Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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Rizzo’s Malabar Inn Crabtree, PA

Italian Easter Specialties at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn  Crabtree, PA

Most regions in Italy have their favorite sweet breads, pies and cookies that are served at Easter time. Dolci (dessert) is an important part of the Easter feast. Chocolate eggs are, of course, among the favorite. The Pastiera Napoletana is another authentic Easter tradition; originating in Naples, this cake is made with cooked wheat, ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange-blossom water. The Pizza Pasqualina, a dessert made with cinnamon and chocolate, is a specialty of northern Lazio. In Sicily, cassata and cannoli are the traditional dessert; and in Sardinia, casadina (made with a thin puff pastry and stuffed with ricotta and raisins)  is usually served. Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread) is a famous Easter treat made all over Italy.

It you are on a gluten-free diet, you do not have to miss out on these traditional Easter treats. If your favorite dessert calls for a large amount of flour in the recipe, purchasing a gluten-free all-purpose flour mixture will be the key to preparing these treats. These mixes are often made up of a mixture of gluten-free binding and rising agents like xanthum gum, baking powder, baking soda and a variety of gluten-free flours, such as: brown rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, almond flour, teff flour and sorghum flour.

I am sharing recipes below for traditional Easter treats and their gluten-free counterparts. eastertreats2

Easter Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana di Grano)

Filling

  • 1 ¼ cups cooked (4 oz uncooked) soft wheat or bulgur or Basmati rice
  • 1 ¾ cups of sugar
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
  • 1 ½ cups of ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Grated zest of one organic lemon
  • Just under a cup of whole milk (about 7/8 ths)

Pastry

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 8 oz (one stick) very cold butter
  • 1/4 cup of sugar,
  • 1 egg plus one yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Egg Wash

Directions One day ahead prepare the wheat or rice for the filling: Rinse hulled wheat or rice with water and place in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. The next day drain the wheat and place in a saucepan with enough milk to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Cool completely for use in the recipe. Prepare the pastry dough: Mix the ingredients together in a processor by hand, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for a half hour before using. Prepare filling: In a saucepan place the milk, the cooked grain, the butter and the lemon zest. Simmer together on low heat for about 10 minute, mixing often, until all of the ingredients have formed a creamy mixture. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. In a food processor combine the ricotta, the sugar, the eggs, the vanilla, the cinnamon and the orange liqueur. Pour the ricotta into the wheat or rice mixture and mix together. Cut the dough into 2 pieces, making 1 piece twice as large than the other. Using a lightly floured rolling-pin, roll out the larger dough piece to fit into and cover the sides of  a 10-inch springform pan (a springform pan makes it easier to remove the pie) or 2 inch deep pie dish. Roll the pastry dough out as thin as possible — less than 1/8th of an inch thick is about right. Butter and flour the baking dish. Pour the filling for the pie into the baking pan. Roll the other piece of dough very thin. Cut this into strips and place across the top of the pie, in a criss-cross pattern. Press the dough edges together with a fork. Beat one egg with one tablespoon of water and brush the top of the pie. Bake the pie for about an hour at 380 degreesF. The top of the pie should be golden and the pastry strips very shiny. Once it’s baked, let the pie to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

For The Gluten-Free Version

Use the same filling but use rice instead of wheat berries. Flour the pan with gluten-free flour. Make and use the following pastry instead of the one in the traditional recipe.

Gluten-Free Double Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour or homemade brown rice flour blend (recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold butter or trans fat-free vegetable shortening (such as Spectrum)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Cold water, if necessary

Directions Whisk together the flour or flour blend, sugar, xanthan gum and salt. Cut the cold butter or shortening into pats, then work the pats into the flour mixture until crumbly. Whisk the eggs and lemon juice together until very foamy. Mix into the dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture holds together, adding 1 to 3 additional tablespoons cold water if necessary. Shape into a ball and chill for an hour or up to overnight. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.Divide the dough as described in the original recipe. Roll out on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper that’s been heavily sprinkled with gluten-free flour or flour blend. Follow the directions for filling and baking in the original recipe. Homemade Brown Rice Blend Whisk together 6 cups (32 ounces) brown rice flour; 2 cups (10 3/4 ounces) potato starch; and 1 cup (4 ounces) tapioca flour or tapioca starch. Store airtight at room temperature. Note: You can substitute white rice flour for the brown rice flour if you like; it’ll make your baked goods grittier (unless you manage to find a finely ground version). Easter treats1

Ricotta Pie

This pie is gluten-free. Orange marmalade, heated briefly in the microwave to make it pourable, is a delicious topping for this pie. Yield: 9″ pie, 8 to 12 servings Crust

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon water

Filling

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep or use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan. To make the crust: Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then add butter and water. Knead dough until well combined. Then press the dough into the pie plate, working the mixture up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling. To make the filling: Mix together all the filling ingredients in an electric mixer and beat slowly until well combined. Pour the filling into the crust; it will come nearly to the lip of the pan. Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until lightly brown around the very outside edge, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F. The pie will still look quite unset in the center. Remove the pie from the oven and cool it to room temperature. Once it’s cool, refrigerate until chilled. Serve pie plain or with the topping of your choice. eastertreats5

Sweet Italian Easter Bread

Makes 2 large braids Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 envelope of yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water, about 110 degrees
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 uncooked but colored eggs, optional
  • Frosting and Multi-Colored Sprinkles, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little bit of water to make an egg wash

Directions In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter together just until the butter melts, set aside to cool. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar to the warm water and stir to mix, then sprinkle the yeast over top of the warm sugar and water and set aside for about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, mix together the eggs and sugar until combined, add the butter and milk mixture, the yeast and water mixture, the vanilla and orange zest and mix until all the wet ingredients are well combined. Switch the attachment to a dough hook and add 4 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt, mix until a soft dough forms. Gradually add a little more flour, if needed (1/4 to 1/2 cup ) to make a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes or until the dough is very smooth. Shape dough into a ball. Lightly grease a large bowl with some vegetable oil, place the ball of dough in the oiled bowl and brush a tiny bit of oil over the top as well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for about 1-1/2 hours or until it has doubled in volume. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and brush them lightly with some melted butter, set aside. Once the dough has risen turn it onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down and cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 22 inches long. Lay 2 ropes at a time side by side in front of you and loosely braid them together. Lift the braid onto one of the prepared baking sheets and pinch the ends to seal so now you have a circle. Place 3 colored eggs in each circle lengthwise, tucking them between the ropes. Do exactly the same process with the other 2 ropes. Cover with plastic wrap and place them somewhere warm for 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Brush the tops of the breads with the egg wash. Bake them for 30 minutes or until golden, making sure to rotate the baking sheets halfway through for even baking. Let them cool completely. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles, if desired and serve.

Gluten Free Easter Bread

Makes 4 small braids Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, such as King Arthur
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 4 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 uncooked but colored eggs, optional
  • Frosting and Multi-Colored Sprinkles, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little bit of water to make an egg wash

Directions To make the dough: Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixer bowl. Add the soft butter, blending on low-speed until coarse crumbs form. Add the oil, milk, egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes; scrape the bowl down again. Cover the dough and let it rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until visibly puffy. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Once the dough has risen, preheat oven to 375°F. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Knead one piece on a surface floured with gluten-free flour; divide the dough into 3 equal pieces; roll into 12-inch long ropes and pinch the top portions together; braid; pinch the ends together; form into a circle and pinch circle closed. With a wide spatula, transfer to one side of the baking sheet; repeat with second piece of dough and place on the other side of the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and form two more braids and place them on the second baking sheet. Brush the tops of the braided breads egg wash; place a colored egg to the center; bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown. Reverse the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack to cool completely. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles, if desired and serve. eastertreats4

Anginettes (Italian Lemon Cookies)

Makes 36 cookies Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour

Frosting

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3 tablespoons of milk

Directions Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, baking powder and extract then slowly add flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F Roll one rounded tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on parchment covered cookie sheets. Cookies do not spread, so you can place them close together. Bake for approx 8-10 minutes. Remove when the cookies are still light in color, but do not bounce back when touched. These cookies can dry out if you bake them too long. Cool on a rack For the Frosting Mix until the sugar-coating is of medium consistency, dip the top of the cookie in the icing, let the icing flow down along the sides of the cookies. Top with colored sprinkles.

Gluten-Free Anginettes

Makes 36 cookies

  • 2 ½ cups Gluten-Free Baking Flour, such as King Arthur’s or Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1/2  cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons trans-fat free shortening, cut in small pieces, such as Earth Balance or Spectrum
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum.  Cut in the shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.   Mix in eggs and vanilla. Pull off walnut-size pieces and roll into a ball.  Place on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake 10-12 minutes. Use the frosting ingredients and directions from the traditional recipe.


eggsandcover

It can be challenging to serve eggs when you are entertaining house guests. A simple solution is to bake them. Eggs baked in the oven are delicious and offer an alternative to your usual sunny side up or over-easy preparations. You can bake them in individual dishes or in a baking dish and you can add whatever ingredients you like. Additions well suited to eggs are spinach, tomatoes, asparagus, cheese, prosciutto or ham and lots of herbs.

I like baking them in a tomato sauce to make a hardier, meatless entrée and, then, serve them with some delicious sides to make a satisfying lunch or dinner. Serve this meal with some really good crusty Italian bread.

eggsand1

Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 8 large eggs

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Set four 12-ounce ovenproof bowls or ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add garlic and rosemary; cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes (with juice), crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Season tomato sauce with salt and pepper.

Divide tomato sauce among the bowls, reserving 1 cup. Crack 2 eggs into each bowl.

Dividing evenly, top each dish with ¼ cup reserved sauce and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Bake until egg whites are just opaque (yolks should still be soft), 24 to 28 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

eggsand2

Potato-Leek Hash

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 3 medium leeks–white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Directions

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook until a paring knife easily slips into the center of a potato, 15 – 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Dice the potatoes and place in a bowl.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter, the black pepper and red pepper flakes, swirling the pan until the butter is melted. Stir in the leeks and cook, stirring often, until the leeks are browned and crisp around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the leek mixture to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the oregano and use a fork to stir the mixture until combined, (don’t overmix).

In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is melted, let it brown, swirling often, about 1 minute. Add the potato mixture and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, spreading it out into an even layer in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the bottoms of the potatoes are crisp and browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with the chives. Serve alongside the baked eggs.

eggsand3

Spinach Florentine

Besciamella Sauce

Makes 2 cups of sauce

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot whole milk
  • Fine sea salt to taste
  • Grinding coarse black pepper

Spinach

  • 2 one pound packages fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

For the sauce

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook the mixture over medium heat until it thickens on the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.

Cook the spinach in a large pot without any additional water. When it is wilted, drain it and squeeze it dry. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic and the spinach and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the besciamella sauce and transfer the mixture to a baking dish.

Spoon the remaining sauce over the top of the spinach and sprinkle the top with the cheese.

Bake about 15 minutes or until the mixture is hot. Serve as a side to the baked eggs.

eggsand5

Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta
  • Splash white wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Directions

Submerge the mushrooms in cold water, swish around to wash thoroughly and drain. Trim the ends, slice and place in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the mushrooms and mix.

Place the garlic and olive oil in a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until the garlic begins to sizzle but not brown, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, stir and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until all moisture is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

While mushrooms are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the tagliatelle pasta. When the water has come to a boil, add salt and the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, add a splash of white wine to the mushrooms and let simmer for 1 minute. Add cream and grated cheese and bring to a simmer. Remove pan from the heat.

When pasta is al dente, add to the pan of mushrooms and stir. Serve with the baked eggs.

eggsand4

Garlic-Roasted Asparagus

When making this recipe to go with the baked eggs, cook the asparagus first. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cover the pan with heavy-duty foil. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake the eggs.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus spears
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Place asparagus and garlic in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until asparagus are crisp-tender, stirring once halfway through roasting. Serve with the baked eggs.

eggsand6

Italian Green Bean Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds (675 grams) flat Italian-style green beans or regular green beans, ends trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 6 garlic cloves, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the beans and 1 tablespoon salt. Boil until the beans are tender, with no crunch, 8 minutes. Drain in a colander but do not rinse. Let the beans cool and air dry in the colander.

Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and toss with the olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. Serve at room temperature.


Vegetables,herbs and spices for Italian food

How to make your Italian meals healthier:

  • The satisfaction you’ll get from your food will be much greater if you manage to cook a couple of meals from scratch each week. You’ll also know exactly what’s going into your food. Make your own sauces and meatballs from scratch and, on the weekend, when you have more time make your own bread.
  • Wherever possible, buy ingredients that are in season. The typical Italian diet uses fresh produce and this helps to give dishes a great deal of flavor. It also  means you don’t have to add fat, salt or sugar to improve the taste. Italians love to wander around local markets to select their ingredients – it’s part of enjoying food and cooking.
  • When you are preparing to cook pasta you shouldn’t allocate more than 2-3 oz of dried pasta per person. I find a kitchen scale helpful in determining the right portions. Often people make the mistake of cooking the whole package of pasta and eating far too much. Also take care not to overcook pasta. Al dente (firm to the bite) pasta is better for you than soft, overcooked pasta. Italians lightly coat their pasta instead of drowning it with sauce. Excessive sauce just adds on the calories and fat content without adding any extra flavor. 
  • Olive oil is much better for you than many regular cooking oils and definitely better than cooking with butter or margarine, if you are trying to eat healthy. Olive oil is high in good fats, like monounsaturated and omega 3, as well as containing anti-oxidants.
  • Try to eat fish twice a  week. Fish is a very important part of the Italian diet and you will find many healthy Italian recipes for shellfish, seafood stews and fish.
  • Swap high calorie desserts for a fruit salad or fresh sliced fruit, as the Italians do, instead of cake after dinner. If you buy fruit when it is in season, you’ll find the taste rewarding and it will tame the sugar cravings.
  • Use beans more often and replace some of the meat in your recipes with beans.
  • When dressing your salads use a good quality balsamic vinegar so that you can reduce the amount of oil you mix with it. Balsamic vinegar is low in calories and to make a healthy dressing just mix it with a little extra virgin olive oil as a replacement for creamy salad dressings or mayonnaise.
  • Add plenty of flavor to grilled steak or grilled fish with a gremolata instead of a cream sauce.  A gremolata is an Italian garnish of raw, finely chopped garlic, fresh chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon zest and, when it is sprinkled on top of your fish or meat at the end of cooking, it adds flavor without a lot calories or fat.
  • Every mealtime in an Italian home is important and, as a result, we are very aware of and appreciate the food we consume. Avoid having the TV on and other distractions and concentrate on what and how much you’re eating and who you are eating with to make dinner an enjoyable occasion.

lighter1

Tenderloin with Tuscan Beans

Serve with a green vegetable, such as sautéed spinach or kale.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic/herb seasoning
  • 1 beef or pork tenderloin  (1 1/4–1 1/2 lb)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or stock
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried, julienne-cut tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Chop shallot, prosciutto (you will need about 1/3 cup) and basil. Set aside.

Preheat a large skillet on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Sprinkle seasoning over meat. Place oil in the pan, then add meat; cook 6–8 minutes, turning as needed, until browned on all sides.

Transfer meat to a  baking sheet and bake 10–12 minutes or until meat reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Return the skillet to heat on medium. Place prosciutto in the pan; cook and stir 2 minutes (until lightly crisp). Add remaining ingredients (except basil);simmer 2–3 minutes or until hot.

Stir in basil. Slice meat thinly and serve alongside the beans.

lighter4

Easy Cassoulet and Olive Bread

This dish can be made over the weekend and heated for a quick weeknight dinner.

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 3 large carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cans cannellini beans (15-16 oz), drained
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (14 oz) can (2 cups) crushed Italian tomatoes

Directions

Preheat a Dutch Oven on medium 1-2 minutes. Place oil and bacon in the pan; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until bacon starts to brown.

Add garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pan; cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned.

Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover pan.

Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until chicken pulls apart easily with a fork.

Remove cover and cook 7-8 minutes (without stirring) so mixture can thicken slightly. Serve with Olive Bread. (Recipe below.)

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Easy Olive Bread

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 lb prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 (4.25-oz) can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • All-purpose flour, for rolling dough

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Chop basil.

Pat pizza dough out on a floured board. Sprinkle the surface with the olives, cheese and basil and fold dough over several times until well blended.

Knead 3–4 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Place dough on baking sheet, forming it into a 15-inch loaf. Make two 1/4-inch slits diagonally across the top. Let stand 10 minutes to rest.

Bake the bread 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F. Bake 8–10 more minutes or until golden. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

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Creamy Sausage Mushroom Pasta

Serve with oven-roasted asparagus.

Serves 6

Ingredients

Lighter Alfredo Style Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups low-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 oz shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

Pasta

  • 1 large leek, coarsely chopped
  • 2 links mild Italian pork or turkey or chicken sausage (8 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz rigatoni pasta
  • 8 oz fresh sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Directions

To make the sauce:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in flour. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 6 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cream cheese and salt, stirring with a whisk until the cheeses melt.

To make the pasta:

Bring salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Chop leek (white part only; 1 cup) and chop parsley.

Remove sausage casing.

Preheat a large sauté pan on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Add sausage; brown 3-4 minutes, stirring to crumble the meat, or until no pink remains.

Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente following package instructions.

Remove sausage from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Add oil, then add mushrooms and leeks; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until tender.

Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in wine; simmer 2-3 minutes or until reduced by about one-half.

Stir in Alfredo sauce; bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta and sausage; cook and stir 1 minute. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and parsley. Serve.

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Sautéed Balsamic Fish With Vegetable Orzo

Serve with steamed broccoli.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • 1 teaspoon zested lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons homemade or store-bought basil pesto, divided
  • 1/3 cup finely diced plum tomatoes,
  • 1/3 cup finely diced onions
  • 1/3 cup finely diced bell peppers
  • 4 white fish fillets, (tilapia, haddock or flounder, etc.) 5-6 oz each
  • 2 teaspoons dried salt-free garlic/herb seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Directions

Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil and stir in the orzo; cook and stir 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to low; simmer and stir often for 3-4 more minutes or until the orzo is tender and most of liquid has been absorbed. It is important to stir the orzo to prevent sticking. No draining will be needed.

Stir in 3 tablespoons pesto, tomato, onion and bell pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice. Remove pan from the heat and cover; set aside.

Preheat a large skillet  on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Season fish on both sides with the garlic/herb seasoning. Place the oil in the pan, then add the fish; cook 1-2 minutes or until fish is lightly browned. Turn fish over.

Combine broth, vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons pesto. Add to fish; cook 2-3 minutes or until mixture reduces by about one-half and fish flakes easily.

Divide orzo.among four dinner plates, top with fish and some of the sauce.

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Eggs over Spinach and Polenta

Look for the polenta in the refrigerated produce section of your supermarket. Serve crusty Italian bread and a mixed green salad with this quick meal.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) tube of prepared polenta
  • Olive oil cooking spray and olive oil
  • 2 cups homemade marinara sauce
  • 1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese

Directions

Preheat broiler

Cut 8 polenta slices off the log, each about ½ inch thick

Arrange polenta slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Lightly brush the tops of the polenta with olive oil. Broil 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Bring the sauce to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in spinach; cover and cook for 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Stir to combine. Make 4 indentations in the spinach mixture using the back of a wooden spoon. Break 1 egg into each indentation.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until eggs are the desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle with cheese. Place 2 polenta slices on each of 4 plates; top each  with one-fourth of the spinach mixture and 1 egg.


LOST IN WINTER  by Leonid Afremov

LOST IN WINTER by Leonid Afremov

Tips For Eating Healthy

Choose whole, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal, unrefined and unprocessed foods. You’ll typically find the least processed foods around the perimeter of the store.
Eliminate artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats from your diet.
Beans, nuts and legumes are great sources of plant-based protein.
Eat a colorful variety of plants to ensure you’re getting the best nutrients for your body.
Nuts, seeds and avocados (all plant-based whole foods!) are great micronutrient-dense sources of healthy fats.
Minimize or eliminate extracted oils (like canola) and processed fats (like margarine).

Dinner # 1

healthydinner1

Citrus Salmon

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 2 oranges
  • 1/2 cup sweet white wine, such as Riesling (or chicken broth)
  • 4 (6-oz) salmon fillets, skin removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt-free garlic/herb seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 1 tablespoon country Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

Chop garlic and dill.

Cut half the orange into 1/4-inch-thick slices (rounds), then cut slices into quarters. Squeeze remaining 1 1/2 oranges for juice (about 1/2 cup).

Place wine, orange juice, garlic, dill and orange slices in large sauté pan and cover; bring to a boil on medium-high. Reduce heat to low; simmer uncovered 7 minutes.

Season salmon on both sides with the garlic seasoning and pepper. Add salmon to the wine mixture; simmer 4 minutes on each side or until salmon reaches 145°F on an instant read thermometer (or opaque and separates easily). Transfer salmon to serving dish.

Add marmalade and mustard to the wine mixture; cook and stir 1 minute or until marmalade dissolves and sauce thickens. Remove pan from the heat; gently stir in butter.

Pour sauce over salmon. Serve.

Asparagus-Almond Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb fresh asparagus spears
  • 3 tablespoons smoked almonds
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Cut asparagus into bite-size pieces, removing the tough root end.

Chop almonds. Shave the cheese. Halve the tomatoes.

Preheat a large, nonstick sauté pan on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Place oil in the pan, then add asparagus; cook and stir 3 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, vinegar and pepper; cook and stir 2–3 more minutes or until the tomatoes and asparagus are softened.

Remove pan from the heat; sprinkle with nuts and cheese. Serve.

Dinner #2

healthydinner3

Seasoned Pork with Lemon Couscous

Ingredients

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped, unpeeled eggplant
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion (1 medium)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 – 1/2 inch thick boneless pork loin chops
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 ¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach

Directions

In a large skillet heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over medium heat. Add eggplant, garlic and red onion; cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove to a bowl.

Meanwhile, trim fat from the chops. Sprinkle chops with Italian seasoning.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add chops; reduce heat to medium. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until just pink in the center (145 degrees F on an instant read thermometer), turning once. Remove from heat; let rest in the pan for 3 minutes. Place pork chops on a platter and cover with foil.

Return eggplant mixture to the skillet and add broth and dried tomatoes. Bring to boiling. Stir in couscous, lemon peel, lemon juice and salt; remove from the heat. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in spinach. Divide couscous mixture among serving plates. Top with chops.

Dinner #3

healthydinner5

Carrot Ginger Soup

Serve a small cup of this soup with the baked egg dish below for a meatless dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • Juice from 1 orange, about ¼ cup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups (32 oz carton) vegetable broth

Directions

Sauté onion in olive oil until it begins to soften.

Add carrots and cook for 3 minutes.

Add ginger and continue cooking for 2 minutes.

Add broth and bring to a boil, simmer covered for 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Purée soup in a blender or with a hand immersion blender until just blended.

Add orange juice and reheat.

healthydinner4

Parmigiano-Reggiano Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard

Serves 4

Serve with thick slices of your favorite bread.

Ingredients

  • Butter for the ramekins
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4 cups packed thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves (reserve chard stems for another use)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 2 small tomatoes, halved, seeds removed, diced 
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously butter 4 (6-ounce) ramekins or small gratin dishes.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add chard; cover the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until chard is tender, 8 to 10 minutes; add a few tablespoons of water if the skillet begins to dry out. Remove from the heat and pour off any excess liquid.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and half of the tomato. Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared ramekins. Break an egg into each ramekin and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Pile remaining tomato around the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake until the egg whites are  set, about 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Dinner #4

healthydinner6

Panko-Crusted Steak Over Vegetable Ragù

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 8 oz whole baby portabella mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, divided
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean steak (such as filet, sirloin or top round)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut zucchini, onion, tomato and bell pepper into 1/2-inch pieces.

Cut mushrooms in half.

Whisk tomato paste, water and balsamic vinegar until smooth; toss with vegetables and 1 teaspoon of the Italian seasoning. Place vegetables on a baking sheet in a single layer; bake 15-20 minutes or until tender. Remove to a serving platter.

Combine remaining 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, panko bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and paprika until blended. Coat both sides of the steak with the bread crumb mixture. Place steak on a second baking sheet; bake 10-12 minutes or until the temperature reaches 145°F on an instant read thermometer (for medium-rare). Slice the steak and serve over the vegetable ragu..

Note: If you unable to find smoked paprika, regular paprika will work as well.

Dinner #5

healthydinner2

Tuna Parmesan

Ingredients

  • 4 – 5 to 6 ounce fresh or frozen tuna steaks
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces fresh asparagus
  • 1 – 5 ounce package mixed baby salad greens
  • 1/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions

Thaw fish, if frozen. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Finely shred 2 teaspoons peel from one lemon. Squeeze juice from the lemon.

For the dressing:

In a small bowl whisk together the lemon peel and juice, olive oil, pepper and salt; set aside. Cut the remaining lemon into wedges; set aside.

Snap off and discard woody bases from the asparagus. Place asparagus in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Bake, uncovered, for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the tuna dry with paper towels.

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the dressing over medium heat. Add tuna; cook for 8 to 12 minutes or until browned and the center is slightly pink.

Divide greens among serving plates; top with tuna and asparagus. Drizzle remaining dressing over all. Top with the shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve with lemon wedges.


breakfast 1

Americans tend to eat the same thing when it comes to breakfast. The vast majority of us, surveys say, start our days with Starbucks or cold cereal — and those of us with children are more likely to buy the kinds of cereal with the most sugar. Children all over the world eat corn flakes and drink chocolate milk, of course, but in many places they also eat things that would strike the average American as strange.

In Australia –  a bowl of cold cereal

In Brazil –  ham, cheeses and bread, served with coffee and milk

In China – Dim Sum

In Cuba – cafe con leche (coffee with milk) with a tostada

In England –  eggs, sausage, bacon, beans and mushrooms.

In France – croissants and coffee

In Germany – cold meats, local cheeses and fresh-baked bread

In India – fermented black lentils and rice served with chutney and sambar

In Japan – miso soup, steamed white rice and pickles.

In Morocco – bread, jam and cheese

In Nigeria – moi moi, a ground bean paste that is wrapped in leaves and steamed

In Russia – sirniki or baked farmers cheese pancakes and hot oatmeal

In Turkey – bread, cheese, butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam or honey

In italy – a cappuccino and sweet roll or biscotti

While the benefits of eating breakfast are well-known —  it can prevent weight gain, boost short-term memory, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, and even make us happier — most of those health rewards depend on choosing the right foods. You want to aim for a breakfast that combines good carbs and fiber with some protein. Good choices include eggs, whole grains, fruit, peanut butter and yogurt.

Some Quick Fix Options

  • For a portable breakfast: Place in a ziplock bag: a cut up apple, 2 ounces of cheddar cheese cubes and ¼ cup of fiber and protein-rich walnuts.
  • Instead of dousing a whole-grain toaster waffle in syrup, cut the sugar and boost the protein and fiber by spreading it with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
  • Take a slice of crusty bread, spread it with 3 tablespoons of low-fat ricotta and add sliced plum tomatoes. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil (about 1 teaspoon) and a little salt and pepper. Place under the broiler for a minute or two.
  • Slice a hard-boiled egg, then roll it in an 8-inch whole-wheat tortilla with a slice of lean ham and a slice of cheese. Add a tablespoon of salsa for a shot of flavor.

Feel like trying something different for breakfast, check out these recipes:

breakfast 2

Mini Spinach Frittatas

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 24 – 1/8 inch thick slices of fully cooked Italian chicken sausages

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a small bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Place a sausage slice in each of 24 greased miniature muffin cups. Fill muffin cups three-fourths full with the spinach mixture.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until completely set. Carefully run a knife around the sides of the muffin cups to loosen the frittatas. Serve warm. Yield: 2 dozen.

breakfast 5

Fruit Crumble

1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon almond meal or almond flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Toppings

  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar for garnish – optional
  • 1 teaspoon slivered almonds
  • Additional fresh fruit, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Combine the fruit and the 2 tablespoons of almond flour. Toss until well coated.

Place in a 6” oven safe bowl leaving about 1 inch at the top for the crumble topping.

Combine the remaining 1 teaspoon of almond meal, butter, oats, vanilla and cinnamon. Spoon over the fruit.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Garnish with almonds, additional fresh fruit and confectioners’ sugar.

breakfast 4

Creamy Breakfast Polenta

If crème fraîche is unavailable, use lightly sweetened sour cream.

Makes about 6 cups; 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups low-fat (2%) milk
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons blackberry jam
  • Lightly sweetened  crème fraîche

Directions

In a 2 1/2 to 3 quart pan over high heat, bring 3 cups water and the milk to a boil. Reduce heat so liquid is barely boiling. Stirring constantly, pour in polenta in a thin, steady stream, pausing occasionally to break up any lumps. Stir in sugar and salt.

Simmer, stirring often, until polenta is soft and creamy to the bite, about 20  minutes (if heat is too high, bubbles may “spit” hot polenta out of the pan).

Ladle polenta into bowls and top each serving with about 1 tablespoon blackberry jam and a dollop of crème fraîche.

breakfast3

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce

Serve with a slice of baguette for dipping.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 green bell pepper (seeded and finely chopped)
  • 1/4 cup red onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 2 cups crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt (divided)
  • 8 medium eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped

Directions

In a wide, deep skillet, heat oil on medium. Add bell pepper, onion, oregano, coriander and cayenne and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.

Add tomatoes, orange juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine and increase heat to medium-high. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

Crack 1 egg into a small bowl or cup. Gently slip the egg into the sauce without breaking the egg; repeat with the remaining eggs, leaving 1-inch between each egg. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle remaining  salt ove rthe top. Cover and simmer gently until egg whites are opaque and yolks are firm, 6 to 8 minutes. Carefully ladle sauce and eggs into serving bowls and top with chopped parsley.

breakfast 6

Mini Pancakes with Greek Yogurt and Fruit

Makes 10-12 depending on the size of your muffin cups.

Ingredients

Batter

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond-milk or low-fat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Toppings

  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup fresh berries or fruit in season, plus extra for garnish
  • 1/2 cup sliced frozen peaches, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite jam

Directions

Pre­heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place all of the batter ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth.

Pour batter into greased or lined muffin cups, filling half­way.

Bake for 15 ­to 18 minutes or until puffy and brown. The pancakes will deflate when you remove them from the oven.

Place a few sliced peaches on top of the pancake. Spoon on a tablespoon of yogurt followed by a teaspoon of jam. Decorate with berry slices, if desired.

 


grains cover

Grains are made up of three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the high-fiber outer coating. The germ is the protein and nutrient dense portion. The endosperm is a source of carbohydrate, along with some protein. A grain is “whole” if these three parts have been left intact. If it’s processed (e.g., cracked, rolled), it’s still considered a whole grain, if it retains its original balance of nutrients. When grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed (taking many nutrients with them), leaving just the endosperm. An example of a refined whole grain is white rice (though usually white rice is enriched to replace some of the nutrients stripped during processing).

grains wheatberries

Wheat berries

The terms “hard” and “soft” refer to the protein and gluten content of wheat. Hard wheat is made into pasta and bread flour, while soft wheat (lower in protein and gluten) is milled into pastry flour. Wheat berries can be cooked whole for a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Once cooked (simmered in boiling water for up to an hour), they are a great addition to soups, stews, salads and desserts.

grains polenta

Polenta

Polenta is made from ground corn, as is cornmeal. They differ in how they’re ground (in both the method and the fineness of the grind). Polenta makes a delicious base for sauces (ragu, mushroom, gorgonzola) and sausages; it’s also good grilled or layered in casserole dishes.

grains short brown

Short Grain Brown Rice

Short Grain Brown Rice has fat kernels that are plump and round. They have a high starch content, which helps keep it moist and sticky. Short grain rice can be used for risotto if soaked overnight or parboiled before making the risotto.

Warm Farro and Mushroom Salad

Farro

Farro is the Italian name for emmer wheat, an ancient strain of hard wheat from the Fertile Crescent in western Asia. Often confused with spelt due to their similar taste and texture, farro comes in perlato (pearled) and semi-perlato (semi-pearled); opt for semi-perlato as it has more of the fiber-and nutrient-rich bran intact (or buy whole farro if you can find it). It comes in three grades: long, medium or cracked. If you purchase long or medium farro, you will need to crack it yourself in a coffee grinder or blender for maximum freshness.

Farro is beloved in Italy – and more recently in North America and other European countries as well – for its roasted, nutty flavor and distinctive chewy texture. Because farro contains a starch similar to that found in Arborio rice, it behaves much like risotto, releasing a creamy, binding liquid when cooked. But unlike risotto, farro doesn’t become gummy; instead, it retains its tender, distinct bite, even if it sits awhile after cooking.

Farro’s tough husk makes it more difficult to process than other commercially produced grains, but that husk also helps protect the grain’s vital nutrients. With a higher fiber and protein content than common wheat, farro is also rich in magnesium and B vitamins. As a type of wheat, farro is unsuitable for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat sensitivity or allergy.

Note: as with all grains, pearled farro will take less time to cook than semi-pearled, which will take less time to cook than whole.

Cooking time: 25-40 minutes. Liquid per cup of grain: 2 cups

How to cook farro: Combine with water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for up to 40 minutes, or until grains are tender and have absorbed all of the liquid.

grain stew

Farro and Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semi pearled farro
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini (2 small)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 2 chopped celery stalks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • Parmesan cheese (4 ounces), grated

Directions

Rinse farro. In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups water to boiling. Stir in the farro. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain.

In a large skillet bring the 3 cups of chicken broth to boiling. Add the chicken breasts, salt and pepper. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink (165 degrees F). Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a cutting board. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop or shred chicken. Set aside. Reserve broth.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven heat the olive oil and add the onions, zucchini, celery and carrots. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in oregano and crushed red pepper. Stir in reserved broth, tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in cooked farro and chopped or shredded chicken. Cook and stir until heated through. Top with grated cheese.

grains casserole

Breakfast Polenta Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup red onion (1 small), diced small
  • 1 1/4 cups unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes (1 large), diced small
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces Italian pork sausage, casings removed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse polenta
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

The night before serving:

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet and sauté the onions over medium-low heat until golden brown. While the onions are cooking, steam the potatoes in a small amount of water in a covered pot until they are tender.

Add the steamed potatoes to the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook the potato/onion mixture until the potatoes are browned. Set aside in a covered bowl.

Cook the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks, until it is no longer pink. Drain and cool. Refrigerate the onion-potato mixture and the sausage separately overnight.

The next morning:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To prepare the polenta,

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the polenta, Italian seasoning and a ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and smooth (approximately 7 minutes).

Pour the polenta into an ungreased 9×13-inch baking dish. It will firm up as you scramble the eggs.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pour in the eggs and scramble them until slightly firm but still wet. Remove from the heat. (The eggs will finish cooking in the oven.)

Spread the potato mixture, sausage, Parmesan and cheddar over the polenta. Pour the eggs on top of the entire dish. Bake until heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Cool slightly and serve.

grains peppers

Farro-Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1 (14 ½) ounce can vegetable broth
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ½ cups corn
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup snipped fresh basil
  • 4 large red sweet peppers

Directions

In a medium saucepan combine broth, farro and water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain farro, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid; set both the farro and cooking liquid aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the Italian seasoning. Add corn and green onions. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in reserved farro, salt and black pepper; cool slightly. Stir in 1/2 of the cheese and 1/2 of the basil.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds and membranes from the peppers. Fill pepper halves with the farro mixture. Place stuffed peppers in a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Pour the reserved cooking liquid into the dish around the peppers. Cover dish with foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 15 minutes more or untilthe  peppers are crisp-tender and cheese is melted. Sprinkle with remaining basil.

grains risotto

Brown Rice Risotto

Add your favorite ingredients, if you wish.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or large shallot, chopped
  • Black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups any chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley

Directions

Bring medium pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste. Stir in brown rice, adjust heat so that water bubbles steadily, and cook without stirring, until rice is swollen and half-tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. (Alternate, soak rice in water to cover overnight. Drain)

Put oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion or shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; add the wine. Stir and let liquid come to a boil. Reduce heat slightly.

Begin to add the stock, about ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

When rice is just about tender and mixture is creamy, add the Parmesan, then taste and add more salt or pepper (or both) if necessary. Garnish with basil or parsley and serve.

grain oie

Italian Pastiera (Wheat Berry Pie)

Pastry

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons icy water as needed

Directions

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to mix the dry ingredients.

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and drop them in through the feed tube along with the lemon zest and pulse the machine in short bursts, about 10 times. The mixture should be crumbly.

Put in the eggs and pulse a few times to mix the eggs into the dry ingredients.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of the dough. Pulse 6 times for just a second or two. The dough should resemble cottage cheese. Pick up some dough and press it together. If it doesn’t hold together, add another teaspoon of water until the dough holds together.

Scrape the dough onto a floured board and knead to form a smooth, tight dough.

Press into a flat disc and wrap the dough in plastic. Refrigerate for a few hours before using.

Filling

  • 32 oz. ricotta, drained
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water (or orange flower oil)
  • 1/2 cup minced candied citron, lemon peel and orange peel
  • 1/3 cup hulled wheat berries soaked overnight and boiled in lightly salted water for about 30 minutes or until tender. (Use pearl barley or cooked rice if you can’t get the wheat berries.)

Directions

Put the ricotta, eggs, sugar and orange flower water in a large bowl and mix the ingredients well.

Mix in the candied fruit and wheat berries.

To Assemble the Pastiera

Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.

Cut off about 1/3 of dough and set aside.

With a rolling-pin, roll out the remaining pastry dough to about 15 inches in diameter. It should be about 1/8 inch thick. Flour the board and top of the dough to avoid the dough sticking to either the board or the rolling-pin.

Place the dough in the pan to fully cover the bottom and sides.

Cut off any excess dough from the pan rim. If the dough breaks just patch it.

Pour in the ricotta mixture.

Tap the pan on the board to ensure the filling is well settled.

Roll out the reserved dough into a 9×12 inch rectangle (the pastry should be about an 1/8 inch thick) and cut 1/2 inch lattice strips on a diagonal.

Loosely place the lattice on top of the ricotta mixture. (You can brush a beaten egg wash on the lattice and rim crust to get a more golden color.)

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the ricotta filling is well set and a skewer place in the center comes out dry. Rotate the pastiera once to ensure even baking.

Dust the top with confectioners sugar. Serve at room temperature.


1280px-Ipomoea_batatas_006

Although sweet potatoes may be part of the Thanksgiving tradition, be sure to add these naturally sweet vegetables to your meals throughout the year; they are some of the most nutritious vegetables around. Sweet potatoes can be found in your local market year-round, however they are in season in November and December.

They also have many health benefits.

1.  They are high in vitamin B6.

2. They are a good source of vitamin C.

3.  They contain Vitamin D.

4.  Sweet potatoes contain iron.

5.  Sweet potatoes are a good source of mag­nesium.

6.  They are a source of potassium.

7. Sweet potatoes are sweet-tasting but their natural sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream.

8. Their rich orange color indicates that they are high in beta carotene and other carotenoids.,

In the U.S., there is often much confusion between sweet potatoes and yams. They are completely different foods, belonging to different plant families. This confusion exists for two reasons. First, as a shopper, it is possible for you to find sweet potatoes and yams that look reasonably alike in terms of size, skin color and flesh color. Second, government agencies have allowed these terms to be used interchangeably on labeling, so that you often cannot rely on the grocery store signs to help you determine whether you are looking at a bin full of sweet potatoes or a bin full of yams. For example, in many stores you can find bins that are labeled “Red Garnet Yams” and “Jewel Yams” and the foods in these bins are actually sweet potatoes.

Here are some general practical rules that you can follow:

  • In most U.S. groceries, you should assume that you are always purchasing a sweet potato, even if the sign says “yams.” Over 1 million sweet potatoes are commercially grown in the U.S. each year, while commercial production of yams in the U.S. is rare.
  • Don’t use flesh color to decide whether you are getting a sweet potato or a yam. Both root vegetables come in a variety of colors. Once again, you should assume that you are getting a sweet potato regardless of the flesh color.
  • If you are seeking a true yam (from the plant genus Dioscorea), it might be helpful to visit a more internationally focused store that specializes in foods from tropical countries.

The sweet potato is a tropical plant that was brought to Italy and Spain by Columbus. From there it spread to Austria, Germany, Belgium and England. Within the U.S., over half of all commercially grown sweet potatoes come from the southern states (especially North Carolina).

Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and do not have any cracks, bruises or soft spots. Avoid those that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce department since cold temperatures negatively alter their taste.

Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place (in a brown paper bag with multiple air holes punched in it) where they will keep fresh for up to ten days. They should not be kept in the refrigerator.

Try them roasted, mashed, steamed, baked or grilled. You can add them to soups and stews or grill and place on top of leafy greens for a delicious salad. Puree them and add to smoothies and baked goods.

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Sweet Potato-Sausage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced large
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 sweet potatoes (1 pound total), peeled and diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup small pasta shells
  • 4 cups roughly chopped mixed greens, such as kale, Swiss chard or spinach
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes, broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 3 minutes less than the package instructions. Reduce to a simmer, add greens and cook until the pasta is tender and greens are wilted, about 4 minutes. Serve with Parmesan.

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Sweet Potato Frittata

The peppers and sweet potatoes can be cooked ahead of time.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper, roasted and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, roasted and thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds (about 3) sweet potatoes
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 5 egg whites (or refrigerated egg substitute)
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bunch (about 6 ounces) greens, blanched and chopped
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese (plus more to garnish)
  • Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Char the peppers on an open fire or under the broiler. Steam them for five minutes in a bag or covered bowl and peel. Seed them, then cut into 1/4-inch strips.

Bake potatoes in the oven or in the microwave until they are tender. Allow them to cool to room temperature. When the potatoes have cooled, peel them and cut into 1/4-inch slices.

Beat whole eggs, egg whites and Italian seasoning together and season with salt and black pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, 10-inch ovenproof sauté pan. Add the onions and sauté until brown. Remove to a bowl and season onions with salt and pepper.

Return sauté pan to the stove on medium heat and add the remaining olive oil. Add a layer of potatoes, followed by 1/3 of the onions, peppers and greens. Pour a third of the egg mixture over the vegetables. Repeat until all of the ingredients are in the pan. You may need to push the layers of the frittata down gently so that all of the ingredients are covered by the egg mixture. Sprinkle top with feta cheese.

Place the pan in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the eggs are set and the top is golden brown.

Slide onto a warm serving platter, garnish with chopped parsley and additional feta cheese. Cool for five minutes. Slice and serve.

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Serves 8 as a First Course

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 lb russet (baking potatoes)
  • 1 (3/4-lb) sweet potato
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sage leaves 
  • 1/3 cup bottled roasted chestnuts, very thinly sliced with a sharp vegetable peeler
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

GNOCCHI:

Preheat oven to 450°F with the oven rack in middle.

Pierce potatoes in several places with a fork, then bake in a 4-sided pan until just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Cool potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer into a sheet pan, spreading in an even layer. Cool potatoes completely.

Lightly flour 2 or 3 large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

Beat together egg, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.

Scoop potatoes into a mound in the sheet pan, using a pastry scraper, if you have one, and form a well in the center.

Pour egg mixture into the well, then mix into the potatoes. Mix in cheese and 1 1/2 cups flour, then knead, adding more flour as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with some flour.

Cut dough into 6 pieces. Form 1 piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rope on a lightly floured surface. Cut rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Gently roll each piece into a ball and lightly dust with flour. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.

Fork_Sweet_Potato_Dough

Turn a fork over and hold at a 45-degree angle, with the tips of tines touching work surface. Working with 1 at a time, roll gnocchi down the fork tines, pressing with your thumb, to make ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi as formed to floured baking sheets.

SAGE LEAVES AND CHESTNUTS:

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry sage leaves in 3 batches, stirring, until they turn just a shade lighter and crisp (they will continue to crisp as they cool), about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt.

Fry chestnuts in 3 batches, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt. Reserve oil in the skillet.

SAUCE:

Add butter to oil in the skillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

COOK GNOCCHI:

Add half of the gnocchi to a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water and stir. Cook until they float to the surface, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the skillet with the butter sauce. Cook remaining gnocchi in same manner, transferring to the skillet as cooked.

Heat gnocchi in the skillet over medium heat, stirring to coat.

Serve sprinkled with fried sage and chestnuts and grated cheese.

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Italian Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

4 servings

Vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon olive
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 lb), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges each

Pork

  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 3/4 to 1 lb each)
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, if desired

Directions

Heat oven to 425°F.

In large bowl, mix the 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the garlic together. Add the sweet potatoes and onions; toss to coat. Spread in a 9×13-inch pan. Roast uncovered 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, brush pork tenderloins with the 1/2 tablespoon oil. In a small bowl, stir together 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt and the Parmesan cheese.

Move vegetables to the center of the baking pan; place one pork tenderloin on each side. Sprinkle seasoning mixture evenly over pork.

Roast uncovered 20 to 25 minutes longer or until thermometer reads 155°F. Cover pan with foil; let stand 5 minutes or until thermometer reads 160°F. (Temperature will continue to rise about 5°F, and pork will be easier to carve.)

Cut pork into 1-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter with sweet potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with parsley.

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Sweet Potato Latte

Ingredients

  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee crystals
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Cinnamon stick

Directions

Prick sweet potato several times with a fork. Wrap potato in a damp paper towel. Microwave on 100 percent power (high) for 3 minutes. Turn potato over; microwave for 2 to 3 minutes more or until tender. Cool slightly. Remove and discard peel. Mash potato with a fork; measure 1/3 cup. Save any remainder for another use.

In a blender combine the 1/3 cup mashed sweet potato, almond milk, brown sugar, coffee and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (according to taste). Cover and blend on high-speed for 1 minute.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until heated through. Transfer to a heat-proof mug. If desired, sprinkle with additional ground cinnamon and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Makes one serving.



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