Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Bread

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.

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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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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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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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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eggplant

Eggplant has been vastly under-used by the American public. Today, thanks to Asian and Southern European influences, it is finding its way into more and more dishes. It is a good meat substitute which also makes it attractive to vegetarians. Eggplant actually has a bland flavor, but it soaks up flavors of accompanying foods, herbs and spices like a sponge. The eggplant is considered a vegetable but is botanically a fruit. Early varieties of eggplant were smaller and white, resembling eggs, hence the name.

How to Buy Eggplant

Eggplants come in all shapes, from small, round fruits (about two inches in diameter) to the popular large oblong Black Beauty variety, which can range up to 12 inches long. Japanese eggplant is long and thin, resembling zucchini and has fewer seeds. The seeds are edible in all varieties. Eggplant colors range from white to lavender to dark purplish-black as well as pale green, yellow and reddish. There are even some striped varieties. Eggplant varieties may be used interchangeably in your recipes. When shopping, choose eggplants with smooth, shiny skin, heavy for their size and free of blemishes, tan patches or bruises. Wrinkled, loose skin is an indication of age and the fruit will be bitter. Smaller eggplants have fewer seeds, thinner skin and tend to be sweeter, more tender and less bitter. Press your finger lightly against the skin. If it leaves a light imprint, it is ripe. If it is soft, it is too old.

How to Store Eggplant

Eggplant is quite perishable and will not store long. Depending on the freshness factor of the eggplant at the time of purchase, it may be refrigerated for up to 4 days (up to 7 days if you pick right from the garden). However, it is best to use them as soon as possible, preferably within a day.

Handle eggplants carefully as they bruise easily. Wrap each in a paper towel and place in a perforated plastic bag before storing in the refrigerator vegetable bin. Do not store eggplant at temperatures less than 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).

Cooked eggplant may be refrigerated up to 3 days (it will get mushy when reheated) or frozen up to 6 months in a puree form. It holds up fairly well in chunks in soups and stews when thawed in the refrigerator, but not as chunks on its own. I have had great success in freezing breaded, oven baked eggplant slices to use in future eggplant parmesan recipes. I freeze them in single layer packages and pull out what I need for a casserole.

Cooking Tips

Eggplant skin is edible. However, some find it bitter.

The flesh is very sponge-like and will soak up juices and oils. Coat slices with flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs to avoid soaking up too much oil. Let breaded patties dry for half an hour in the refrigerator before cooking.

Parboiling slices for 1 to 2 minutes can also help reduce eggplant’s absorbancy, while ridding it of moisture. Be sure to thoroughly drain and pat dry with paper towels before further cooking.

Once cut, eggplant flesh will begin to darken with exposure to air. A brushing of lemon juice will help keep the flesh from darkening.

Do not use aluminum cookware with eggplant as it will cause discoloration.

salting

Some cooks salt cut eggplant and let it sit for up to an hour to leach out water and bitterness before cooking. In general, it’s not necessary to salt smaller eggplants, since they have fewer seeds than larger eggplants. Larger eggplants tend to become soft when cooked, so salting them before cooking leads to a firmer cooked texture. Bitterness is concentrated just under the skin, so peeling will also work on especially large eggplants.

Here are the directions, if you choose salting. Slice the eggplant according to your recipe and generously season the slices with kosher salt. Let them sit until you can see the liquid coming to the surface, 20-30 minutes (see photo above). Rinse the slices well and pat them dry. It’s also a good idea to use half as much salt as the recipe calls for (unless the recipe takes into account the fact that the eggplant has been salted).

Eggplant may be microwaved to remove excess water. Microwave slices on high for 4 to 6 minutes, remove, cover and let stand for a minute or two. Use paper towels and press lightly to soak up the water.

If you are baking a whole eggplant, be sure to puncture the skin in several places so it does not burst.

Add eggplant to soups and stews during the last 10 minutes of cooking to avoid overcooking.

Eggplant Measures and Equivalents

• 1 medium eggplant = about 1 pound.

• 1 medium eggplant = 4 to 6 servings.

• 1 pound eggplant = 3 to 4 cups diced.

• 1 serving = 1/3 pound as a side dish.

• 1 serving = 1/2 to 3/4 pound as a main dish.

linguine

Linguine with Eggplant 

8 servings

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 32 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf

Pasta

  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 3 thin eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, cut into strips
  • 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Crushed red pepper to taste

Directions

For the sauce:

Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add celery, carrots and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer, uncovered, over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

For the pasta:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil from the sun-dried tomato jar in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the marinara sauce and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and add the mozzarella cheese, basil, salt and pepper.

Serve in shallow pasta bowls, topped with Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, if desired.

Grilled-vegetable-goat-cheese-pizza-606x455

Flatbread Topped With Grilled Vegetables

Dough

  • 3 cups Italian-Style Flour (00) or other low-protein flour
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Topping

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 1 roasted red pepper, cut into 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves, optional

Directions

For the dough:

Mix and knead all of the ingredients — by hand or mixer — to make a soft, supple dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

To grill the vegetables:

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.

Brush a thin coating of the garlic oil onto each side of the eggplant rounds and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the eggplant rounds on the grill and cook for 5 minutes or until you see well-defined grill marks. Turn the rounds over and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes to achieve the same grill marks. Add the pepper and tomato slices, coated with garlic oil, during the last 2 minutes of grilling. Transfer to a plate until you’re ready to top the flatbreads.

To grill the flatbread:

Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a lightly greased sheet of parchment paper and stretch into 1/4″-thick irregular ovals. Flip one piece of dough from the greased parchment onto the heated grill. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until you see well-defined grill marks; then turn over.

Spread half the pesto onto the grilled side of the crust. Top with the grilled eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and cheese. Close the grill and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, then transfer to a serving plate. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Garnish flatbreads with basil leaves, if desired, and serve warm.

Yield: 2 flatbreads

To make the flatbread in the oven:

Preheat your oven to 450°F (with or without a baking stone). One at a time, place the rolled-out pieces of dough with their parchment directly onto a preheated pizza stone or onto a baking sheet. Bake until the dough is just starting to brown around the edges, about 4 minutes.

Grill vegetable slices on a stove top grill following directions above.

Remove crust from the oven, add toppings and bake for an additional 6 minutes, or until the pizzas are warm and bubbly.

stuffed eggplant

Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant

Servings 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 eggplant, cut in half and flesh scooped out and chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add sausage. Cook until browned, 8-10 minutes, breaking up sausage into pieces. Remove sausage from pan, drain on paper towels and set aside in a mixing bowl.

To the same skillet, add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook until almost tender, 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant flesh and salt; cook until browned. Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl with the sausage. Add parsley, chopped tomato, basil, thyme, marjoram, cayenne, the half cup mozzarella and the half cup Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, egg and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir to blend mixture evenly, then stuff into eggplant halves. Place stuffed eggplant on a baking sheet, top with remaining cheeses. Bake 45-50 minutes until tender.

eggplant balls

Eggplant Balls

I often make these for parties and they are a big hit with my vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends.

Makes about 15

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs, divided
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • Marinara sauce for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and place on a baking pan. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large mixing bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin.

Mix the cheese, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, salt, pepper and 1 cup of the bread crumbs into eggplant pulp. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until ingredients are thoroughly combined and mixture holds together.

Refrigerate mixture for 15 minutes, then roll into balls. Roll the outside of the balls in the ¼ cup remaining bread crumbs. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place eggplant balls on prepared baking sheet and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes turning once until nicely browned. Serve with warm marinara sauce, if desired.

eggplant fries

Baked Eggplant Fries with Lemon Sauce

Makes 4 servings

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into thin strips (peeled, if you choose)
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

Heat oven to 450°F.  Line a baking sheet (cookie) pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.

In a shallow bowl mix flour with salt and pepper. In another shallow bowl, beat egg with milk. In another shallow bowl, mix panko crumbs, crushed pepper flakes, garlic powder and paprika.

Dip eggplant strips into flour coating all sides; shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture. Roll in bread crumb mixture until coated. Place on prepared baking pan. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake about 20 minutes, turning once, or until coating is crisp and lightly golden.

For Lemon Sauce

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to chill and allow flavors to combine.

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Michelango_Portrait_by_Volterra

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra

Michelangelo was born March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany. For several generations, Michelangelo’s family were bankers in Florence but, when their bank failed, his father, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, took a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born. Several months after Michelangelo’s birth, the family moved back to Florence. After his mother’s death in 1481, when he was just six years old, Michelangelo was sent to live with a stonecutter and his family in the town of Settignano. A few years later Michelangelo went to Florence to study grammar, however, he showed no interest in schooling, preferring to copy paintings and seek the company of painters. His friend, Granacci, encouraged him to take a place as an apprentice with the Ghirlandaio brothers at their workshop in Florence. Here he learned the art of drawing but his desire to be a sculptor became stronger and he was noticed by Lorenzo de Medici, who took him in to live at the palace in Via Larga, where he was treated like a son. The Medici garden became a school for Michelangelo because it was filled with statues that he could use for inspiration.

One of Michelangelo's very early drawings - John the Baptist.

One of Michelangelo’s very early drawings – John the Baptist.

The death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, however, brought a reversal of Michelangelo’s circumstances. Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father’s house. In the following months he carved a polychrome wooden Crucifix (1493), as a gift to the prior at the Florentine church, Santo Spirito, who had permitted him to study the corpses in the church’s hospital. Between 1493 and 1494, Michelangelo carved a larger than life statue of Hercules from a block of marble, which was sent to France. Unfortunately, this piece of art disappeared sometime in the 18th century. In January 1494 after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici. Later that same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence due to the political rise of Savonarola, so Michelangelo left the city before the upheaval was resolved, moving to Venice, then to Bologna and, later, to Rome.

In November 1497, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned Michelangelo to carve a Pietà, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus. The contract was agreed upon in August of the following year. Michelangelo was 24 when the statue was completed. The Pietà was soon to be regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of sculpture. Contemporary opinion was summarized by Michelangelo’s biographer, Vasari: “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.” The Pietà is now located in St Peter’s Basilica.

Michelangelo's_Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pietà, St Peter’s Basilica

He spent the next four years in Florence developing technical mastery in his art forms. Some of the works produced during this time were the famous, David, in marble, representing the hero in youth; The Virgin and Child (Pille Tondo) (housed at Bargello, Florence), The Bruges Madonna and The Holy Family.

In 1505, Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb over the next five years and carve forty statues for the tomb during that time period. Michelangelo experienced constant interruptions to his work on the tomb in order to complete numerous other tasks for the Pope. Although Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years, it was never finished to his satisfaction. It is located in the Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome and it is most famous for the central figure of Moses, completed in 1516. Of the other statues intended for the tomb, two known as the Heroic Captive and the Dying Captive, are now in the Louvre.

CAPPELLA_SISTINA_Ceiling

During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This was a massive task that took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). Working in uncomfortable conditions, cramped and often alone, it caused him to become reclusive. The situation also affected his health, body and mind. He complained about his eyesight and body aches. The work, though, was fantastic and the biblical fresco was filled with originality.

The composition stretches over 5382 square feet (500 square metres) of ceiling and contains over 300 figures. In the center are nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s Creation of the Earth; God’s Creation of Humans and their fall from God’s grace and, lastly, the state of Humanity as represented by Noah and his family. Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, The Deluge, The Prophet Jeremiah and The Cumaean Sibyl. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was a work of unprecedented grandeur, both for its architectural forms and for the details in the formation of human figures. Vasari wrote: “The work has proved a veritable beacon to our art, of inestimable benefit to all painters, restoring light to a world that for centuries had been plunged into darkness. Indeed, painters no longer need to seek for new inventions, novel attitudes, clothed figures, fresh ways of expression, different arrangements or sublime subjects, for this work contains every perfection possible under those heading.”

Vatican-ChapelleSixtine-Plafond

Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime and, ever since then, he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A number of his works in painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in every field during his long life was prodigious. When the sheer volume of correspondence, sketches and reminiscences that survive are also taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century.

Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and the David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. Despite his low opinion of his painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential works in fresco in the history of Western art: The Scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. As an architect, Michelangelo pioneered in using architectural forms to emphasize both solid and spatial relationships in art. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, however, Michelangelo died before this work was completed. On December 7, 2007, a red chalk sketch for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, possibly the last made by Michelangelo before his death, was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is extremely rare, since he destroyed his designs later in life. The sketch is a partial plan for one of the radial columns of the cupola drum of Saint Peter’s.

The amount of work that he did surpasses many modern artists even in this age of mass production. Starting from initial sketches, moving to oils and then graduating from frescoes to sculptures, even the most prolific artist who came after him, would appear short of this genius. Among all of his artworks, there is none, which can be rated as less than “perfect.”

Caprese

Caprese Michelangelo, Italy

Caprese, Italy is located in the Province of Arezzo in eastern Tuscany, bordered by the Apennines, and encompasses the areas of Casentino, Valdarno, Valtiberina and Val di Chiana. Each of these areas comprise unique landscapes where natural beauty blends harmoniously with its historic heritage and masterpieces of art. Today, Caprese has been renamed, Caprese Michelangelo.

Its cuisine is tied to agriculture and many recipes originated from the religious and convent life. One will find bean soups, meat stews, crostini topped with woodcock and bread made with hare (pan di lepre) as typical foods of the region. Some products are cultivated only in this area and are dedicated to specific recipes. Black cabbage, present in few parts of the world, is an important ingredient in minestra di pane (bread soup). The Chianina breed of cattle, raised according to Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) standards, is the base for historical dishes, like peposo alla fornacina – a slow cooking beef stew, a dish attributed to those workers who produced the terracotta construction materials for Florence’s Brunelleschi Chapel.

The free-range “grey” pig in this area is the source for one of the world’s best prosciutti, Prosciutto del Casentino. Sheep and goat’s milk (pasture-raised, naturally) cheese products, such as, raviggiolo, ricotta and raw-milk pecorino are important locally. The finest dishes center around the highly prized Valtiberina truffle, present year-round (alternating between black and the more costly white). Another product frequently used to make sweets and snacks is the chestnut that is ground into a flour. Not to be left out are classic Tuscan products that complete the table: oil and wine. The region possesess first-class wines according to the best national and international standards, such as Chianti, Cortona and Valdichiana and no meal is finished without Vinsanto.

beef stew

Il Peposo alla Fornicina (Kiln Worker’s Stew)

This slow-cooked stew needs about 3 hours for the flavors to blend. (You may want to find your crock pot for this recipe!) The story goes that in order to get more work done, the employer of the kiln workers had the dish sent up to the workers instead of allowing them to come down for lunch. It wasn’t long before the workers realized that they were losing their lunch break and a chance to meet friends, play cards and relax. The first strike in Florence resulted!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef stew meat
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 3 or 4 cups red wine or tomato sauce
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground pepper, fresh and coarsely ground
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • Country bread

Directions

Cut the stew meat into small pieces. Put the meat in a stew pot that will fit in your oven. Add the garlic, onion, wine, rosemary and pepper. Cover and cook in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) until the meat falls apart. Stir occasionally.

Serve the stew in deep dishes on slices of toasted country-style bread rubbed with garlic.

For a thicker sauce, substitute tomato sauce for wine.

A great dish to cook ahead and reheat.

onion soup

Onion Soup in the Arezzo Style

8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 6 Yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 oz butter
  • 20 slices Tuscan-style bread
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 8 slices Fontina cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmigiano, grated to taste
  • Chopped parsley

Directions

Saute the sliced onions in butter until soft in a large soup pot. Add the broth and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Butter 2 loaf pans or a ovenproof casserole dish. Line the bottoms of the pans with bread slices and spoon in a layer of onions and broth. Add 4 Fontina slices to each pan, then another layer of bread and broth. Sprinkle generously with Parmigiano. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley.

Sausage and mushrooms

Homemade Pasta with Sausage and Mushrooms

In the style of Arezzo, with its Etruscan roots, this pasta is thicker than Bolognese fettuccine and is made with fewer eggs.

Makes 4 servings

For the pasta:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups semolina, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the toppings:

  • 12 ounces chicken or pork Italian sausage links
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 cups hot vegetable or beef broth
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan

To make the pasta dough:

Mix the flour, salt and 1 cup of semolina together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs. Whisk the eggs with a fork, gradually gathering the dry mix into the egg and then, as the mixture thickens, add water and oil. Pull in all the dry mix and knead for a few minutes in the bowl. If absolutely necessary, add 1 teaspoon at a time of extra water to make the dough soft enough to work. Put the dough onto on a counter sprinkled with semolina, cover with the inverted bowl and let rest for 30 minutes. (You can also make the dough in a food processor.)

To roll out and cut the pasta:

Secure the pasta machine to a work surface. Flatten the dough and send it through the rollers on setting ‘1’. Fold in half and send it through again; turn the long edges over toward the middle; send through a third time. Repeat until your pasta is smooth and supple. Cut the pasta into 3 pieces and let them rest on semolina for a few minutes before continuing. Send each piece of dough through the rollers on setting ‘3’. Let rest. Finally, send the pasta through on setting ‘5’. Sprinkle with semolina and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut each piece of pasta into long strips 3/16” wide using a sharp knife. Place the strips of cut pasta on a wide platter or tray sprinkled with semolina until ready to boil.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

To cook the sausage and mushrooms:

Clean the mushrooms and cut in half. Peel and slice the shallots. Heat a cast iron frying pan in the oven for a few minutes and then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and the shallot and return the pan to the oven. After 2 or 3 minutes, once the shallots is beginning to brown, add the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of broth to the frying pan. Return to the oven and cook 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Once the mushrooms are lightly cooked, pour them into a serving bowl and pour any broth from the frying pan over them. Set aside and keep warm.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan, add the sausages and return the pan to the oven. Turn the sausages after 5 minutes and bake for a further 7 minutes until lightly brown on two sides. Pour in the rest of the broth and add back the mushrooms. Let simmer in the oven while you cook the pasta.

To cook the pasta:

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and, once back at the boil, cook for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and drizzle with olive oil.

To assemble the dish:

Distribute the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle on half the parsley and half the red pepper. Spoon the mushrooms and the broth over the noodles. Slice the sausages and add to the pasta. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley and red pepper over the dishes and bring to the table piping hot. It’s traditional to serve this dish with grated parmesan.

vin santo tiramisu

Tiramisu al Vin Santo

Ingredients

  • 1 pound/500 g cantuccini (biscotti) cookies, chopped
  • 1 cup/250 ml Vin Santo
  • 1 pound/500 g mascarpone cheese
  • 3.5 ounces/100 g chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons/30 ml sugar

Directions

Place the cookies on the bottom of a cake pan, creating a base for the tiramisu. Drizzle 1/2 cup Vin Santo over the cookies and set aside. The exterior of the cookie should be wet while the interior should remain somewhat dry.

In a bowl, add the mascarpone, chocolate, sugar and remaining 1/2 cup Vin Santo. Whisk the ingredients together until creamy and thoroughly mixed.

Spread the cream mixture evenly over the cookies, making sure all the cookies are completely covered. You may also sprinkle the top of the tiramisu with additional chopped chocolate and cookies. Unlike traditional tiramisu, this version can be served immediately.

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Liguria can be found on the Italian Riviera, along the northwestern coast of Italy, and it is a landscape that will impress people on their journey through this historically rich and popular region. The capital Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean and home to Christopher Columbus, was a powerful maritime state during the Middle Ages. Today, one can find architecturally impressive buildings, elegant mansions and historic churches — all of which bear witness to Liguria’s glorious past, yet blend in perfectly with modern times. Luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation exists in the mountain regions of Portofino and Cinque Terre and the climate in this mountainous region is mild, perfect for growing vegetables, olives and grapes. Sanremo is one of Italy’s most famous bathing resorts and the place where the annual Italian pop music festival takes place.

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On Saturday, March 29, 2014 the Pesto Championship will take place in Genoa. In the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace, 100 competitors from around the world will compete in the preparation of Pesto Genovese using traditional ingredients and a pestle and mortar.

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Ligurian cooking is known for the simple flavors of fresh produce, especially the Pesto alla Genovese mentioned above. Liguria basil is blended with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano to make this famous sauce. It is not only used for pasta, but can also be added to soups, vegetables or rice dishes.

Liguria is a region of vineyards and olive groves that produce excellent extra-virgin olive oils and quality wines, like Ormeasco and Rossese from Dolceacqua, Vermentino, Ciliegiolo and Bianchetta from Genoa, Albarola, and Pollera Nera from the Riviera di Levante and Pigato from Salea d’Albenga.

Seafood and fish dishes are typically fish soups like ciuppin and buridda made with stockfish, as well as stuffed and fried sardines.

Among the meat dishes to choose from are cima alla genovese (cold stuffed breast of veal) made ​​from the leftovers of slaughter such as brains and sweetbreads, etc. along with eggs, cheese, peas and greens or a stewed hare with taggiasche olives, pine nuts and rosemary. The famous stuffed pie of the region is Torta Pasqualina (Easter pie), a thin pastry stuffed with greens, cheese and eggs.

Cima alla Genovese

Cima alla Genovese

Fugassa, a soft and thick focaccia covered with onion slices and olive oil, and the thin farinata, a baked savory pancake made with chickpea flour, are very popular. The traditional desserts of this region are pandolce genovese, amaretti and cubeli (tiny butter cookies).

Antipasto

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La Focaccia Col Formaggio Di Recco – Focaccia with Cheese

The traditional version calls for locally made stracchino cheese–a soft, fresh, creamy cow’s milk cheese. You can substitute crescenza cheese, which is basically stracchino under a different regional name or even a burrata, which is made from fresh mozzarella cheese with a creamy cheese filling in the middle. It bakes down to a stracchino-like texture. All of these are now available in the United States from Bel Gioioso Cheese. You will want something mild and creamy (soft enough to be spreadable, but not liquid) that will also melt. I also like the taste of creamy Italian fontina in this recipe. The King Arthur Flour Company sells 00 Italian flour.

Ingredients

Dough (will make two “14″ pans)

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 ounces/ 284 g) unbleached all-purpose flour or 00 grade flour (this has slightly more gluten than American flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (0.125 ounce (3.5 g) salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces/170 g) water, room temperature

Filling

  • Stracchino or similar cheese, 8 ounces for each 14-inch pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Topping

  • Olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per pan
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

In a mixing bowl stir all the dough ingredients together and continue stirring until they form a ball of dough. Add more water if needed, a few drops at a time, to hydrate all the flour. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Dust the counter with a little flour and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead it for about four minutes, adding flour or water as needed to make a smooth, supple dough. It should not be sticky, but soft and only slightly tacky, almost satiny to the touch. You can also do this in an electric mixer or a food processor.

Cover the dough and let it rest for five minutes, then knead it again for about two minutes. This can also be done in an electric mixer using a dough hook.

Divide the dough into 4 balls of approximately 4 ounces each. Cover them and let them rest for about fifteen minutes before rolling and stretching them.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly mist the baking pan or pans with olive oil spray.

Rub a small amount of olive oil on a smooth counter or work surface to make a circular lightly oiled spot of about the diameter of your baking pan. Take one of the dough balls and place it in the center of the oiled spot and flatten it with your hand. Flip it over so that both sides have touched the oiled surface. Use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough, from the center to the outer edges, to the size of your pan. If the dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes and then continue rolling it (you can start on a second piece in the meantime–it will take 2 pieces per pan).

When the dough is the diameter of the pan, carefully lift it and gently stretch it with your hands, as if stretching pizza dough, to make it larger than the pan and as thin as you can get it without tearing it–it should look like fillo (phyllo) or strudel dough–nearly paper-thin. Lay one piece of stretched dough over the pan and tuck it into the corners to cover the whole surface as well as the inner walls of the pan, with some dough overhanging the pan.

Fill the dough-covered pan with pieces of cheese, spaced about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cheese with a small amount of pepper and salt. Repeat the rolling and stretching of a second piece of dough and cover the pan with the dough, overhanging the outside of the pan so that the top and bottom crusts connect along the rim of the pan. Pinch the two doughs together and tuck the dough into the pan, crimping it with your fingers all around the circumference to make a pie-like edge. Crimp this edge with your fingers to seal the two doughs together to fully enclose the cheese filling. If necessary, trim off any excess dough with a paring knife.

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Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough and sprinkle a small amount of sea salt. Use a scissors or sharp paring knife to cut vent holes into the top crust. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the top crust is covered with deep golden brown streaks and sections. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow it to cool for about three minutes. Cut the focaccia into large or medium size squares (not wedges) and remove the sections with a flexible spatula. Serve while still hot.

First Course

zuppa-di-riso-e-verdure-L-K_HkNj

Rice Minestrone with Pesto – Minestrone di Riso al Pesto

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (200 g) rice (use medium-grained, if possible, not parboiled)
  • 1 – 15 oz can borlotti beans or similar beans
  • 12 ounces (300 g) mixed greens (e.g. spinach, chard, cabbage)
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 leek
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Peel and dice the potatoes. Peel and slice the carrots, coarsely chop the mixed greens and dice the green part of the leek. Mince the celery, onion and white part of the leek. In a soup pot heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and white part of the leek until the onion is translucent. Add the remaining chopped and diced vegetables and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the beans, season the mixture with salt and pepper and carefully add the boiling water. Simmer the soup for one hour.

After an hour, stir in the rice and let it cook for 15 minutes more or until the rice is tender. Remove a ladle of just the broth to a mixing bowl. Stir the pesto sauce into the broth and, when the rice is done, stir the pesto mixture into the soup. Simmer for a minute more and serve it topped with grated cheese.

Second Course

fish and potatoes

Sea Bass Filets, Ligurian Style — Filetti di Orata Alla Ligure

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) sea bass fillets, bream or similar fish
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons (20 g) capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 pound (240 gr) green zucchini, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram or dill
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).

Sauté the potatoes until lightly browned in half the olive oil and then place them with the zucchini slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the fish filets over them, sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the fish and season everything to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the fish for 15-20 minutes and serve each portion of fish with the vegetables beneath it.

Dessert Course

Olive_Oil_Cake-2

Ligurian Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons or oranges

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan.

Into a medium bowl, sift together the 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk the melted butter with the olive oil and milk.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and citrus zest until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Alternately, beat in the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the side pulls away from the pan. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Crostini is just another name for slices of bread that have been brushed with oil and baked until golden brown. Crostini make for an endless variety of near-instant hors d’oeuvres. Just spoon on your pick of toppings and watch the crostini disappear!

Crostini is the Italian word for “little toasts”. Crostini are believed to be a kind of Italian peasant food that originated in medieval times. The Italians, too poor to possess ceramic plates, preferred to eat their food by keeping it on the surface of slices of bread. The Italians, not a group to waste anything, often ate stale bread which had to be soaked in juices or wine in order to chew it properly.

Bruschetta and crostini are both bread preparations used in antipasti – but what is the difference?

The difference between bruschettas and crostini is the type of bread used. Bruschetta, from the Italian word “bruscare” meaning “to roast over coals”, is made by toasting whole, wide slices of a rustic Italian or sourdough type bread. Crostini are sliced from a smaller, round, finer-textured bread, more like a white bread baguette. In Italy you might find yourself offered an antipasto of four or five different crostini, no more than a couple of mouthfuls each, accompanied by some olives, but only one or two of the larger bruschetta would be plenty.

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Some do’s and don’t I picked up from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen to ensure successful crostini.

Not starting with good bread

The bread you use should be high quality; look for fresh baguettes, boules and hearty country bread, preferably from a local bakery (as opposed to supermarket brands). Texture is very important–it shouldn’t be too dense.

Slicing the bread too thick or thin

The bread needs to be thin enough to bite, but thick enough to support toppings -1/2-inch thick is just right.

Skipping the oil

Brush olive oil on each piece before toasting it. Why? It makes the surface of the bread less dry. And it just tastes better.

Over-toasting the bread

If the crostini are too hard, they will hurt your guests’ mouths and flake all over their clothes. The ideal texture: crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. To achieve it, bake, grill or broil bread over high heat, making sure to toast both sides. (If you cook on too low a heat, the bread will dehydrate and crumble upon first bite.) You’ll know it’s finished when the edges are browned but the center is lighter in color and still has a little spring to it.

Forgetting the flavor

Flavor your crostini right after toasting. Things you can rub on the bread: a raw garlic clove, a tomato half – cut side-down or a whole lemon or orange–rind. The crispy bread will pick up the fruit’s essential oils.

Going overboard with your topping

If you pile on the topping, it’s going to fall off when you bite into the crostini. You should be able to take bites without worrying about staining your shirt or dress.

Overdressing your topping

Wet topping = soggy bread. Use a slotted spoon when working with a wet topping (tomatoes, etc.) so that extra liquid is left behind. If using greens, dress them lightly.

How To Make Crostini Toasts

Using a serrated knife, cut one 8 ounce baguette diagonally into ½ inch slices. Makes about 20 slices.

Baked Crostini

Baked Crostini

Bake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the bread on 2 large baking sheets and brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the bread are golden brown. Turn the slices over half way through the baking time. Let cool completely. Store at room temperature.

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Grilled Crostini

Broiled Crostini

Broiled Crostini

Grill or Broil

Brush bread slices lightly on both sides with olive oil.

Grill for 15 to 20 seconds on each side, until lightly brown, then remove with tongs and set aside.

For broiling, position the rack so the slices are 2 inches from the flame and turn them over when the crostini start to brown at the edges.

Here are some of my favorite combinations. They are easy to prepare and are always a big hit when I entertain. The recipes are based on 20 slices of crostini.

Shrimp and Pesto

Cut 10 medium peeled and deveined shrimp in half lengthwise.

In a skillet saute 1 minced garlic clove and the shrimp in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until the shrimp turn pink.

Spread each crostini with homemade or store bought basil pesto. Place one shrimp half on each crostini and sprinkle each with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Mediterranean Spread

Drain two 6 ounce jars of marinated artichoke hearts, reserving 2 tablespoons of the marinade.

Finely chop the artichokes and place in a mixing bowl with the reserved marinade.

Stir in ½ cup finely chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in oil and drained, 2 tablespoons pitted and chopped Kalamata olives and 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Mix well and spread mixture on the crostini slices and sprinkle the top with feta cheese.

Caprese

Rub crostini with a garlic clove or two as soon as they come out of the oven. Sprinkle each with a little balsamic vinegar.

Top each with the following

  • 1 slice of plum (Roma) tomato
  • 1 thin slice of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 fresh basil leaf

Grind fresh black pepper over each crostini.

Olive Orange Spread

In a food processor combine:

  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Pulse until coarsely chopped.

Spread on the crostini, top each with an orange segment and a small piece of arugula.

Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto

In a food processor combine one 12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained, with a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Process until almost smooth.

Spread pepper mixture on the crostini.

Top with a piece of prosciutto and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake crostini until the cheese melts. Serve warm.

Cannellini Bean Spread

In a food processor coarsely process one drained 15 oz. can cannellini beans. Remove to a mixing bowl.

Stir in ¼ cup shredded zucchini, 2 tablespoons chopped green onions, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and ½ teaspoon coarse grained mustard.

Spread on crostini slices. Top each with a half of a grape tomato and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.

Cremini Mushroom Spread

Thinly slice 12 oz cremini mushrooms. In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook 3 minced garlic cloves for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

Stir in 1/3 cup white wine. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes or until wine evaporates. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread crostini with a thin layer of mascarpone cheese. Top with mushrooms and sprinkle with chopped fresh chives.

Caramelized Sweet Onions and Gorgonzola

Halve and thinly slice 3 sweet onions. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions and cook, covered, on medium low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the onions turn golden. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon onions on the crostini and sprinkle with crumbled gorgonzola cheese.

Lemon Ricotta with Fruit and Honey

Stir together 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon shredded lemon peel and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Spread mixture on crostini.

Top each with thinly sliced fresh strawberries or figs.

Drizzle with honey and top each with a mint leaf.

What Are Your Favorite Toppings For Crostini?

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Charles Angelo Siringo (1855-1912)

Siringo was born in Matagorda County, Texas to an Irish immigrant mother and an Italian immigrant father from Piedmont. He attended public school until the age of 15, when he started working on local ranches as a cowboy. After taking part in several cattle drives, Siringo stopped herding to settle down, get married (1884) and open a merchant business in Caldwell, Kansas. He wrote a book, entitled, A Texas Cowboy; Or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony. A year later, it was published and became one of the first true looks into life as a cowboy written by someone who had actually lived the life.

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In 1886, bored with the mundane life of a merchant, Siringo moved to Chicago and joined the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He was immediately assigned several cases, which took him as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico City. He began operating undercover, a relatively new technique at the time and infiltrated gangs of robbers and rustlers, making over one hundred arrests.

In the late 1890s, posing as “Charles L. Carter”, an alleged gunman on the run from the law for a murder, he infiltrated Butch Cassidy’s Train Robbers Gang. For over a year, using information he would gather, he severely hampered the operations of Cassidy’s gang, but without many arrests. After the gang committed the now famous train robbery near Wilcox, Wyoming, in which they robbed a Union Pacific train, Siringo again found himself assigned to capture the Cassidy gang. Several members of the gang were captured as a result of information Siringo gathered, including the capture of Kid Curry, who escaped but was again cornered and killed during a shootout with law enforcement in Colorado. Siringo’s information helped track him down. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid both fled to South America.

Siringo retired in 1907 and wrote another book entitled, Pinkerton’s Cowboy Detective. The Pinkerton Detective Agency held up publication for two years, feeling it violated their confidentiality agreement that Siringo had signed when he was hired and objected to the use of their name. Siringo gave in and deleted their name from the book title, instead writing two separate books entitled, A Cowboy Detective and Further Adventures of a Cowboy Detective.

Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino (1860 – 1909)

In 1874, the remaining members of the Petrosino family emigrated to the United States from Padula (in the province of Salerno, Campania), a village in southern Italy. Joseph had come over previously with his cousin to live with their grandfather in New York. An unfortunate streetcar accident took the life of the grandfather and the two young cousins wound up in Orphans/Surrogates Court. Rather than send the children to the orphanage, the judge took them home to live with his own family and provided for the boys until relatives in Italy could be contacted and arrangements made to bring over family members. Joseph Petrosino and his cousin, Anthony Puppolo, lived for a time in a “politically connected” Irish household and this opened up educational and employment avenues that was not usually available to immigrants.

File:Joe petrosino.jpgOn October 19, 1883, Joseph joined the NYPD. During his service he would become friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who was police commissioner of New York City at the time. On July 20, 1895, Roosevelt promoted him to detective sergeant in charge of the department’s Homicide Division, making him the first Italian-American to lead this division. The pinnacle of his career came in December 1908 when he was promoted to lieutenant and placed in charge of the Italian Squad, an elite corps of Italian-American detectives assembled specifically to deal with the activities of organized crime.

One notable case in Petrosino’s time with the Italian Squad was when the Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, who was performing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, was blackmailed by gangsters who demanded money in exchange for his life. It was Petrosino who convinced Caruso to help him catch those behind the blackmail. A second notable case was Petrosino’s infiltration of an Italian-based anarchist organization that assassinated King Umberto I of Italy. During his mission, he discovered evidence that the organization intended to assassinate President William McKinley during a trip to Buffalo. Petrosino warned the Secret Service, but McKinley ignored the warning, even after Roosevelt, who had by this time become Vice-President of the United States, vouched for Petrosino’s abilities. McKinley was assassinated during his visit to Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901.

Petrosino’s investigations into Mafia activities led him to Don Vito Cascio Ferro. In 1903, Petrosino arrested him on suspicion of murder, but Cascio Ferro was acquitted. Cascio Ferro later returned to Sicily, where he became increasingly involved with the Sicilian Mafia. In 1909, Petrosino made plans to travel to Palermo, Sicily, on a top secret mission. Unfortunately, the New York Herald published the story of Petrosino’s mission on February 20, 1909, just days before his departure. Even though he was aware of the danger, Petrosino headed to Palermo as planned. Petrosino wrongly believed that the Sicilian Mafia would not kill a policeman, as they did not in America. On March 12, 1909, after arriving in Palermo, Petrosino received a message from someone claiming to be an informant, asking the detective to meet him in the city’s Piazza Marina to give him information about the Mafia. Petrosino arrived at the rendezvous, but it was a trap. While waiting for his “informant”, Petrosino was shot to death by Mafia assassins.

The various crime fighting techniques that Petrosino pioneered during his law enforcement career are still practiced by various agencies in the fight against crime.

John Sirica (1904 – 1992)

John Sirica was born in Waterbury, Connecticut to Ferdinand and Rose (Zinno) Sirica, both Italian immigrants. His father, Fred, who had emigrated from a village near Naples in 1887, worked as a barber. His mother, Rose, ran a grocery store. “It was”, Judge Sirica later said “an uphill fight against poverty.” The family, including brother, Andrew, moved several times, to Jacksonville, Fl, New Orleans, Richmond and, then when John was 14, to Washington D.C. Along the way, he helped out, working once as a waiter and another time selling newspapers.

Sirica received his degree from the Georgetown University Law Center after doing undergraduate work at Duke University. Boxing champion Jack Dempsey was a close friend of his and was Sirica’s best man at his marriage in 1952.

Sirica was in the private practice of law in Washington, DC from 1926 to 1930. He was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1930 to 1934 and, subsequently, returned to private practice from 1934 to 1957. He also served as general counsel to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Federal Communications Commission in 1944. John was a Republican and was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on February 25, 1957. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 26 and became chief judge of the court in April, 1971.

John Sirica had a largely unnoticed career before Watergate. He rose to national prominence during the Watergate scandal when he ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over his recordings of White House conversations. Sirica’s involvement in the case began when he presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars. He did not believe the claim that they had acted alone and persuaded them to implicate the men who had arranged the break-in. For his role in Watergate, the judge was named TIME Magazine‘s “Man of the Year” in 1973.

Sirica served as chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 1971 to 1974 and assumed senior status on October 31, 1977. He died in 1992 at the age of 88. Sirica, with the help of John Stacks, published his account of the Watergate affair in 1979 under the title, To Set the Record Straight: The Break-in, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon.

Frank Serpico (1936 -)

Serpico was born in Brooklyn, the youngest child of Vincenzo and Maria Giovanna Serpico, Italian emigrants from Marigliano in the province of Naples, Campania. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed for two years in South Korea as an infantryman. He then worked as a part-time private investigator and as a youth counselor while attending Brooklyn College.

In September 1959, Serpico joined the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and was assigned to the 81st precinct. He worked for the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) for two years and then was assigned to work plainclothes. Serpico worked in Brooklyn and the Bronx to expose vice racketeering. In 1967 he reported credible evidence of widespread systematic police corruption. Nothing happened until he met another police officer, David Durk, who helped him. On April 25, 1970, Serpico contributed to the New York Times front-page story on widespread corruption in the NYPD. Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed a five-member panel to investigate charges of police corruption. The panel became the Knapp Commission, named after its chairman, Whitman Knapp.

Serpico was shot during a drug arrest attempt on February 3, 1971. Four officers from Brooklyn North received a tip that a drug deal was about to take place. Serpico was sent up the fire escape to enter the building by the fire escape door and follow two suspects. When they came out the police arrested the two suspects who were found with bags of heroin. Serpico (who spoke Spanish) was told to attempt to make a fake purchase and to get the drug dealers to open the door. Serpico knocked on the door and the door opened a few inches, just far enough for Serpico to wedge his body in. Serpico called for help, but his fellow officers ignored him. Serpico was then shot in the face and the bullet struck just below the eye and lodged at the top of his jaw. His police colleagues refused to make a “10-13″, a dispatch to police headquarters indicating that an officer has been shot. An elderly man who lived in the next apartment called the emergency services and reported that a man had been shot. The bullet had severed an auditory nerve, leaving him deaf in one ear and he has suffered chronic pain from bullet fragments lodged in his brain. He survived to testify before the Knapp Commission.

On May 3, 1971, New York Metro Magazine published an article about Serpico titled “Portrait of an Honest Cop”. Frank Serpico retired on June 15, 1972, one month after receiving the New York City Police Department’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Serpico, a biography written by Peter Maas, sold over 3 million copies. The book was adapted for the screen in the 1973 film titled, Serpico, which was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Al Pacino in the title role. In 1976 David Birney starred as Serpico in a TV-movie called, Serpico: The Deadly Game. This led to a short-lived Serpico TV series the following fall on NBC.

Serpico still speaks out against police brutality, the weakening of civil liberties and corrupt practices in law enforcement. On June 27, 2013 the USA Section of ANPS (National Association of Italian State Police) awarded him the “Saint Michael Archangel Prize”, an official honor by the Italian State Police and the Italian Ministry of Interior.

Antonin Scalia (1936 -)

Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey. His father, Salvatore Eugene Scalia, was an immigrant from Sicily, who was a graduate student and clerk at the time of his son’s birth, but who later became a professor of Romance languages at Brooklyn College. His mother, Catherine Scalia (née Panaro), was born in the United States to Italian immigrant parents and worked as an elementary school teacher.

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When Antonin was six years old, the Scalia family moved to Elmhurst, Queens, in New York City. After completing eighth grade in public school, he obtained a scholarship to Xavier High School in Manhattan, where he graduated first in his class. In 1953, Scalia enrolled at Georgetown University, where he graduated valedictorian and summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in history in 1957. While at Georgetown, he also studied at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and went on to study law at Harvard Law School, where he was a Notes Editor for the Harvard Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law in 1960, becoming a Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University. The fellowship allowed him to travel throughout Europe during 1960–1961.

On September 10, 1960, Scalia married Maureen McCarthy, whom he met on a blind date while he was at Harvard Law School. Maureen Scalia had been an undergraduate at Radcliffe College where she later obtained a degree in English. The couple raised nine children, five boys and four girls.

After spending six years in a Cleveland law firm, Scalia became a law school professor. In the early 1970s, he served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, first in minor administrative agencies and then as an assistant attorney general. He spent most of the Carter administration teaching at the University of Chicago, where he became one of the first faculty advisers of the Federalist Society. In 1982, he was appointed as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Ronald Reagan.

In 1986, Scalia was appointed by Reagan to the Supreme Court to fill the associate justice seat vacated when Justice William Rehnquist was elevated to Chief Justice. Scalia was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first Italian-American justice. As the longest-serving justice currently on the Court, Scalia has been described as the intellectual anchor of the Court’s conservative wing. In his years on the Court, Scalia has staked out a conservative ideology in both his opinions and in constitutional interpretation. He is a strong defender of the powers of the executive branch, believing presidential power should be paramount in many areas. He opposes affirmative action and other policies that treat minorities as groups. He files separate opinions in large numbers of majority opinion cases and, in his minority opinions, often castigates the Court’s majority decisions.

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Italian Breads

Regional Foods of Piedmont – a region of northwest Italy.

Piedmont’s forested foothills provide mushrooms and white truffles that add depth to risottos and pastas. Rich foods in general are featured with anchovies, garlic and gorgonzola cheese often in their recipes. The breadstick is also characteristic of Piedmontese cuisine. Grissini were actually invented at the end of the 17th century to cure the health problems of young Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy. The Duke had major difficulty digesting most foods and the court doctor commissioned the court baker to make an extremely light bread. The baker decided to take dough used to make ghersa, a typical bread of Turin, and stretch it out into long, thin strips. Once baked, the thin breadsticks were crisp and easy to digest. Thanks to this recipe, the duke’s health improved and, after a couple of years, he was able to take the throne. He was crowned king in 1713. Legend has it that the ghost of the King, with grissini in hand, still haunts the rooms of his old castle.

Grissini

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 envelopes active dry yeast (4 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions

In a saucepan, warm the milk. Add the yeast and sugar and let stand until slightly foamy. Pour the milk into a large bowl. Add the flour, butter, salt and oil and stir until a stiff dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead until elastic, about 5 minutes. Lightly oil the bowl and return the dough to it, turning to coat. Cover with a towel; let rest until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. (You can also use an electric mixer to make the dough.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat down. Cut into 5 pieces and roll each piece into a 10-inch square. Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt. Using a ruler and a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1/3-inch-wide strips. Transfer to the baking sheets. Bake the grissini for 12 minutes or until golden and crisp, shifting the pans as necessary for even browning. Let cool completely before serving.

 Focaccia genovese

Regional Foods of Campania – a region south of Rome on the west coast of italy.

Its capital, Naples, is the birthplace of Pizza Margherita (a tomato, basil and mozzarella pie) and its pizzerias are praised around the world. The area, which includes Pompeii and the Amalfi coast, is also famous for its San Marzano tomatoes, seafood and pasta. Campania is agriculturally rich: Tomatoes, chestnuts, figs, beans, onions, artichokes, lemons and apples flourish in the rich soils under Mount Vesuvius. Fresh, still-warm mozzarella, floating in brine; bubbly, wood-fired pizza and just-caught shellfish tossed with pasta are just a few of the can’t-miss dishes. The most famous Campania food product made from Sorrento lemons is limoncello (or limunciel, as the Campanians call it), a liqueur that is the result of an infusion of lemon peel in pure alcohol.

Focaccia Genovese

You can add rosemary, onion or oregano to season the focaccia, however the most traditional version calls for no extra flavorings.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast

Directions

In a bowl of an electric mixer, add the water, yeast and olive oil, then cover the liquid with flour. Add the salt. Mix the ingredients with the paddle attachment until combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic.

Coat a baking dish, roughly 9″ x 13″ and 2″-3″ deep liberally with olive oil.

Stretch the dough until it is roughly the shape of the pan, lay it in the pan and push it into the corners to fit. Wiggle the pan back and forth to make sure the bottom of the dough is coated and slides smoothly. Cover and let rest an hour or until it has risen by half.

Create an interesting pattern of indentations using your fingers, coat the top with yet more olive oil to fill the indentations and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 20 minutes.

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Regional Foods of Sicily

Separated from the peninsula by the narrow Strait of Messina, Sicily sits at the toe of the Italian boot. Grapes are not the only fruits that thrive in the warm Sicilian sunshine. Oranges, lemons and figs also love the climate and rich volcanic soils. Eggplant and tomatoes are also in abundance. The waters around Sicily provide tuna, sardines, anchovies and swordfish. Dry pastas come in every shape and size in Sicily. The local olive oil is often poured over pastas and used to marinate fish. Local cheeses include the hard Pecorino Siciliano and creamy ricotta.

Sicilian Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 packet dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups golden durum flour or semolina -( if using semolina, grind in a blender a quarter cup at a time with some of the white flour until it becomes powdery)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Directions

Dissolve yeast in warm water, let stand 5-10 min. until creamy. Stir in olive oil.

Mix together golden durum flour and salt and stir into yeast mixture. Slowly stir in 1/2 all purpose flour. Spread 1 cup all purpose flour on a work surface and turn the dough out onto the flour. Knead until silky, about 10 minutes. Work in more flour as needed. (You can also use an electric mixer to make the dough.)

Form dough into ball, oil a large bowl, place dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover, let rise 1 1/2 hours or until doubled. Without punching down, shape dough into a loaf.

Heavily dust a peel or baking sheet with flour. Place loaf on the baking sheet or peel and brush with water.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and press seeds into dough. Cover and let rise for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for 30 minutes with a baking stone or tiles on the middle rack.

Spray the oven with water to create steam and slide bread onto the baking stone and spray with water again. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying with water during that time.

Reduce heat to 400 degrees F and bake 40-50 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow.

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Make-ahead meals put you in control of your schedule. You do the preparation when you have some extra time on the weekend, then you have some quick, home-cooked meals when things get hectic later in the week. Prepping ingredients ahead of time or assembling the full meal for reheating can make the dinner hour more relaxed and manageable.

There are several ways to make your meals ahead of time. You can assemble a dish early in the day or the night before and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to heat it in the oven. Or you can completely cook your meal, freeze it and then heat it at mealtime.

You can also get all the ingredients for a recipe prepped and even partially cooked, in most cases for up to two days ahead.

Many slow-cooker recipes are suited to being prepared ahead of time. Slow-cooker dishes like stews and chili also lend themselves to being refrigerated or frozen and reheated.

You can do “big batch” cooking on the weekend and have dinner for several nights during the week, Freeze the rest for future meals

Most casserole-type dishes lend themselves to being made ahead, like tuna noodle casserole, au gratin style dishes, chicken enchiladas or a creamy chicken and rice dish. Meatloaf, Chicken Parmesan and crab cakes, can all be prepared ahead and then cooked or reheated.

Soups often benefit from being made ahead because standing time allows the flavors to blend and most homemade salad dressings taste better when they are made a day in advance.

Freeze any leftover soup or stew in freezer containers with tight-fitting lids. Because food expands when it freezes, leave about 1/2 inch of headspace below the rims of the containers.

Taking an hour and a half on the weekend to tackle some preliminary preparation and cooking will save you precious time during the week.

Here is a suggested game plan for a busy week:

The Menu

Monday: Honey Mustard Chicken With Rice and Peas

Tuesday: Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage and Tomato Salad

Wednesday: Panko-Topped Fish with Greek Salad

Thursday: Vegetarian Spinach Rice Casserole and Carrots

Friday: Cheeseburgers with Pineapple-Mango Salad

Grocery List

Produce

  • 2 Limes
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 ½ lbs broccoli tops
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 4 medium plum tomatoes
  • 1 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 1 mango
  • 1 small bunch mint
  • 1 lb pkg carrot chips ( diagonal sliced carrots)

Meat, Poultry & Seafood

  • 1 lb chicken breast cutlets
  • 12 oz package Italian cooked chicken sausage
  • 1 lb thin white fish fillets
  • 1 lb lean ground beef

Dairy

  • Small wedge Parmesan cheese
  • Carton of eggs
  • 4 oz container Feta cheese
  • 8 oz pkg shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz pkg American or Swiss Cheese

Grocery

  • 1 jar Honey
  • 1 jar Dijon mustard
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 16-oz box whole wheat rotini pasta
  • 16-oz package regular brown rice
  • 8-oz box Panko Italian flavored breadcrumbs
  • 7-oz tub pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 package English muffins

Frozen

  • 16-oz pkg. frozen chopped spinach
  • 10 oz pkg. frozen peas that are enclosed in a cooking pouch

Already Have at Home

  • Vegetable oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Garlic Powder
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Italian dried seasoning
  • Dried Oregano
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Italian salad dressing
  • Ketchup

Suggested Plan for the Weekend Prep:

  • Make 6 cups of brown rice according to package instructions. Divide rice in half and store each half in an airtight microwave container in the refrigerator for dinner on Monday and Thursday.
  • Mix together the Honey Mustard Glaze for Monday’s chicken dish (recipe below). Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
  • Chop Tuesday’s broccoli into smaller florets and refrigerate in a plastic ziplock bag.
  • Zest and squeeze one lemon. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Chop scallions for Thursday’s casserole and place in a ziplock bag. Grate Parmesan cheese and store in an airtight container.
  • Freeze fish for Wednesday’s dinner on parchment paper in a single layer on a baking sheet for 1 hour, or until firm, then place on the parchment in a single layer in an airtight freezer container.
  • On Wednesday evening place frozen spinach in the refrigerator to defrost overnight.
  • Combine the burger ingredients for Friday’s dinner. Form into burgers as directed in the recipe and layer the uncooked patties between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight freezer container. Freeze. Move to the refrigerator to defrost on Thursday.
  • Cube pineapple and mango. Place in an airtight container.
  •  If you have time you can prepare and bake the rice casserole on Sunday and reheat it on Thursday.

Monday

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Honey Mustard Chicken With Rice and Peas

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound chicken breast cutlets
  • Hot cooked brown rice
  • 10 oz pkg. frozen peas in a cooking pouch

Directions

In a small bowl whisk together the mustard, honey, lime juice and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside the remaining glaze in a small bowl.

Lightly brush both sides of chicken cutlets with the 2 tablespoons of glaze.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chicken cutlets in the pan. They should not be touching. (If there is not enough room in the pan to cook the cutlets all at once, saute them in batches.) Cook the cutlets for 3 – 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. The cutlets should be lightly browned and cooked through.

Boil water in a medium saucepan and drop the frozen peas in a pouch in the saucepan and cook according to directions.

While the chicken is cooking, reheat the rice in the microwave.

Spoon rice onto serving plates. Top with chicken cutlets and drizzle with reserved glaze mixture. Serve peas on the side.

Tuesday

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Pasta with Broccoli and Italian Sausage

Pre-cooked chicken sausage keeps dinner prep down to the time is takes you to cook your pasta. Suggested sausages are from Al Fresco or Bruce Aidell. Serve with sliced plum tomatoes drizzled with Italian salad dressing.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 ounces dried whole wheat short pasta
  • 1 ½ pounds broccoli florets
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 links (12 oz.) cooked Italian chicken sausage, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian dried seasoning
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring chicken broth and water to boiling in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Four minutes before the pasta is finished, add the broccoli to the pot. Just before draining, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain and return the pasta and broccoli to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the sausage slices until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the sausage and any olive oil in the pan to the drained pasta mixture. Stir in the lemon peel, lemon juice, salt, Italian seasoning and enough of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Serve topped with cheese and the tomato salad on the side.

Wednesday

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Panko-Topped Fish with Greek Vegetable Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

Fish

  • 1 pound tilapia or other thin white fillets, cut into 4 portions, if necessary
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko Italian flavored bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges

Salad

  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced (1 cup)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degree F.

Place frozen fish with the parchment paper from the freezer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl stir together the panko and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Sprinkle evenly over fish. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until fish flakes when tested with a fork and crumbs are golden.

While the fish bakes, mix together in a medium bowl cucumber (save the other half for Friday’s salad), tomatoes, green onions, olives, 1 tablespoon oil, vinegar, oregano and pepper. Gently stir in feta cheese.

Serve fish with lemon wedges and Greek Salad.

Thursday

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Vegetarian Spinach Rice Casserole and Carrots

While the casserole is baking or reheating, Cook the carrot chips in a microwave safe bowl.

6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Casserole

  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 16 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced green onions
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (6 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan

Carrots

  • 16 oz pkg fresh sliced carrot chips
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Heat rice in the microwave.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put thawed spinach into a colander, then use your hands to squeeze out as much of the water as you can.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Add the sliced green onions, dried Italian seasoning, salt and garlic powder. When ingredients are combined, mix in the drained spinach. Then mix in the mozzarella cheese and the 1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan, followed by the warmed brown rice. Use a fork to mix until the ingredients are well-distributed into the rice.

Put the mixture into a round casserole dish that you’ve sprayed with oil or nonstick spray. Cover the dish and bake about 35 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the cheese is melted. Uncover and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, then bake 10-15 minutes more.

Carrots

While the casserole is baking, combine carrot ships, honey and salt in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Remove bowl from the microwave and stir the ingredients. Return the bowl to the microwave and cook 5 minutes more.

Friday

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Cheeseburgers with Pineapple-Mango Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

Burgers

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 English muffins, split and toasted
  • 4 slices American or Swiss cheese
  • Burger condiments

Salad

  • 3 cups cubed peeled and cored fresh pineapple
  • 1 mango, seeded, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint

Directions

In a large bowl mix together the beef, scallions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.  Shape mixture into four 1/2-inch thick patties.

Heat a stove top grill pan or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties about 5 minutes per side or until done to your liking (150-160 degrees F).

Top burgers with a slice of cheese about a minute before they are completely cooked.

For the salad: in a medium bowl mix together the pineapple, mango, cucumber, lime juice and honey. Stir in mint.

Serve burgers on English muffins with condiments of choice.

Additional Recipe For Your Slow Cooker

Make this recipe ahead and refrigerate for reheating during the week or freeze for a future meal.

Italian Braised Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken thighs, skinned (If you like drumsticks, use half drumsticks and half thighs)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 15 1/2 oz can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and cut into thin wedges
  • 1 medium yellow sweet pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 ounce diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon of snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions

Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper. Place chicken in a 3 1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker. Top with drained beans, fennel, sweet pepper, onion, garlic, rosemary, oregano and crushed red pepper. In a medium bowl, combine undrained tomatoes, wine, tomato paste and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; pour over mixture in cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Sprinkle each serving with cheese and parsley.

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69208_631304800228285_414594421_nIf you and your children regularly skip breakfast in the interest of saving time, calories or getting a few more minutes of sleep, remember that eating a wholesome, nutritious morning meal will probably save you time in the long run. By recharging the brain and body, you’ll be more efficient in just about everything you do. While adults need to eat breakfast each day to perform their best, children need it even more. Their growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food. If you and your children seem unable to make time for breakfast, consider enrolling your children in a school breakfast program, if possible, or pack a breakfast brown-bag or smoothie the night before that can be eaten on the way to school and work.

Some people skip breakfast in an effort to lose weight, but the practice is more likely to cause weight gain than weight loss. Skipping breakfast is strongly linked to the development of obesity. Studies show that overweight and obese children, adolescents and adults are less likely to eat breakfast each morning than their thinner counterparts. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more food than usual at the next meal or nibble on high-calorie snacks to stave off hunger. Several studies suggest that people tend to accumulate more body fat when they eat fewer, larger meals than when they eat the same number of calories in smaller, more frequent meals.

Are you skipping breakfast because you are trying to limit calories ? To teens, especially teenage girls, skipping breakfast may seem like a perfectly logical way to cut down on calories and lose weight. However, skipping breakfast can lead to a number of problems when it comes to trying to lose weight and keep it off. If you are trying to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, consider the following reasons to eat breakfast every morning. Eating breakfast is a great way to get your metabolism working well for the day. When your body receives food in the morning, it tells your brain that you’re going to need to start working to digest it. This wakes up the system and warms up the metabolism, so it’s ready to work throughout the day. When you don’t eat breakfast in the morning, your body thinks that it needs to conserve the energy it has because it isn’t getting any more through nutrition. This actually slows your metabolism down, which results in a decrease in the amount of calories you burn all day long.

Feeding yourself in the morning will keep your spirits up throughout the day for a number of reasons. First, since your body won’t think that it’s starving after a nutritious meal in the morning, it’s easier to get in a good mood and stay that way. It also provides plenty of needed energy to help you get through the regular tasks of your day, which can help keep your mood bright and optimistic. Second, a healthy meal in the morning can also help to regulate your blood sugar levels until lunch time, which plays a vital role in your mood.

Overall, eating something for breakfast is better than eating nothing at all. Although, the more balanced your meal is, the better off you will be. Instead of a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast that will leave you feeling heavy and sluggish within just a few minutes, consider having a fruit smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh berries, which will invigorate your body and give you the energy needed to get through the day.You can also save time by preparing breakfast in advance. See below for some of my recommended recipes.

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 cups of steel-cut oats
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Toppers, such as dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, or snipped apricots; coconut; chopped nuts; brown sugar; maple syrup; low fat milk, fat free half-and-half. See additional suggestions below.

Directions

In a 3 1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker combine the water, oats and salt. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 1/2 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

Top each serving with desired toppers. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Prepare as directed in Step 1, except stir 1/2 cup apple butter and 1/4 cup dried cranberries into oat mixture before cooking. Top each serving with vanilla yogurt and cinnamon.
  • Prepare as directed in Step 1. Stir 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter into cooked oatmeal. Top each serving with strawberry jam and granola.

Top each serving:

  • with sliced banana and chopped peanuts. Drizzle with honey.
  • with fresh raspberries and/or blueberries and chopped pistachio nuts.
  • with cubed mango and toasted coconut. 
  • with purchased trail mix and snipped dried apricots or mixed dried fruit.
  • with fresh blackberries, graham cracker crumbs and toasted chopped walnuts.

Breakfast Pita Pizzas

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms or vegetable of choice
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (1 small)
  • 3 ounces mozzarella cheese or cheese of choice, cubed (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion (1)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 whole wheat pita bread round, split horizontally
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, drained well

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and green pepper; cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, green onion, garlic, Italian seasoning and black pepper.

Place pita halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each with the mozzarella cubes. Top with vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Allow to cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat for 1 to 2 minutes in the microwave or 4 to 5 minutes in the toaster oven.

Easy Frittata

Prepare this casserole the night before. It can bake in the oven while you watch your favorite TV show. If you have leftover meat you want to include, replace ½ cup of the fresh vegetables with a ½ cup of cooked meat.

Serves: 8 (square slices)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 sweet medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 5 cups chopped vegetables of choice (zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, red bell pepper, asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli florets, leftover cooked potatoes)
  • 12 large eggs or 3 cups refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons low fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a glass baking dish (9 x 13 or 8 x 11 or similar size dish) with cooking spray.

In a skillet, saute onions and vegetables in olive oil until tender for 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk eggs; add shredded cheese, milk and seasonings. Fold in cooked vegetables. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly brown and puffed on top and firm. Let rest for 10 minutes. Cut into 8 squares, wrap individually and refrigerate or freeze.

The next morning reheat a square in the microwave or toaster oven for your breakfast. If frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

Almond Cereal Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 cups whole-grain cereal flakes (such as, Kashi or Kellogg’s)
  • 2 cups oat and bran O cereal (such as, Cherrios)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, unsweetened dried cherries or other dried fruit of choice

Directions

Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, microwave the almond butter and honey on high for 30 seconds, then stir until blended.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the cereals and dried fruit. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until warmed.

Gradually stir the almond butter mixture into the cereal until thoroughly and evenly coated. Press into the prepared pan. Refrigerate until set and firm. Cut into 10 bars.

Pack each bar (only 144 calories) in plastic wrap or freezer bags and refrigerate or freeze for a grab-and-go breakfast. If frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

Yogurt Fruit Cups

4 servings

Love the convenience of yogurt with fruit in the bottom but hate the added sugars? Make your own with fresh fruit and rich Greek yogurt for a more healthy breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 1 pint strawberries or whatever fruit is in season
  • 1 17.6-oz. tub nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (about half of a medium lemon
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey

Directions

Rinse, hull and finely chop the strawberries. Toss with the lemon zest and sugar in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to soften and become slightly syrupy.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk and Greek yogurt together.

Alternate 2 layers of fruit and yogurt in four 8-oz. Mason jars or other lidded container of your choice.

Yogurt cups will keep in the refrigerator for about a month. So, you can double or triple the batch to have plenty on hand.

Make-Ahead Breakfast Sandwiches

Makes 12 sandwiches

  • 12 Whole Grain English Muffins (100% whole wheat)
  • 12 large eggs
  • Salt, to taste
  • 12 thin slices ham or cooked Canadian bacon
  • 12 thin slices white American cheese

Directions

Spray a 12 cup muffin tin generously with cooking spray. Crack 1 egg into each spot. Break each yolk with a fork. Sprinkle each egg lightly with salt.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until eggs are completely set.

Remove eggs from pans using a spoon and let them cool on a large platter.

Cut English muffins in half and toast them. (Either in a toaster or in the oven on a baking sheet at the same time you are baking the eggs).

Place 1 slice of cheese on the bottom muffin half of each sandwich. Top with a slice of ham or bacon. Add 1 egg. Close the sandwich.

Wrap each sandwich in plastic wrap then in aluminum foil and freeze.

When ready to serve, remove all packaging and wrap the sandwich in a white paper towel.

Microwave for 1 minute on 50% power. Turn sandwich over and microwave for 1 more minute on 100% power.

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