, green beans, lettuce, eggs, cucumber, olives, radishes and shallot. Add about half the vinaigrette; toss gently to coat

Easy Black-Pepper Breadsticks

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Ingredients

  • 8 oz pizza dough
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic,crushed
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided

Directions

Heat the oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil spray. Divide the dough in half. Roll one half into an 8 × 4-inch rectangle.

Cook olive oil and crushed garlic cloves in a small skillet over low heat for 5 minutes. Discard garlic.

Brush half the oil over the rolled out dough; sprinkle with ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cut dough into 4 (4 × 2-inch) rectangles and roll into thin sticks.

Repeat with the second half of the dough and remaining ingredients. Arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8- 10 minutes.

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Nemi

Lake Nemi, Diana’s Sacred Grove, is a small circular volcanic lake in the Lazio region of Italy, 30 km (19 miles) south of Rome. The shores of the lake were the setting for one of the cruellest religious rites in honor of a local divinity, Diana of Nemi also known as “Diana of the Woods”, an Italian version of the Hellenic goddess, Artemis. Her sanctuary was found on the northern shore of the lake, beneath the cliffs of the town of Nemi. The lake has often been referred to by poets and scholars as, “Diana’s Mirror.” Diana is one of the more complex goddesses of mythology and her cult at Nemi was especially violent.

The “Rex Nemorensis” or king of the sacred grove, was the high-priest of Diana’s temple. The legend says that in her sacred grove there grew a large oak tree from which it was absolutely forbidden to break off a branch. Only a runaway slave could break off a branch, thus earning the right to fight the presiding high priest of the temple to the death. If the slave won, he could take the place of the priest and adopt his title of “rex nemorensis”. This violent rite of succession was based on the premise that the High Priest of Nemi always had to be at the height of his powers. He could never be ill nor could he die of old age.

Diana

Diana

This ritual continued up until the Imperial era, according to the ancient Roman historian, Suetonius. Emperor Caligula, angered by the fact that the high priest of Nemi had been in his role for too long, ordered him to be killed by an opponent of greater strength. In the II century AD the fight to preside over the sacred altar became symbolic in nature and the cult of Diana itself began to wane, almost completely disappearing after the advent of Christianity. The origins of the cult of Diana are mixed with legend and it is probable that this ancient myth on the Italian peninsula had Greek origins.

The locals will tell you that the spirit of the “rex nemorensis” still wanders in the woods around the lake and that you should take special care when walking in these parts. However, the lake is most famous for its sunken Roman ships, discovered there in the XV century. These ships were very large and technologically advanced for their time.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, acquired the nickname Caligula when he was still a little boy, playing in soldier’s boots several sizes too big for his feet. People started calling him Caligula which means “Little Boots” and they still called him that when he became the Roman Emperor in 37 A.D.

Caligula

As one of his royal passions, Emperor Caligula ordered several large barges to be built to use on Lake Nemi. For centuries scholars and historians debated Caligula’s reason for building the barges. Some contend that Caligula built the barges to show the rulers of Syracuse, Sicily and Egypt that Rome could match any luxurious pleasure barges that they built. Caligula bragged that his ships were the most luxurious in the world. Other scholars argue that Caligula designed one of his ships as a floating temple to Diana and some say that the other ship may have been used as a floating palace where Caligula and his court could indulge in the depravities that history has credited to him.

Suetonius, the Roman historian, described the two biggest barges as being built of cedar wood adorned with jeweled prows, rich sculptures, vessels of gold and silver, sails of purple silk and bathrooms of alabaster and bronze. The floors were paved with glass mosaic, the windows and door frames were made of bronze and many of the decorations were costly.

The flat-bottomed Nemi barges were not self-propelled. Instead, they were attached to the shore by chains and bridges stretching across the water so people and commerce could travel back and forth. The two largest ships were about 250 feet long and 70 feet wide, nearly covering Lake Nemi.

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Nemi 2

Caligula had no suspicions that officers of the Praetorian Guard and members of the Roman Senate and of the Imperial Court were conspiring to assassinate him. Although they successfully assassinated Caligula on January 21, 41 AD., the assassins were unsuccessful in their goal of restoring the Roman Republic. After Caligula’s assassination, the Roman Senate and the Praetorian Guard attempted to destroy everything connected with him, including his barges, which they pillaged and sank.

Fishermen handed down memories of Caligula’s palatial Nemi ships to their descendants, some swearing that they could see the shadowy outlines of the ships in the waters of Lake Nemi. The ships were actually buried in the mud 200 yards distant from each other in five fathoms of water; one 150 feet from the bank and the other 250 feet from the bank.

Legends of Caligula’s sunken ships filled with fabulous treasures were passed down through generations of Lake Nemi citizens. For centuries local fisherman considered Caligula’s sunken barges local landmarks and some explored the wrecks and took small treasures from them, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that anyone tried to explore and raise Caligula’s legendary ships.

In 1446 Cardinal Prospero Colonna, an Italian humanist, and Leon Battista Alberti, a  renowned engineer, followed the clues in the local legends about the Nemi barges, but the wrecks lay too deep to be salvaged effectively at the time. The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini worked to recover Caligula’s ships for about five years – from October 1928 to October 1932. Mussolini ordered the Italian Navy engineers to drain Lake Nemi. A London Times story reported that everyone on the site cheered as the waters receded to reveal the first Nemi ship.

With all of the water removed, the level of Lake Nemi dropped 66 feet and a mud shower occurred as a result of the sinking of the lake floor. Work stopped while the government and the archaeologists debated the future of the project and Lake Nemi began refilling with water. The second ship had already begun to dry out and re-submerging caused a great deal of damage to it. The Italian Minister of Public Works ordered the project and all of the research related to it to be abandoned on November 10, 1931. The Navy Ministry, which had participated in the original recovery, petitioned the Italian Prime Minister to resume the project on February 19, 1932 and the government granted permission. Pumping out the waters of Lake Nemi resumed on March 28, 1932 and the second ship was recovered in October 1932.

The hulls of the Nemi ships and their contents were recovered, as well as items scattered around the ships, including bronze and marble ornaments, tiles and utensils. The recovery of the Nemi ships settled a prolonged and contentious scholarly argument. Before the ships were recovered, many scholars scoffed at the idea that the Romans were capable of building large enough ships to carry grain, despite ancient sources that said they had built such ships. The size of the Nemi Ships proved that the ancient sources were correct.

Over the centuries, scholars have also debated whether or not the lead bars found on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea were from anchors used on Roman ships. The Nemi ships were built during the transition between the use of wooden and iron anchors and they were the first Romans ships found with intact anchors. The Nemi ships confirmed that the lead bars were from the anchors. Additionally, the Romans made ball bearings out of lead and they probably used the ball bearings on the Nemi ships to make the statues of the gods rotate.

Both of Caligula’s Nemi ships contained several hand-operated bilge pumps working like modern bucket dredges, the oldest example of this type of pump ever found. Piston pumps on the two Nemi ships supplied hot and cold running water through lead pipes. The Romans used the hot water for baths and the cold water for fountains and drinking water. This piston pump technology later was lost to history and not rediscovered until the Middle Ages.

The Italian government built a museum called the Lake Nemi Museum over both ships in 1935 and it opened in January 1936.

Source: History Because It’s Here

The Cuisine of the Roman Empire

Food, like the weather, seems to be a universal topic of conversation, endlessly fascinating and a constant part of our lives. In addition to art and archaeology, we have information on Roman food from a variety of written sources. Here are two ancient recipes for porridge written by Cato the Elder from De Agricultura.

Recipe for Punic porridge:

Soak a pound of groats in water until it is quite soft. Pour it into a clean bowl, add 3 pounds of fresh cheese, 1/2 pound of honey, and 1 egg, and mix the whole thoroughly; turn into a new pot.

Recipe for wheat pap:

Pour 1/2 pound of clean wheat into a clean bowl, wash well, remove the husk thoroughly, and clean well. Pour into a pot with pure water and boil. When done, add milk slowly until it makes a thick cream.

For those who could afford it, breakfast, eaten very early, would consist of salted bread, milk or wine and perhaps dried fruit, eggs or cheese. The Roman lunch, a quick meal, eaten around noon could include salted bread or be more elaborate with fruit, salad, eggs, meat or fish, vegetables and cheese. Dinner, the main meal of the day, would be accompanied by wine, usually well-watered. An ordinary upper class dinner would include meat, vegetable, egg and fruit.

An Ancient Roman Meal

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Roman Egg Drop Soup – Stracciatella

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts (liters) mixed meat broth
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1 tablespoon very finely minced parsley
  • 3 tablespoons semolina
  • A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Directions

In a bowl, combine the eggs, semolina, grated cheese, nutmeg and parsley. Add a ladle of cold broth and beat the mixture lightly with a fork or whisk.

Bring the remainder of the broth to a boil. Add the egg mixture all at once, stirring vigorously with a whisk or fork to break up the egg, which will form fine, light flakes or small rags (straccetti, in Italian) that give the soup its name.

Simmer for another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, and serve with a little more grated Parmigiano on the side.

SAMSUNG CSC

Aliter Lenticulam (Lentils)

Ingredients

  • 750 ml sweet white wine
  • 250 g green lentils
  • 3 large leeks, sliced
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • Pinch of asafoetida (an ancient spice similar to garlic with an onion flavor)
  • Dash of bitters
  • Generous handful of fresh mint, chopped
  • 225 g honey (This amount used in the recipe’s translation is excessive, as a reader kindly pointed out. After researching amounts of honey used in the Roman days, I would say no more than a half a cup should be used, if that. A couple of tablespoons would probably suit our current tastes. That was all I used when I tested the recipe.)
  • Generous splash of wine vinegar
  • Generous splash of must (grape juice boiled until it’s reduced to 3/4 of its volume)
  • 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Add a little oil to a pan and, when hot, stir-in the asafoetida and coriander seeds. Cook until the seeds begin to splutter, then grind to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Add the rosemary leaves and pound to crush them. Add just enough vinegar to bring the mixture together as a paste and add a dash of bitters.

Combine the sweet wine and lentils in a pan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender (about 60 minutes). When the lentils are almost done add the leeks, honey, coriander and mint along with the spice and vinegar blend. Flavor with a little more wine vinegar and must.

Simmer for a further 15 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Garnish with extra-virgin olive oil and black pepper, then serve.

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Aliter Sepias

This is a traditional ancient Roman recipe for a classic dish of cooked squid or cuttlefish served in a spiced and herb white wine sauce thickened with an egg yolk.

1 kg cooked squid or cuttlefish

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon lovage seeds (or celery seeds) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled 
  • 1 raw egg yolk 
  • 1 teaspoon honey 
  • 60 ml fish stock 
  • 60 ml white wine 
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Directions

Pound together the pepper, lovage (or celery) seeds, coriander and mint in a mortar. Work in the honey, stock, wine, vinegar and olive oil then pour into a pan.

Heat slowly and, when warm, gently whisk in the beaten egg yolk. Bring to a simmer (do not boil) and cook on low heat until thickened.

Arrange boiled or fried squid (cuttlefish) on a warmed serving dish, pour the sauce over the squid.

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Honeyed Quinces

This is a traditional ancient Roman recipe for a dessert of quinces boiled in a sauce of white wine and honey. Pears can be substituted but quinces are more tart. If using pears reduce the honey by 1/3 and add the juice of half a lime.

Ingredients

  • 10 quinces 
  • 100 ml honey 
  • Cinnamon 
  • 250 ml sweet white wine

Directions

Peel, core and dice the quinces and put them in a saucepan. Add the wine and honey and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until they are soft (reduce the cooking time for pears). Chill before serving. Pour into individual bowls.

 


Lake

Lake Bolsena is a crater lake of volcanic origin in central Italy, which began to form 370,000 years. It is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and is the fifth largest lake in Italy with a circumference of over 26 miles (43 km). Lake Bolsena’s bed was formed from a caldera in the extinct Vulsini volcano. A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. The underlying rock in the area where the lake formed, the caldera, collapsed into a deep bowl. This bowl was gradually filled by rain water and underwater sources.

Roman historical records indicate volcanic activity last occurred there in 104 BC and it has been dormant since then. The two islands, Bisentina and Martana, in the southern part of the lake, were formed by underwater eruptions following the collapse that created the caldera.

Lake 2

The lake is fed primarily by underground springs and rainwater and has a single outlet, the river Marta that flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the vicinity of Tarquinia. The lake has an oval shape, typical of crater lakes. The long axis of the ellipse is aligned in a north-south direction. The entire lake is surrounded by hills and is a good vacation spot. It has beaches, a harbor, restaurants, hotels and a medieval historic center surrounded by walls with a castle at the top. On the lake one can enjoy water sports, from canoeing, water skiing, sailing to surfing. Unlike most lakes, Lake Bolsena displays tidelike movements, called “sessa” with the difference between low and high tides being as much as 50 cm or 20 inches.

Lake Bolsena is north of Rome in the Northern Lazio region, just south of Tuscany. Bolsena, the main town on the lake, is on the northeastern shore. In the 7th century BC, it was the site of a Villanovan settlement whose huts were built on stilts directly over the water, using reed platforms, hay roofs and cobbled floors. About four hundred years later, it was settled by the Etruscans after they fled from the Roman destruction of Velzna in 264 BC. Velzna eventually became Volsinii, a Latin name which has been transformed over the centuries into Bolsena.

Lake 1

The Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara sits at the top of the hill, overlooking the medieval quarter of the town. The castle was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. It has been completely renovated and, since 1991, has housed the Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena (Lake Bolsena Territorial Museum). Each of its three floors is dedicated to various aspects of Bolsena’s history, ranging from its prehistoric volcanic origins to its Etruscan-Roman period. The Church of St. Christine is the town’s other major site. It is a Romanesque church built in 1078 in a typical basilica style over the catacombs where St. Christine, a young woman martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, was buried.

The Cuisine

Lake 5

The territory of Lake Bolsena brings with it a whole host of ancient traditions that are also reflected in the local cuisine, with flavors and products typical of their ancient recipes and cooking methods. It is also famous for its clear lake waters and the nickname “the lake with a drink. Long ago, lake water was used in cooking. Fishermen prepared the Sbroscia in a clay pot using freshly caught fish; it was one of the few means of survival, when they had little more than what the lake could offer. It was prepared within the small hut on the shore that was used as a refuge and as a warehouse for their supplies.

Acquacotta is the name of a typical local soup prepared with chicory, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, dried cod, dry bread and olive oil. Other soups of the local cuisine are made with mushrooms, legumes, chestnuts, lake fish (sbroscia) and lamb. First courses often include rice and lentils, pasta and potatoes, rice and chicory, peas with quadrucci (small squares of hand-made egg pasta) and “minestrone alla Viterbese”.

Pasta dishes include maccheroni, ceciliani, lombrichelli (made with only flour and water), potato gnocchi, fettuccine, pappardelle, gavinelle or polenta. These dishes are often served with a classic ragout – meat sauces prepared with hare, wild boar, mushrooms, spare ribs and pork sausages or, in summer, with fresh garden vegetables, such as: zucchini, eggplant, turnip greens or sweet peppers.

For main courses, rabbit alla cacciatora, stewed chicken with tomatoes, wild boar with tomato sauce, stewed hare, baked lamb, tripe with tomato sauce, fried coratella (veal intestines), roasted pork or pignattaccia (a stew made with meat and vegetables) are most common. Main fish dishes, prepared with lake fish, include: fried perch fillets, stewed eels, fried lattarini, stewed or fried pike and baked or grilled whitefish.

Typical desserts include: sweet ravioli made with ricotta, ciambellone (simple white cakes), tarts made with ricotta or jam, crunchy biscuits and cookies made with hazelnuts and sweetened fritters made with rice.

Lake 4

Chickpea and Chestnut Soup

This ancient soup recipe of chickpeas and chestnuts is one of the typical dishes of the area.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1 oz pancetta
  • 10 ½ oz chestnuts, chopped 
  • 4 peeled tomatoes 
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic,
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt

Directions

Cover the chickpeas with water in a bowl and soak for about 24 hours; drain and pour into a pot with water to cover. Cook until the chickpeas are softened, about an hour; add the salt. Drain the chickpeas; set aside a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and puree half the chickpeas.

Chop together the garlic, rosemary and pancetta. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in the pot used to cook the chickpeas and cook the pancetta mixture for a few minutes.

Add the pureed chickpeas, the whole chickpeas, the cooking water and the chopped chestnuts. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes and the bay leaf.
Mix add the broth, stirring well; let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Lake 3

The Sbroscia of Lake Bolsena

Sbroscia is a stew of fresh fish from the lake. There are many species of fish that inhabit the lake: whitefish , eel , pike , tench , trout, perch and silversides are a few examples. Any combination of fish may be used in the recipe.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 tench (minnow family)
  • 1 pike
  • 1 eel
  • 4 perch
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 large potatoes, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • Stale bread ( 3-4 slices per serving dish)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • Salt
  • Small bunch mint, chopped
  • Crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

Cut the fish into serving pieces.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch Oven or large soup pot. Add the garlic, mint and onion and cook until the onion softens.

Add the potatoes and tomatoes and saute for a few minutes. Add all the fish, 6 cups of water and salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook for 30-35 minutes.

Place 3 to 4 slices of bread in each serving bowl and pour in the stew. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Lake 6

Whitefish (Coregone)

The whitefish sauce is served with fettuccine or spaghetti.

Ingredients

  • 1 whitefish, filled
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3-4 peeled and chopped tomatoes
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
  • Cooked pasta

Directions

Saute the onion and garlic in a large skillet. Add the whitefish fillets and saute until cooked through. Break up the fish into smaller pieces.

Add the wine and cook until it evaporates. Add the fresh tomatoes and cook until no longer raw. Season with salt and the crushed red pepper.

Mix in the cooked pasta and garnish with chopped parsley.

Lake 7

Risotto with Perch Fillets

This risotto uses the freshwater perch in the starring role.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 cups risotto rice
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable stock)
  • 3 perch fillets (per person) – about 18 total
  • Flour or bread crumbs for coating

Directions

In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter until it melts. Add the chopped onion and cook until it is tender. When the onion becomes transparent, add the rice to the pot and mix it well. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then, add the wine to the pot. Mix the rice until the liquid evaporates, then add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly to allow even absorption of the liquid. When the rice is just about tender, add the salt, pepper and cheese and allow to melt.

Meanwhile, to cook the fish – batter the fillets in the flour or bread crumbs and then cook the perch in batches in a hot skillet using some of the remaining butter. Turn the fillets over once and cook until each side is golden brown. Repeat with remaining fillets and butter.

Spoon the rice onto a serving dish and top with the fish fillets. Just a note to add an additional Italian twist to this risotto: heat some butter in a pan and add a handful of sage leaves. Let the butter melt and become infused with the herbs. When the risotto is ready to be served pou,r the butter sauce over the fish.

Lake 8

Sweet Rice Fritters (Frittelle di Riso)

Makes about 40

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) short grain rice (arborio)
  • 2 cups (500 ml) milk
  • Zest of 1 lemon or orange (or a mixture of both)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons Italian dessert wine: Vin Santo
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Directions

Cook the rice in the milk, watching very carefully that it doesn’t burn or overflow – don’t take your eyes off it! You will need to stir it quite often to make sure it doesn’t stick and burn on the bottom. When the milk has been mostly absorbed and the rice is very soft, take the pan off the heat and add the citrus zest and sugar.

Set aside. Once completely cool, add the wine, eggs, baking powder, salt and flour. Combine thoroughly then cover and let the mixture rest for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator before using. The mixture may look quite runny, like a pancake batter.

Drop tablespoons of batter into hot oil, and fry, turning to cover all sides evenly until a deep brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain before rolling in powdered sugar. These are best eaten the day they are made.


hazelnuts

Hazelnuts have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. The hazel part of its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “haesel” meaning a headdress or bonnet, referring to the shape of the outer shell covering. Hazelnuts are native to Asia Minor and they spread to Italy, Spain, France and Germany via Greece. Prior to the 1940s, hazelnuts were imported to the United States. Today, they are grown commercially in the Northwest US. In the food industry, hazelnuts are currently eaten raw, roasted, blanched, minced, sliced, powdered and pureed. Hazelnuts are also used as a premium ingredient in chocolates, biscuits, confectionary products, sweets, pastries and ice cream and in sauces and salads.

Hazelnuts are about the size of a small marble. The nut meat is encased in a hard shell that resembles an acorn without its cap. The nut meat has a bitter brown paper-thin skin that is removed before eating. These nuts contain 88 percent unsaturated oil, which is pressed for use and known as the delicately flavored hazelnut oil. Although it cannot be heated to high temperatures, this oil is favored by gourmets worldwide and is relatively expensive. Hazelnut cooking oil has a similar composition to extra virgin olive oil with high content in Omega 9 and Omega 6 fatty acids. This makes hazelnuts another healthy cooking oil option with flavorful taste.

Why are hazelnuts sometimes called filberts?

Well, there doesn’t seem to be one explanation. The most commonly accepted explanation is because hazelnuts mature on or around St. Philibert’s Day on August 20. Other historians believe the term filbert derives from the German, vollbart meaning full beard, a reference to the appearance of the husked shell. Hazelnuts are also known as cob nuts in some areas. Other experts claim these are all different varieties of the nut, but once shelled, they are quite difficult to tell apart.

Buying and Storing Hazelnuts

Check hazelnuts for freshness by picking up a nut and shaking it. If it rattles inside the shell, this is an indication it has lost moisture due to age or mishandling and is now stale. The shells should be free of cracks or holes. Most markets now carry shelled and ground hazelnuts, which can be quite a timesaver in the kitchen.

At room temperature, unshelled hazelnuts seldom last more than a month. Once shelled, they should be eaten as soon as possible. Shelled hazelnuts should last unopened up to 4 months in the refrigerator or 1 year in the freezer.

Hazelnut oil is more fragile. Store the oil in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Hazelnut oil should be used sparingly. A little goes a long way. Avoid heat when using hazelnut oil so as not to sacrifice its delicate flavor. When adding to sauces, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in at the last moment.

Hazelnut Preparation

  • For full flavor, roast and cool raw shelled hazelnuts before grinding or chopping.
  • To remove the paper skin, spread shelled hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and roast at 275 degrees F (130 C), stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until the skins begin to break. Roll in a clean kitchen towel, let rest for 10 minutes, and then gently rub back and forth to remove the skins. Some bits of the skin may remain.
  • Bring hazelnuts to room temperature before using.

Equivalent Amounts

  • 2-1/4 pounds hazelnuts in the shell = 1 pound shelled nut meats.
  • 1 pound hazelnuts in the shell = 1-1/2 cups nut meats.
  • 1 pound shelled hazelnuts = 3-1/2 cups.
  • 1 cup shelled = 5 ounces.
  • 4 ounces ground, lightly packed = 3/4 cup.
  • 1 ounce ground, lightly packed = about 3-1/2 Tablespoons.
  • Macadamia nuts may be substituted for hazelnuts.

hazelnut 5

Arugula Salad with Poached Pears & Hazelnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 4 pears, peeled, stems attached, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 cups grape juice
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 5 oz baby arugula leaves
  • 3 oz red lettuce leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler

Directions

To make the poached pears:

Remove the core of each pear using a melon baller keeping the pear intact.

Place the wine and grape juice in a large saucepan. Add the pears, bring to a simmer and cook gently for 25 minutes or until tender turning them as needed, then remove pan from the heat and cool the pears for about 10 minutes in the liquid. Remove pears from the poaching liquid, transfer to a plate and let cool. Discard liquid.

To toast the nuts:

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake until the nuts are golden brown, about 12-15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Remove pan from the oven and set the nuts aside to cool; then rub the skins off with a kitchen towel. Roughly chop the nuts and set aside.

To make the dressing:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shallots and vinegar. Slowly add the oil while constantly whisking to blend. Whisk in the water and season the dressing with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To make the salad:

Cut each of the poached pear halves into 4 wedges.
Toss the arugula, red lettuce, parsley, pears and half of the nuts in a large mixing bowl with enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and gently mound the salad onto a serving platter. Garnish with the remaining nuts and Parmesan cheese and serve.

hazelnut 4

Chicken Scaloppine with Hazelnut-Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, chopped 

Directions

Slice each chicken breast half into 2 cutlets. Place cutlets between 2 pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Using a mallet, pound each piece to about 1/3-inch thickness. Sprinkle pounded chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

Melt butter with oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to the skillet and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.

Transfer chicken to plate; cover to keep warm. Add the shallot to the same skillet and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Pour in the Madeira and bring to boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Add cream; boil until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in hazelnuts. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over the chicken and serve.

hazelnut 2

Lentil and Hazelnut Patties

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups dry lentils or use 1½ cups canned lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 of a medium onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Tzatziki Sauce, recipe below

Directions

Rinse the dried lentils and place them in a medium saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Bring the water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. You should only see a few small bubbles and some slight movement in the lentils. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. Add water, if needed to make sure the lentils are just barely covered. Lentils are cooked as soon as they are tender and no longer crunchy. Older lentils may take longer to cook and shed their outer skins as they cook. (The best way to tell if they are cooked is to taste one.) Drain the lentils. Return the lentils to the saucepan and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Combine lentils, onion, bread crumbs, parsley, egg and hazelnuts. Stir in thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Mold into 4 burger-sized patties.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil. Add patties and brown on both sides. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Transfer onto a serving platter and serve with Tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup grated peeled, seeded cucumber 
  • 1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt (such as Fage)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Pat cucumber dry with paper towels. Combine cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill 1 hour.

hazelnut 1

Hazelnut Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 (12 ounces each) boneless pork tenderloins
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Wine Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

For the pork:

Trim the pork of its silverskin and cut each tenderloin in half crosswise. (You will have 4 pieces.)

In 3 separate shallow bowls, place the flour, egg and hazelnuts. Add the salt and pepper to the flour. Dip the pork, on all sides, including the ends, first in the flour, then the egg and finally the hazelnuts. Make sure to coat the pork pieces completely with the nuts.

In a 10-inch skillet over moderate heat, heat the vegetable oil and saute the pork on all sides until golden brown. Transfer the browned pork to a baking pan and roast for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 160 degrees F.

For the sauce:

Add the olive oil to the pan used to brown the pork. Saute the shallots over medium high heat until lightly browned. Sprinkle flour over the shallots and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the white wine, chicken stock, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened.
Cut the pork tenderloins into 1/2-inch slices and place on a serving platter. Top the pork with the sauce and garnish with rosemary.

hazelnut 3

Italian Hazelnut Cookies

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Toast whole hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 275°F oven, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes. Let the nuts cool for a few minutes, then rub together in a clean kitchen towel to remove most of the papery skins.

Position 2 racks as close to the center of the oven as possible; and turn the oven up to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
Pulse nuts and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Place in a large bowl.

Beat egg whites and the salt in the large bowl of an electric mixer on high-speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. Add vanilla and gently but thoroughly mix until combined.

Drop the batter by the tablespoon, 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies until golden brown, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through the baking time, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. When the baking sheets are thoroughly cooled, repeat with the remaining batter. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


Memorial-Day-6

Technically, summer doesn’t start until June 21 but many people consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start of the season. This year, we celebrate the holiday on May 27. Many families will heat up the grill, head to the beach or take in a big blockbuster movie. But, Memorial Day has the word “memorial” in it for a reason.

The holiday got started on May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate (called Decoration Day then) the graves of Civil War soldiers. Twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May. It is an occasion to honor the men and women who died in all the past wars.

One Memorial Day tradition is for the President or Vice President to give a speech and lay a wreath on the soldiers’ graves in the largest national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia. Most towns have local Memorial Day celebrations, including parades. Memorial Day should also be a time of solemn reflection on some of the most sacred of human ideals: duty, commitment, heroism and honor. We are profoundly indebted to all those soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who have given their lives defending us.

A few years ago the US Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. It asked Americans to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. local time and think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Enjoy the day with your friends and family, but remember to pause and reflect at 3:00 p.m. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a way to, however brief, remember those heroes and maintain a tradition that encourages us not to forget.

If you are planning to invite a few friends over for the occasion, I have a few suggestions for your menu.

Memorial Day Menu

Memorial day 3

Grilled Potato Skins

Double the recipe, if you have more guests.

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • Light Sour Cream, optional

Directions

Cut each potato lengthwise into four wedges. Cut away the white portion (reserve for another use), leaving 1/4 inch on the potato skins.

Place skins on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Set aside until ready to grill.

Combine the butter, rosemary, salt and pepper and brush over all sides of the potato skins.

Grill potatoes, skin side up, uncovered, over direct medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn potatoes and position over indirect heat; grill 2 minutes longer.

Top with cheese. (I push the potatoes together when I add the cheese, so it doesn’t fall through the grill grates.) Cover and grill 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with bacon and onions. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Memorial day 2

Grilled Vegetable Platter

Prepare the vegetables first and let them rest while you grill the meats for the Mixed Grill.

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 fresh carrots, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, quartered
  • 1 medium green or yellow summer squash, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into wedges

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients together until blended. Place 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Add vegetables; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

Transfer vegetables to a grilling grid; place grid on the grill.  If you do not have a grilling grid, use a disposable foil pan. Poke holes in the bottom of the pan with a meat fork to allow liquid to drain. Grill vegetables, covered, over medium heat 8-12 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.

Place vegetables on a large serving plate. Drizzle with remaining marinade.

memorial day 5

Italian Mixed Grill

Choose three of the meats/poultry listed for the mixed grill – ones that you and your guests would like.

Herbed Lemon Oil

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

Mixed Grill

  • 4 fresh Italian sausages (about 1 lb) (pork, turkey or chicken)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (about 1 1/4 lb)
  • 1 lb boneless beef top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick
  • 4 loin lamb chops
  • 4 boneless pork chops

Directions

In small bowl, mix all the Herbed Lemon Oil ingredients. Cover and let stand at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. Brush all sides of the meat/poultry with the herbed lemon oil mixture.

Grill meats over medium heat, brushing frequently with the herb oil mixture and turning occasionally. Grill chicken and sausages 5 minutes. Then add beef, lamb or pork and continue grilling about 15 to 20 minutes or until the meat or poultry reaches the preferred temperature on a meat thermometer.

Slice meat and poultry and arrange on a decorative serving platter.

memorial day 1

Baked Beans

12-14 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 cans (15-1/4 ounces each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Drain the skillet, reserving 1 teaspoon of the drippings.

In the drippings, saute onions, garlic and pepper until tender.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in onion mixture and cooked bacon. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Cover and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes; stir. Bake, uncovered, 15-30 minutes longer or until thickened. Discard bay leaves.

Memorial day 4

Fruit Tart

12 Servings

Ingredients

  • Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract, divided
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 medium ripe peach or nectarine, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves

Directions

Press pastry onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom; trim edges. Generously prick the bottom with a fork.

Bake at 450°F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond extract until smooth; spread over the cooled crust.

Arrange fruit in a decorative pattern over the cream cheese mixture.

In a microwave, heat the apricot preserves and remaining almond extract, uncovered, on high for 20-30 seconds or until warm.

Brush over fruit. Store the tart in the refrigerator until serving time.

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salad night cover

A salad is only as good as the quality of its ingredients. To make a truly great salad, you’ve got to use ingredients that are fresh, ripe and in season.

If you think salads are limited to watery lettuce and a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, think again. There are endless amounts of wonderful combinations and you can make a salad as simple or as complex as you like. Spend a minute thinking about the contrasts of tastes and textures in the ingredients you are choosing and what sort of dressing you want to use, so you end up with something delicious and exciting every time.

THE BASE OF YOUR SALAD

The ingredient that forms the bulk of your salad is the base. And when we hear the word ‘salad’, lettuce is often the first ingredient that comes to mind because it is used as a base for so many salads. Oakleaf, cos or romaine lettuce and baby mixed lettuces, also make great salad bases, as do chicory, radicchio, arugula, watercress, baby spinach, tiny red-veined chard leaves, mustard leaves, pea shoots and sorrel. But plenty of salads don’t have any lettuce in them at all. You can make beautiful salads using cooked new potatoes, couscous, lentils, shredded cabbages or any other robust interesting vegetable. Use your imagination and you’ll never be bored.

PREPARING AND WASHING SALAD LEAVES

Wash your salad leaves before using them. Make sure your sink is clean then fill it with cold water. Gently wash the salad leaves in the water until they are clean and then transfer them to a salad spinner and spin dry. If you don’t have a salad spinner, put them into a clean tea towel, gather the edges up and spin it around your head. Make sure the leaves are dry – if they aren’t, the salad dressing won’t cling to them. Keep them in the refrigerator or bowl under a damp cloth until you’re ready to use them.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU ADD TO A SALAD?

Raw crunchy veggies, like carrots or radishes, are great in salads. But they can be quite hard if they’re in big pieces, so finely slice them or shave them into ribbons with a peeler. Beets, spring onions, cucumber, squash and celery all work well. Cooked vegetables are also fantastic in salads. Peas, beans, asparagus and corn, cooked very quickly so they are not mushy, add flavor and color. Grilled slices of zucchini or pepper or even chunks of roasted squash or pumpkin also make salads much more interesting.

Adding soft herbs at the last-minute adds loads of extra flavor. Basil, tarragon, parsley, dill, mint or even thyme or marjoram tips are all great choices.

It’s also nice to add a bit of protein to a salad, especially if you’re having it as a main meal. Use your imagination; there are really no limits to what you can include. Try a few slices of smoked salmon, shredded roast chicken, cooked shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, buffalo mozzarella, crispy bacon, cannellini beans, lentils or crumbled goat cheese.

For a bit of crunch, try adding a few nuts or seeds. Toasted or flaked almonds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, crumbled walnuts and chopped cashews all work well.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DRESSING

Think of your salad dressing as the link that brings all the ingredients in your salad together. There are loads of ready-made bottled dressings available in the markets, but it’s so easy to make your own, so try to get into the habit of doing that rather than buying them. Store-bought dressings are likely to contain lots of hidden ingredients and may be high in calories and sugar. Plus if you make your own, you can tweak it every time to suit the other ingredients in your salad.

The easiest way to make your salad dressing is in a clean jar. Just add all of your ingredients, pop the lid on and give it a good shake!

Most salad dressings contain an oil element – such as extra virgin olive oil, nut oil or sesame oil – and an acid element, such as balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, or lemon or lime juice. Aim for a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, then add any other ingredients you fancy. Half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or some finely chopped fresh herbs or chillies can add loads of flavor. If you want a slightly creamy dressing, try stirring a spoonful of natural yogurt into the dressing.

Once dressed, salad leaves can wilt after a few minutes, so always add your dressing right before serving. If you want to ensure a really good even coating, using clean hands, quickly toss everything together. Just make sure you don’t add all of the dressing at once; add a little, mix it up, then have a taste before deciding whether you need to add more. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

salad night 1

Mediterranean Pita Salad

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed with a press
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (about 1 large head romaine)
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 pita breads, toasted and broken into bite-size pieces

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, coriander and pepper. Whisk in oil in a slow, steady stream until blended.

Add romaine, mint, parsley, tomatoes, radishes, green onions, cucumber and toasted pita and toss until blended. Serve immediately.

 

salad night 2Steak Salad with Yogurt-Lemon Dressing

6 servings

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • 2/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Steak:

  • 1 rib-eye, strip loin or top sirloin steak (about 12 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Salad:

  • 4 cups finely chopped hearts of Romaine lettuce
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 avocado, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup pitted and sliced Kalamata olives
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta

Directions

To make dressing:

Whisk yogurt, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl until smooth. Thin with up to 3 tablespoons of water so it dribbles off a spoon. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes to develop flavors. (Can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.) Makes 1 cup.

To prepare steak:

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill for high heat, pat steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and let rest 10 minutes before slicing into thin strips.

To prepare salad:

Make a bed of romaine on a large serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Arrange cucumber, tomato, chickpeas, avocado, olives and feta in mounds and place steak strips in the center. Pass the dressing on the side.

salad night 3

Crab Salad with Lemon Dressing

Serves 2

Ingredients

Crab

  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 dashes hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat

Salad

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives, more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/3 pound thin green beans, trimmed
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 bunch endive, chopped in 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved and cut into thin wedges
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and finely chopped

Directions

For the crab:

Stir together shallot, hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and chives in a medium bowl. Add crabmeat and lightly toss. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

For the rest of the salad:

Whisk together mustard, shallot, vinegar, chives and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in olive oil until dressing slightly thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Steam Yukon gold potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. While potatoes are still warm, pour a tablespoon or two of dressing over them.

Steam green beans until tender. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain thoroughly. Combine green beans with arugula, endive and radish. Toss with a tablespoon of dressing.

Toss fennel with remaining dressing in a small bowl. Check over the crab for any pieces of shell.

To serve:

Arrange greens on a platter or individual plates. Top with crab, fennel and eggs. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.

salad night 4

Couscous Salad with Zucchini and Parsley

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 small zucchini
  • 1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo Beans (also called chickpeas), rinsed and drained

Directions

In a large, heatproof bowl, pour water over couscous, cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and set aside to let cool for 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, tahini and salt in a second large bowl.

Thinly slice zucchini over dressing and then use kitchen shears to snip parsley leaves into the bowl; discard stems.

Add tomatoes, beans and couscous and toss gently to combine.

salad night 5

Grilled Chicken and Wheat-Berry Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup wheat berries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, divided
  • 1 cup green apple, peeled and cut into julienne strips
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Cucumber Yogurt Dressing

  • 1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 3 tablespoons plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried dill

Directions

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a simmer; cover and cook for 2 hours, 15 minutes or until wheat berries are almost tender.

Drain and place in a salad bowl; discard bay leaf.

For the salad dressing:

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Preheat grill.

Coarsely chop the spinach leaves. Add spinach, apple, bell pepper and 3 tablespoons of the cucumber dressing to the wheat berries and toss well.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Thinly slice chicken.

Arrange chicken evenly over salad mixture; sprinkle with green onions. Pass dressing on the side.

 

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Easter

The traditional Italian-American Easter meal is rich, festive, elaborate and labor-intensive. The array of dishes might include a big antipasto, a thick pizza rustica, homemade pasta, lamb accompanied by several vegetables and numerous pastries. Does this sound like a lot of work? So this year why not try a brunch, instead. Much of the work and preparation can be done ahead of time.

The word “brunch” obviously stands for “breakfast” and “lunch.” It’s served midday and combines the best sweet and savory elements of both of these meals. It’s the most common way to celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day and has even become a way of dining at weddings and family celebrations.

How did this type of meal evolve? It was common among Christians to have a large post-church meal on Sundays. Catholics used to require fasting from midnight on before receiving communion, so after leaving their place of worship, many people ate a large meal combining breakfast and lunch. Some churches even hosted the meals on the premises. We also know that during much of Western history, the Sunday midday meal was the largest meal of the day, followed by an early evening smaller supper.

A British writer named Guy Beringer first used the word brunch in 1895. In his essay, “Brunch: A Plea,” he advocated for a meal that was lighter than what was traditional at the time. The midday post-church meal in turn-of-the-century Britain consisted of heavy meat pies and filling foods, but Beringer proposed a lighter meal, which started with breakfast food before moving onto dinnertime fare. He wrote, “[Brunch] It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

bloody mary

Beringer also noted that a later meal on Sunday would make it easier for those who liked to drink on Saturday nights. He wrote, “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.” He even suggested that instead of coffee and tea, perhaps this new meal could start with an alcoholic beverage.

Eggs-1

Although brunch originally conjured up images of idle ladies of leisure, Americans became very taken with brunch after World War I. During the Roaring Twenties, partygoers created a mini-brunch that took place in the early morning hours between dinner and breakfast, to refresh and sustain people who were dancing and drinking all night long. One women’s magazine recommended that in constructing a brunch menu, “a delicate hash, light fish balls, liver and bacon were all appropriate.” Tastes have changed … the menus of today’s best brunch establishments feature such creations as lemon-ricotta pancakes, frittatas and Eggs Benedict. According to one legend about the invention of Eggs Benedict, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict in 1893 asked for something new and different during her regular meal at Delmonico’s and she and the maître d’ came up with Eggs Benedict. Others say that in 1894, Mr. Lemuel Benedict requested the combination of poached eggs, Canadian bacon, English muffins and Hollandaise sauce in order to recover from a hangover. Either way, the chef recognized the dish’s potential and it’s been a brunch classic ever since.

One thing that hasn’t changed from Beringer’s original vision of a brunch is its association with alcohol. Most brunch menus serve drinks. A Bloody Mary in particular was developed specifically to be drunk in the morning to quell the pain of a hangover. The Bellini, a cocktail of sparkling wine and peach juice or puree, was invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy and named after one of Cipriani’s favorite Renaissance painters, Giovanni Bellini. Along with its sister, the Mimosa, these cocktails became associated with brunch because their light, drinkable flavor made it seem acceptable to drink them in the morning. Also, brunch is usually a leisurely meal, not rushed, and lounging with eggs and pastries does seem to lend itself to enjoying a cocktail or two.

Easter Brunch Menu

Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail
Italian Easter Bread
Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad
Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata
Homemade Sausage Patties
Italian Easter Cookies

strawberry_drink_vert

Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hulled strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 bottle chilled Prosecco 
  • 1 orange, sliced into rounds
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish

Directions

In a blender, puree 2 cups hulled strawberries and 2 tablespoons water until smooth. In a pitcher combine strawberry puree,orange juice, sparkling wine and orange slices. Stir gently. Serve garnished in tall glasses with mint sprigs.

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Crescia al Formaggio or Italian Easter cheese bread is still mostly unknown in this country. This light-textured, golden egg bread containing Parmesan cheese makes a wonderful, savory aroma as it bakes. Be aware that this isn’t a soft, moist loaf. It’s very light, crusty and dry inside. Serve it in thin slices with butter or use the leftovers for grilled sandwiches or paninis.

Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper (black if you don’t mind the specks, white if you do)
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese, or a combination

Glaze

  • Reserved egg white (from above)
  • 2 teaspoons cold water

Directions

Combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and satiny. It’ll be very sticky; stop the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the mixing process.

Add the cheese and beat until well combined.

Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour; it rise much. Gently deflate the dough, turn it over, return it to the bowl and allow it to rise for an additional hour; again, it may not seem to rise much — that’s OK.

Oil or flour your hands. To make a traditional round loaf, form the dough into a ball and place it in a large souffle dish or another round, deep pan. The pan should be about 6″ to 7″ wide, and 3″ to 4″ deep.

To make a braid:

Divide the dough into three pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ log and braid the logs. Nestle the braid into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
Cover the loaf lightly with a thin kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours (or longer, depending on the warmth of your kitchen); the dough should become noticeably puffy, but it won’t double in size.

To bake the bread:

Put the oven rack in a lower position, just below the middle and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush the top of the loaf.

Place the bread in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, tent the bread lightly with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. The braided loaf will require less time than the round loaf.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, if necessary, and turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Store airtight, at room temperature, for several days. Freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage. Yield: 1 loaf.

asparagus-orange-lentil-salad-sl-x

Asparagus, Orange, and Lentil Salad

Red or Pink lentils cook quickly and become mushy if overcooked.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 1 medium-size fennel bulb
  • 2 large oranges, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 1 1/2 cups dried pink/red lentils, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Baby arugula leaves for garnish

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Rinse fennel thoroughly and trim the root end of the bulb. Trim stalks from the bulb and chop fronds to equal 1/4 cup. Thinly slice bulb and mix with oranges, black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and let stand until ready to complete the dish.

Cut asparagus tips into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut stalks diagonally into thin slices, discarding tough ends.

Bring 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. Pat dry with paper towels.

To make the dressing:

Whisk together vinegar, shallots, honey, Dijon mustard, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil until blended.

For the lentils:

Bring 3 cups water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lentils; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Toss lentils with 1/4 cup of the dressing.

Combine parsley, asparagus, fennel mixture and fennel fronds in a large bowl; toss with remaining vinaigrette according to taste. Spoon lentils onto a serving platter; top with the asparagus mixture and garnish with arugula.

poached salmon

Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
  • Sea salt and finely ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, or low-sodium canned broth

Mustard Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place in a large, ovenproof sauté pan with the chicken stock and heat over medium heat just to a simmer. Place the pan in the oven and poach the salmon until the flesh is opaque, but still medium rare, 12 to 15 minutes.

Make the Mustard Sauce. Combine the mustards, honey and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped dill.

Transfer the fillets to a platter and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice the salmon into thin slices and serve with Mustard Sauce on the side.

frittata

Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 8 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Preheat the broiler.

In a 10-in. ovenproof skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in butter and oil until softened. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 30 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add shallot and garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Reduce heat; sprinkle with cheeses. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper; pour over the mushroom mixture. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes or until eggs are nearly set.

Uncover skillet. Place pan under the broiler. Broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 2-3 minutes or until the eggs are completely set. Let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into wedges. Yield: 4 servings.

sausages_hd

Homemade Sausage Patties

Makes 8 small patties

Ingredients

  • 1 poundlean ground pork or ground turkey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fennel, crushed
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Mix together the ground meat, garlic, sage, thyme, fennel, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the egg white and combine thoroughly. Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes

To easily form the sausage patties, rinse your hands in cold water. Divide the mixture into eighths and shape each portion into a 2 1/2-inch disk. Patties can be made to this point and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.

Heat a skillet over high heat and then add the oil. Once the oil is heated, swirl it around the pan. Cook the sausages on both sides until completely cooked through and golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Drain and serve immediately.

easter_cookies-175x175

Italian Easter Cookies

Dough

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Directions

Beat together the oil, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking powder, anise and sugar until smooth. Add the flour, beating until smooth. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pinch off the dough into 2-teaspoon-size (1/2-ounce) balls; a teaspoon cookie scoop works perfectly here. Roll the balls into logs about 4 inches long and about 1/2-inch in diameter. Coil into doughnut shapes, leaving a small hole in the middle.

Place the shaped cookies on lightly greased baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake for about 18 minutes. They may have the merest hint of golden color on top, but they definitely won’t be brown. Do not overcook or they will get too hard to eat.

Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely before icing.

To ice the cookies:

Combine all icing ingredients in a saucepan and heat on low until the mixture is lukewarm, stirring often. Hold one of the cooled cookies by the bottom and dip the top of the cookie into the glaze, letting the excess icing drip back into the pan. Immediately sprinkle with the nonpareils and place on a wire rack to let the icing set.

Allow the frosting to harden before storing the cookies. Yield: 3-3 1/2 dozen cookies.

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3 lentils

Although they may be cheap, lentils are very nutritious, filling and very flavorful. From a nutritional standpoint, they are rich in fiber and in iron and are, consequently, ideal for people suffering from anemia.

Lentils have been a source of sustenance for our ancestors since prehistoric times and lentil artifacts have been found on archeological digs dating back 8,000 years. As a plentiful source of protein, lentils were found on the tables of peasants and kings alike and the poor, who could not afford fish during the season of Lent, substituted lentils.

Thought to have originated in the Near East and/or the Mediterranean area, lentils are small disks resembling a flat baby pea. When halved, dried lentils resemble their split pea cousins. They grow two to a pod and are dried after harvesting.

In Italy two major types of lentils are grown: the hiemal strain matures in late summer and produces larger seeds that are more delicate in flavor, whereas the minus strain matures in the spring and has smaller seeds.

Lentil Plants

Lentil Plants

In addition to playing an important role in soups and other first course dishes, lentils are a traditional Italian accompaniment for sausages. Lentils are served on New Year’s Day in Italy because their shape brings to mind tiny coins and people eat them in the hope that they won’t want for cash during the rest of the year.

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, with as many as fifty or more cultivated for food. They come in a variety of colors with red, brown and green being the most popular. Lentils have an earthy, nutty flavor and some varieties have a slight peppery taste.

Select lentils that are dry, firm, clean and not shriveled. The color of lentils you choose will depend on your usage, but in general, the color should be fairly uniform. Canned lentils are also available, but it is just as easy to cook your own.

If your recipe calls for a lentil that will retain its shape when done, common brown lentils are the usual choice. Brown lentils still have their seed coat and have not been split. Most red, yellow and orange lentils tend to disintegrate with long cooking because the hulls have been removed. Slightly sweet in flavor, these are best reserved for pureed soups or stew thickeners. Other choices include French lentils which are olive-green and slate-colored. These will cook up the firmest. Persian green lentils will turn brown as they cook and become tender while still retaining their shape. Considered the most flavorful (and most expensive) are the French Puy lentils, which also retain their shape.

Lentil Flour, 20 oz

You may be able to find lentil flour in some specialty markets. It is used in India to make a fermented dough for bread.

Dried lentils have an indefinite shelf-life, yet another reason why our ancestors kept them as a staple food. With age, the color may fade a bit, but the flavor will not deteriorate. Store lentils in a sealed package or airtight container in a cool, dry place.

red-lentil-jar

Cooked lentils may be refrigerated up to one week in a sealed container. Cooked lentils may also be frozen up to six months. However, they may fall apart when reheated, if not handled gently.

These measures will help you determine how many lentils you need for your recipe.

• 1 cup dry lentils = 2-1/2 cups cooked
• 1 pound dried lentils = 2-1/4 cups dry
• 1 pound dried lentils = 4 servings
• 1 pound dried lentils = 5 cups cooked

Lentils are a natural in soups and stews and also make a great cold salad. The high protein content in lentils makes them an excellent meat substitute.
Lentils need no pre-soaking and cook much more quickly than other dried legumes. To cook lentils, simply pick over to remove debris or shriveled lentils, rinse and drain. Cover with water or broth and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt once the lentils are completely cooked. Acidic ingredients such as wine or tomatoes can lengthen cooking time. You may wish to add these ingredients after the lentils have become tender. Older lentils will take longer to cook because they have lost more moisture. Do not mix newly purchased lentils with old ones. They will cook unevenly.

lentil-salad-ck-1142011-x

Lentil and Herb Salad

Lentils are popular across Italy, where they are grown in Umbria in the north and Puglia and Sicily in the south. Technically not a “bean,” lentils are legumes. Unlike beans, lentils require no soaking, so this salad is quick and easy to prepare. Serve as a side salad or add a cup of diced mozzarella and it makes a light main dish.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Place lentils in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 2 inches above lentils; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until tender. Drain well.

Place lentils in a large bowl. Stir in onion and next 4 ingredients (through pepper). Add vinegar and oil; toss well. Serve at room temperature.

zuppa-lenticchie-e-spinaci

Italian Lentil Soup with Rice and Spinach

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200 g) short-grained rice
  • 1 cup (200 g) lentils
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and cut into strips
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • One whole onion
  • 1 rib celery, cut in half
  • 1 cup plain tomato sauce
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the lentils and cook them for 30-45 minutes in 2 quarts of water with the onion and celery.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the lentils with a slotted spoon and strain the broth, discarding the celery. Reserve the broth and onion separately.

Slice the onion and sauté it with the oil and the garlic for 3 minutes; add the tomato sauce and cook 2 minutes more. Add the lentils, the spinach and the lentil broth. When the soup comes to a boil add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is done, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

lentils sausage

Lentils with Italian Sausage

10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry lentils
  • Cold water
  • 2 pounds fresh italian sausage, sweet or hot
  • 3 cups homemade or low sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in a little water

Directions

Wash lentils well by soaking them briefly in water and changing the water at least once. Put them in a 2-1/2-quart saucepan, add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook until not quite done, about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, pierce the sausages in several places and then put them in a small saucepan. Add the chicken broth and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. From time to time, skim off and discard foam and fat that rise to the top. When sausages are done, remove the pot from the heat and let them sit in the broth while you finish the lentils.

Warm the oil in a medium skillet and saute the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and sage in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are done.

Drain the sausages, saving their liquid. To the lentil pot, add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and add the tomato paste. Mix gently using a wooden spoon. Add 3/4 cup of the broth in which you cooked the sausages. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

To serve, arrange the sausages on a platter next to the warm lentils.

lentil pasta

Pasta with Lentil Bolognese

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1- 28 to 32 oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (juice reserved)
  • 1 1/4 cups dried green lentils
  • Coarse sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound shaped pasta, such as cavatappi or rigatoni
  • Pecorino cheese, grated or shaved
  • Fresh basil, chopped

Directions

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook slowly until the vegetables soften and turn golden, about 20 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the tomato paste. Cook until the mixture dries out a bit, about 3 minutes. Pour in the reserved juice from the tomatoes and cook, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Season with the oregano,crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and simmer until the lentils are tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the lentils. (If the sauce begins to dry out, add additional water as needed.) Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain. Serve with the lentil sauce, sprinkle with the pecorino and garnish with basil.

seafood_stew_lentils

Seafood Stew with Lentils

Ingredients

For the Fish Stock:

  • 1 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprig
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 celery stick, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 2 and 1/4 lbs (1 kg) white fish or white fish bones and heads, gills removed
  • Salt

For the Stew:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 and 1/2 oz (100 grams) cooked lentils
  • 9 oz (250 grams) fish and seafood cut into serving pieces, such as sea bass fillets, prepared squid, peeled prawns, peeled langoustines (small lobsters or use lobster claws) and scrubbed clams
  • 28 oz can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprig, chopped
  • 1 fresh basil sprig, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Prepare the Fish Stock:

Pour 3 pints (2 liters) water into a large saucepan, add the herbs, onion, carrot, celery and peppercorns and season with salt.

Gradually bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat, let cool.

Add the fish bones and return to the heat, bring just to the boil;  lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the fish bones cool in the stock for a stronger flavor. Strain the stock.

Prepare the Stew:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet and add 1 tablespoon each of the celery, carrot and onion and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and cook for a few minutes more.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a shallow saucepan and add the remaining celery, carrot and onion and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add the sea bass and the squid. Increase the heat to high and cook for 1 minute, then add the prawns, langoustines, clams and lentil mixture.

Pour in the strained fish stock, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the fish is tender.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley and basil. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

beef lentils

Braised Chuck Steak with Savory Lentil Stew

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef chuck blade steaks, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-1/4 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

Heat a large deep skillet with a cover over medium heat until hot. Add the beef to the skillet and brown evenly. Season the beef with salt and pepper to taste.

Add water, onion and bay leaves to the skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 1-1/4 hours.

Add lentils, carrots and Italian seasoning to the skillet; return to a boil. Continue simmering, covered, 30 to 45 minutes or until lentils and beef are fork-tender.

Discard bay leaves before serving.

 

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cellini

The self-portrait of master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith, soldier and writer. He was born in 1500 in Florence, Italy and his parents were Giovanni Cellini and Maria Lisabetta Granacci. They were married for eighteen years before the birth of their first child. Benvenuto was the second child of the family. The son of a musician and builder of musical instruments, Cellini was pushed towards music,but when he was fifteen his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to the goldsmith, Antonio di Sandro. However, at the age of sixteen, Benvenuto attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an altercation with his companions. He was banished for six months by the magistrates and went to live in Siena, where he worked for a goldsmith named Fracastoro. From Siena he moved to Bologna, where he became a more accomplished flute player and made progress as a goldsmith. After a visit to Pisa and a period of studying sculpture in Florence, he moved to Rome.

His first artistic works were a silver casket, silver candlesticks and a vase for the bishop of Salamanca, which won him the approval of Pope Clement VII. Another celebrated work from his time in Rome is the gold medallion, “Leda and the Swan”, created for Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino that is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. He also took up the flute again and was appointed one of the pope’s court musicians.

In the attack on Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, Cellini gained fame as a soldier. According to his own accounts, he shot and injured Philibert of Châlon, Prince of Orange. His bravery led to a reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates and he soon returned to his hometown of Florence. Here, he devoted himself to crafting medals in gold, the most famous of which are “Hercules and the Nemean Lion” and “Atlas Supporting the Sphere”, the latter eventually falling into the possession of Francis I of France.

He returned to Rome and this time he was employed in the craft of making jewelery and in casting dies for medals and the papal mint. In 1529 his brother, Cecchino, killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and, in turn, was wounded. He later died. Soon afterward Benvenuto killed his brother’s killer – an act of blood revenge, but not justice, as Cellini admits that his brother’s killer had acted in self-defense. Cellini fled to Naples to escape the consequences. Through the influence of several cardinals, he later obtained a pardon. Cellini next went to Venice, where he was restored with greater honor than before.

At the age of 37, after returning from a visit to the French court, he was imprisoned on a charge (apparently false) of having embezzled the gems of the pope’s tiara during the war. He was confined to the Castel Sant’Angelo, escaped, was recaptured and treated severely. The intercession Cardinal d’Este of Ferrara, eventually secured Cellini’s release, in gratitude for which he crafted d’Este a gold cup.

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini created sculptures of a grander scale. One of the main projects of his French period is probably the “Golden Gate” for the Château de Fontainebleau. Only the bronze tympanum of this unfinished work, which represents the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Paris, Louvre), still exists, but the complete spectrum of his work can be known through archives,his preparatory drawings and reproduced casts. His most distinguished sculpture, the bronze group of “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” now in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence, was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo’s, “David” and Donatello’s, “Judith and Holofernes”. The casting of this work caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, but it was called a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. By 1996, centuries of environmental pollution exposure had damaged the statue. In December 1996 it was removed from the Loggia and transferred to the Uffizi for cleaning and restoration. It was a slow, years-long process and the restored statue was returned to its home in June 2000.

The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started when he was 58 and ended just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563, when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions and enjoyments, that is written in an energetic, direct and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. Despite its exaggerations and its often boastful tone, it is a document of surprising frankness and incomparable authenticity and, thanks to it Cellini’s character, is more intimately known than that of any other figure of his time.

He died in Florence in 1571 at the age of 71 leaving behind a magnificent legacy of work. For all his exploits, Benvenuto Cellini remains a hero of Florence, in the Piazzale Degli Uffizi, outside the famous Uffizi Gallery, a life-size sculptor of him stands alongside the great masters of renaissance art, Da Vinci, Raphael and, of course, Michelangelo.

Still in the news today, Cellini’s gold and enamel masterpiece the “Saltcellar of Francis I” executed in 1540 for the King of France and valued today at $60,000,000, was recovered recently after being stolen from a museum in Vienna. Being chosen as a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno shows the respect he commanded: not just as an artist but as a patron of Florence.

florence

Some Florentine Specialties

Much of the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine was born out of necessity. Wild herbs and greens were used in simple soups. Every part of the animal was used–cibreo is a popular Florentine chicken stew that features cockscombs. Tuscan bread, a rustic sourdough baked in a wood-fired oven, traditionally was made without expensive salt. That meant it quickly went stale and so ribollita was born, a vegetable soup thickened with bread. Panzanella is a summer salad made from stale bread cubes, fresh tomatoes, basil and Tuscany’s famed olive oil. Wheat flour was another expensive ingredient and so Tuscans created dishes like castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, orange zest and olive oil.
Dishes here have hearty, rustic flavors, well-matched to the area’s famous wines, and Florentines enjoy eating their regional cuisine in friendly, warm, informal settings.

Typically, Florentine people never start a meal from the main course but always have a starter first. Whether eating in a restaurant or at home with friends, you will always find liver crostini (thin sliced toasted bread with liver patè) on the table. Alongside liver crostini the usual antipasto also offers different types of sliced salamis and hams.

Pappardelle (similar to spaghetti, but a thicker pasta made with egg) with boar or hare sauce. It can be seasoned with other classic ingredients: porcini mushrooms, meat sauces, artichokes and sausages, etc. Other first course dishes are the soups: pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, carabaccia and black cabbage. These are all variations of a single base made from vegetables, bread and tomato.

The hills around Florence abound with game, including wild boar which is used in locally made salamis and air-dried hams. Duck and rabbit appear on the table grilled. Fish from the region’s lakes and seafood from the coastal areas appear on the table. Porcini, wild mushrooms, are another favorite served in the fall after foragers have combed the woods around the city.

Bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak) is served rare with a drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and often accompanied by white beans, roasted potatoes or a green salad. Porchetta is a suckling pig, stuffed with garlic and herbs and brushed with a rosemary branch while its roasts. Trippa alla fiorentina, tripe cooked with wine, tomatoes and herbs, is another signature dish.

Florentine desserts: cantucci (small almond biscuits) to eat at the end of a meal dipped in Vinsanto or in the colder seasons the castagnaccio, that takes its name from the nearby mountains , is a thin cake made of chestnut flour and pine nuts. During Carnival or after the Epiphany, you can find schiacciata alla fiorentina, a soft sweet, sponge cake which can be filled with cream or chocolate and covered with powdered sugar.

Sometimes Florentines like eating a sandwich in the street for lunch. In addition to steak, Florence offers other meat specialties such as tripe and lampredotto. These are foods that are eaten in kiosks on the street, even in winter.They can be seasoned with green sauce and enriched with other vegetables, such as leeks.

chicken-liver-crostini-Bourgeois

Chicken Liver Crostini

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 pound chicken livers, rinsed
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • Baguette, sliced thinly and toasted
  • Sea salt, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions, capers and garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, Marsala, anchovies and chicken livers. Season with salt, pepper and chili and cook until the chicken livers are just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor. Add the butter and purée until smooth. 

To serve, spread the chicken liver on toasted baguette slices and garnish with sea salt, if desired.

pappa

Pappa al Pomodoro

Many Florentine recipes make use of leftover ingredients. Pappa al Pomodoro, a thick, hearty soup made with dry bread, is one of the city’s classic dishes.

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4–8 cloves of garlic, according to taste
  • 1 14-ounce can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 pound of dry, stale (preferably unsalted Tuscan) bread, broken into small pieces
  • 4–6 cups of water or warmed vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch (20 leaves) of basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half teaspoon of crushed and dried chili pepper
  • 1 leek (white flesh only), finely chopped

Directions

Place the bread in a bowl and add water or broth. Cover and put aside for at least an hour.

Sauté the garlic and leek in oil. Add dried chili pepper, the tomatoes, half the basil and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Squeeze excess broth from the soaked bread and add to the oil and tomatoes. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with remaining basil and a swirl of olive oil.

Minestra

Ribollita

Ribollita means “reboiled,” because to make this rich, thick vegetable soup correctly, it must be cooked and recooked. Ribollita appears with many variations, but the key ingredient is cavolo nero ( winter black cabbage), though kale, chard, or green and Savoy cabbage can also be used. Add zucchini, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables according to taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 leek (white flesh) finely chopped
  • 3 chopped carrots
  • 3 fresh or canned peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups canned white cannellini beans
  • 1 quarter cavolo nero or equivalent
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard and/or spinach
  • 1 finely chopped celery stalk and leaves
  • 4 chopped zucchini 
  • 2 peeled and cubed potatoes 
  • 1 pound stale Italian bread 
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano, rosemary and hot chili pepper as desired

Directions

Sauté the onion, leek, and garlic in a Dutch Oven in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add carrots, celery, chili pepper and cook for ten minutes. Add tomatoes, cabbage, beans, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.

Add tomato paste, zucchini, potatoes or other vegetables of choice and water to cover the ingredients. Cook gently for 90 minutes, adding water as necessary,

Chill the soup overnight. The next day purée half the mixture, return to the pot. Bring to a boil and reheat.

Ladling the soup over a thick slice of toasted dry bread and add a swirl of olive oil to each serving.

ganugi-pappardelle-gross

Pappardelle with Duck

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound duck breast, skin removed
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf, broken into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound dried pappardelle pasta

Directions

Rub the meat with the orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary and bay leaf. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the duck breast from the herbs and dice the meat.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the diced duck meat. Cook until the meat has changed color, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the red wine; cook until the alcohol has reduced and evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce is rich and thick.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain pasta and mix with the sauce to serve.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Traditionally, a T-bone from local Chianina beef cattle is preferred, but an ordinary T-bone (or porterhouse) can also be used.

Serves at least four

Ingredients

  • 2-pound T-bone steak, three fingers thick
  • Sea salt (coarse)

Directions

Florentines grill the meat over a very hot wood or coal, but it can also be cooked on a hot skillet or griddle.

Grill the steak, without seasoning, for three to five minutes. Florentines often grill the steak standing up on the bone for a few minutes at the end to cook around the T-bone.

The meat should be seared and crispy on the outside and red, almost raw at its heart. Allow to rest for ten minutes then cut the meat off the bone into large chunks.

Season with coarse sea salt and serve.

cake

Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina

Serves: 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Powdered sugar, for topping

Directions

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the batter to the greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes.

Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

 

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100_0691

There are some nights you just want a bowl of soup and a sandwich – no fuss. To keep it healthy, I like to prepare these ingredients when I have time and keep them in the freezer for when we want this simple type of dinner.

I bake the bread loaves, cut them in half and store each half in a separate freezer bag. Certainly you can buy bread if you don’t have time to bake, but this recipe makes exceptional tasting sandwich bread.

You can use whatever ingredients you have on hand for a sandwich, but I usually like to have extra cooked chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or meatloaf in the freezer. I slice them in sandwich portions and store them in freezer bags.

Soups are always a good solution after a busy day. I like to keep homemade soups in the freezer because they are healthier than canned soup. Soups that are not too heavy go better with sandwiches. I also freeze these in one or two cup portions.

Now with these in the freezer, you won’t have to ask – what’s for dinner?

100_0686

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

This is a very moist, tender, slightly chewy bread and stays moist for a few days.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup honey, divided
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter or butter alternative, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal 
  • 4 tablespoons of powdered vital wheat gluten
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour

Directions

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, mix warm water, yeast and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups bread flour and stir to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes or until big and bubbly.

Mix in the 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey and salt. Stir in the whole wheat flour.

Knead on level 2 for about 10 minutes. Then, take the dough out and knead by hand on a floured surface until not real sticky – just pulling away from the counter for about 1 minute. to form a large dough ball.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

100_0683

Punch down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place in two greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise until the dough has topped the pans by one inch. You may also make 3 smaller loaves (8×4 inch pans) and reduce the baking time to about 25 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30-35 minutes. To be sure check the temperature with a thermometer. Most breads are done when the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F.

Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter when done to prevent the crust from getting hard. Cool completely

100_0682

Italian Seasoned Meatloaf for Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce 
  • 1/2 of a large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs.
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except bread crumbs. Mix well. Gradually add breadcrumbs and lightly mix mixture after each addition. Stop when the beef and breadcrumb mixture begins to feel firm and holds its shape.

Form into a loaf and place in a baking pan.

Bake the meatloaf until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 60-75 minutes.

Let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow some carryover cooking and to let the juices redistribute.

100_0689

Meatloaf Sandwich

Ingredients for each sandwich:

  • 1 slice Italian seasoned meatloaf
  • 1 roasted red pepper from a jar
  • 1 large slice deli provolone cheese
  • 2 slices homemade whole wheat bread

100_0687

Butternut Squash-White Bean Soup

The soup ingredients may seem like an unlikely combination, but I have to tell you that the flavor is incredible. Be sure to use a good brand of chicken stock or even better use homemade.

Serves 4-6

For serving:

Cooked bacon, crumbled, and chopped parsley for garnish, if desired.

For soaking the beans:

1 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini, haricot blanc (navy) or Great Northern beans. Soak in 4 cups of water overnight. Drain.

For cooking the beans:

In a large soup pot combine

  • Drained beans
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are tender but not soft. Check after 40-45 minutes. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Reserve.

For the soup:

In the same pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 3 or 4 freah sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf

Cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions

Drain the beans and the garlic and set aside. Add all of the cooking liquid to the squash and onion mixture.

Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cook at a simmer until the squash becomes very tender. Add the drained white beans and garlic and heat thoroughly. Remove the bay leaf.

Purée one-third of the soup and add back into the pot. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and crumbled bacon, if desired.

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