Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Cheese

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Abruzzi is located in the mountains along the Adriatic region of Italy and the cuisine is known for simple but hearty meals. A typical meal prepared in Abruzzi will feature diavolicchio, a combination of olive oil, tomatoes and chili peppers. Chili peppers are used often to spice up recipes, typical for much of Southern Italy. Rosemary, garlic and wine are also used extensively in Abruzzi cooking. Despite being more expensive per gram than truffles or caviar, saffron is used in many recipes and most of Italy’s saffron is produced in Abruzzi.

abruzzi

Abruzz’si cuisine is famous for artichokes and cardoons, legumes and potatoes and they are often enjoyed in soups. Cacio e Uova is a soup made from vegetables and salt pork and sometimes lamb, in a chicken base that relies on grated pecorino and eggs for a thick, creamy texture. Zuppa di cardi combines cardoons, relatives of the artichoke, with tomatoes and salt pork. The tiny mountain lentils are cooked with fresh chestnuts, pork and tomatoes with herbs to make zuppla di lenticchie. The traditional Christmas lunch begins with chicken broth, cardoons, tiny lamb meatballs and raw egg scrambled into the broth or fried chopped organ meats added to the soup just prior to serving.

Atessa-Abruzzo-Italy

Abruzzi recipes feature fresh seafood from the Adriatic, such as, Brodetto, a peppered seafood soup. Port cities also prepare fresh fish in a salty vinegar based dressing. Octopus is cooked in tomatoes and hot peppers and called “polpi in purgatorio”. Garlic, peppers and rosemary are used to season an anchovy and monkfish dish, called coda di rospo alla cacciatora. Fish and crayfish also come from inland freshwater ways.

The countryside of Abruzzi is dotted with herds of sheep and goats, making the preferred meats, lamb and kid. These meats are simmered slowly in sauces to serve over platters of polenta or pasta and served family style. Large pieces of spit roasted lamb are frequently eaten in Abruzzi, especially on special occasions. Another lamb dish of the region, agnello alle olive, is slowly cooked in a sealed clay casserole dish along with olives, lemons, hot peppers and oregano.

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While beef is not as popular as in other areas of Italy, many households have their own herds of free ranging pigs. This yields meat for curing. Mortadellina, ventricina and salsicce di fegato pazzo are locally made table ready sausages that are enjoyed with bread. Abruzzi recipes such as ‘Ndocca ‘ndocca make use of the ribs and other parts of the pig that might otherwise be wasted, such as skin, ears and feet. This stew is flavored with vinegar, rosemary, bay leaf and peppers. Pork sausage is also enjoyed baked into the savory pizza rustica along with cheese and eggs.

guitar pasta

Abruzzi cuisine begins many meals with a pasta course. Maccheroni alla chitarra, or guitar pasta, is a classic Abruzzi dish. This egg dough is cut into the classic quadrangular shape with an instrument resembling an acoustic guitar. This is traditionally served with a lamb and tomato sauce seasoned with tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and bay leaves. Lasagne Abruzzese layers sheets of pasta with spicy meat and tomato sauce.

Abruzzi cooking often calls for a crepe called scrippelle. These crepes are filled with flavorful ingredients and then used in other dishes. With scrippelle ‘mbusse, the crepes are served in chicken stock with grated pecorino cheese. In timballo di crespe, the crepes are placed in elegant molds with vegetables, cheese and meat and baked.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Hot Pepper

spaghetti with oil

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is a traditional recipe from the Abruzzi region of Italy.

Ingredients for 4 people

  • 14 oz (400 grams) spaghetti
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 peperoncino ( hot peppers)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water.
A few minutes before draining the pasta, heat 1/4 cup of oil, add the garlic and the peperoncino and cook slowly until the garlic turns golden. Add the sauce to the drained spaghetti, toss well and serve immediately.

Chicken and Peppers Abruzzi-Style

Chicken-cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 lb chicken; cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh hot chili peppers; chopped
  • 4 whole cloves garlic; peeled
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves; chopped
  • Salt
  • 24 cherry tomatoes
  • 12 small black olives

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a deep ovenproof skillet with a lid that is large enough to contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding, add oil, garlic and rosemary to the pan – turn the heat to high. Add the chicken and arrange the pieces with the skin side facing down in one layer. When well browned, turn the pieces and brown on the other side. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and chili peppers and transfer the chicken to a large plate, skin side up.

Add the onion and the bell peppers to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the olives and cherry tomatoes and, once the tomatoes are hot, pour in the wine and simmer over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up. Cover the pan and braise in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer dish to a large warm platter and serve at once with crusty Italian bread.

Timballo di Patate

potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds potatoes 
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
  • Chopped parsley 
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Directions

Cook potatoes whole, in water, peel them. Mash potatoes mixing in mozzarella, eggs, grated cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
Place mixture in a 12x9x2 inch (or 9 inch round) pan, of which the inside surfaces have been oiled (or buttered) and sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking. Heat at 425 degrees F. in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Serves 12.

Easter Ricotta Tarts with Saffron

soffioni

During Easter time the Abruzzi people celebrate the holiday with traditional sweets called soffioni or “big puffs”. The name refers to the look these mini tarts get while baking. Their filling is made with fresh ricotta and flavored with citrus zest and saffron. The expensive spice is a local ingredient from the fields around the small town of Navelli. It takes the inner part of 150 flowers (called crocus) to yield 1 gram of dry saffron and the brief harvest occurs once a year, when the flowers bloom around mid October.

12 pastries

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for the work surface
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium eggs plus 1 egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 1 pinch of saffron threads
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 cups of sheep’s milk ricotta or cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained
  • Zest of 1 small lemon, finely grated
  • Vegetable oil or butter for coating
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Prepare the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, olive oil, eggs plus the egg yolk and salt. Work the dough just until it comes together in a smooth and firm ball. Wrap it with plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature while making the filling.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the filling:

If you have an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, use it to make the filling. Remember to clean the bowl and the beater before beating the egg whites.

In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads with the back of a teaspoon.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks in an electric mixer with the sugar until light and pale colored. Add the saffron, ricotta and lemon zest. Continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Set aside.

In another bowl or in a clean electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until light and fluffy. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolk and ricotta mixture.

Take the dough out of the wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface into a square, about 1/8 inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter (or a knife), slightly trim the edges and then cut the pastry evenly into 12 squares.

Coat a 12 cup muffin baking pan with vegetable oil or butter and lightly dust with flour. Press the pastry squares into the muffin cups, making sure to leave the four corners hanging over the edges. With a spoon divide the ricotta filling among the 12 pastry cups without overfilling and then fold the corners over the center of the filling. They should not seal but remain partially separated from each other.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 320 degrees F and continue baking for another 15 minutes until the tarts are golden.

Let cool at room temperature and then carefully remove the tarts from the muffin pan. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

 

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Easter

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

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

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

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

bloody mary

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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BalancedLunch

Eating a healthful lunch can help control blood glucose, hunger and weight. Lunch is a chance to keep you full until dinner and fit in some important food groups. Get more mileage out of your lunch by including fiber from whole grains and protein from low-fat dairy products and other lean protein sources.

Build a Balanced Lunch

Studies show people who tote their meals with them weigh less, eat more healthfully and spend less money.

When compiling your midday meal, remember this simple formula, even at home: whole grain + dairy/protein +vegetables = healthy lunch.

Include whole grains for the starch portion of your meal. You’ll get hearty satisfaction from grains with all their fiber and nutrients intact. This will be your main carbohydrate source.
The dairy/protein digests more slowly than carbohydrates, helping you feel satisfied and adding staying power to your lunch. Vegetables add color, flavor and antioxidants to your meal.

If you love sandwiches, use a variety of whole-grain breads, pitas and wraps. Choose lean fillings like sliced eggs, tuna fish, cheese or lean meats. Then add interest to your sandwiches with assorted greens, fresh basil, sliced cucumbers, onions, pickled peppers and tomatoes.

But sandwiches are far from your only option when you’re brown-bagging it. Last night’s dinner, anything you enjoy at home can, be packed up and eaten for lunch. In fact, you might want to make extra food for dinner, so you’ll have leftovers to bring for lunch. Leftovers are the perfect food to pack and take for lunch because you can control the portions and calories in the meal to ensure it will be nutritious, filling and delicious.

For example, pack the leftovers from last night’s casserole into a reusable container that can be microwaved at the office. Add some carrot, celery and pepper strips for a hearty and satisfying lunch. To take this idea a bit further, try cooking in bulk. On the weekend, make a big pot of chili, chicken noodle soup or rice and beans and freeze into individual portions that are ready to take to work in a flash.

Keep it cold. For safety’s sake, pack lunch with a reusable ice pack.

Pasta Lover’s Lunch Salad. Make the salad with lean meat or fish, some cubed or shredded cheese (for protein), lots of vegetables to boost fiber and nutrition and usevwhole wheat or whole-grain pasta. Toss everything together with a vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil or canola oil. Pack into individual lunch containers.

Mediterranean Pita Pocket. Fill a whole wheat pita with homemade or store-bought hummus, tabouleh and sliced cooked chicken. All you need is a piece of fruit to round out the meal.

Fruit and Cheese Plate. Fill a divided plastic container with assorted cubes or slices of cheese and easy-to-eat fruit, such as apple and pear slices, grapes, berries or melon. Add some whole-wheat crackers to your lunch.

Everything Is Better on a Mini Bagel. Whole-wheat bagels are a wonderful foundation for sandwiches that stand up to being in a backpack or desk all morning. Start with two mini bagels. Add tuna, smoked salmon, oven baked turkey or roast beef. Top it off with cheese, fresh tomato, onion and Romaine lettuce. Two mini bagels can supply 6 grams of fiber to the meal.

Enjoy Lunch Salads. A plastic container can hold the makings of a delicious salad lunch. For a Cobb salad, fill it with spinach or chopped dark green lettuce, chopped hard-boiled egg, shredded cheese, lean ham or turkey. Or toss in the ingredients for a chicken salad: dark salad greens, shredded chicken, shredded carrots, sliced green onion and toasted sliced almonds. Pack the dressing separately and add it to the salad just before eating.

Lunches at Home

Include more whole foods and choose lunch items with higher amounts of fiber and nutrients (like calcium, protein and vitamin C). Include fewer processed foods such as cookies, chips and snacks, which have higher sodium, added sugar and saturated fat.

spicypoachedegg

Spicy Poached Eggs

5 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 large eggs

Directions
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and peppers. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onion starts to turn translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, paprika, oregano, cayenne and salt. Add the tomato mixture to the skillet with the onions and peppers and stir. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Make 5 hollows in the tomato mixture and carefully crack the eggs into each hole. Cover and cook until the eggs set, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve hot with a small whole wheat roll.

spanakopita-quiche-h-4

Spanakopita Quiche

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained well
  • 1 (9-inch) pie crust (homemade or store-bought) 
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lowfat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried dill 

Directions
Heat oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.

Add spinach and stir until spinach is dry, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place pie crust in a 9-inch quiche dish or pie pan. Press into the pan, sealing any cracks. Crimp the edges.

Mix flour with Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over bottom of the crust, followed by the crumbled feta cheese. Top with spinach mixture.

Beat eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg in large bowl to blend. Pour over spinach.

Place pie pan on a baking sheet and bake about 50 minutes or until the top is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly. Cut in to wedges and serve.

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Chicken Salad with Apple and Basil

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Pound it to an even thinness between pieces of plastic wrap.

Place the chicken in a large, wide saucepan and add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until no trace of pink remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl of ice water for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar and brown sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the scallions and apples and toss.

Drain the chicken and pat it dry. Dice the chicken and add it to the apple mixture along with the peanuts, basil and remaining salt and pepper. Toss and divide among individual plates.

unhealthy lunch

Unhealthy lunch

Lunches For Work

Taking a healthy lunch to work is one of the simplest ways to trim your budget. Most people think nothing of spending $10 or so for a restaurant lunch, but over the course of a month — or a year — the expense can really add up.
Beyond the cost savings, most meals packed at home are healthier than foods from restaurants or fast food counters. When we eat out, we’re often faced with huge portions and fattening extras — like the french fries that routinely come with sandwiches. But when you pack lunch at home, you can control your portions and choose healthier ingredients.

tuna

Tuscan Tuna Wrap

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 4-5 ounces tuna packed in olive oil, drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped black olives
  • Dash of salt and pepper
  • 2 whole-wheat wraps
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach leaves

Directions

Break up the tuna in a mixing bowl and mix in the parsley, lemon, oil, tomatoes, olives, salt and pepper.  Divide the mixture between the wraps, top with spinach leaves and roll up. Wrap the sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

pesto-turkey-club-1994854-x

Pesto Turkey Sandwich

If you would like a little crunch in your sandwich, add a slice of cooked turkey bacon.

1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons prepared pesto
  • 2 slices pumpernickel bread
  • 2 ounces sliced turkey
  • 2 romaine lettuce leaves
  • 4 slices tomato

Directions
Spread pesto on the bread. Top 1 bread slice with turkey, lettuce, tomato and top with the remaining bread slice. Place in a large plastic sanwich bag.

corn salad

Corn & Black Bean & Mango Salad

Make ahead salad to pack for lunch. Serve with healthy toasted corn tortillas.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups frozen corn, defrosted and drained
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 mango, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (pignoli)
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions
Whisk lime juice, oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the corn, beans, cabbage, tomato, mango, parsley and onion; toss to coat. Sprinkle nuts on top. Refrigerate in lunch containers with a lime wedge.

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ArtichokeBlossom The artichoke is a perennial vegetable in the sunflower family and is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean region. The artichoke that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but less than 40 are grown commercially. Spring is the peak season and most artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy and Spain, while California provides nearly 100 percent of the United States crop.

How To Buy Artichokes

Select artichoke globes that are deep green, with a tight leaf formation and those that feel heavy for their size. A good test of freshness is to press the leaves against each other which should produce a squeaking sound. Browning of the tips can indicate age, but can also indicate frost damage. To store fresh artichokes at home, sprinkle them with a little water and refrigerate in an airtight plastic bag. Do not wash before storing. They should last a week when stored properly.

How To Prepare Artichokes

Wash artichokes under cold, running water. Pull off the lower petals and cut off the bottom stems (cut flush with the base). Cut off about 1/2 inch of the pointed top of the artichoke.  Pull out pale inner leaves from center. At the bottom is a furry bed, the choke. Use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon works wonderfully) to scoop out the choke. Always use a stainless-steel knife and a stainless-steel or glass pot. Iron or aluminum will turn artichokes an unappetizing blue or black. For the same reason, never let aluminum foil come in contact with artichokes. Trim tips of leaves with scissors to remove thorns. Dip in lemon juice to preserve color.

TrimBottom

 

TrimmedArtichoke

How To Cook Artichokes

Boiling Method:
Stand up the prepared artichoke in a deep saucepan or pot with 3-inches boiling water (if desired, oil, lemon juice and/or seasonings can be added to cooking water). Cover with a lid and gently boil approximately 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size of the artichokes, or until a petal near the center pulls out easily. When done cooking, remove from the pot and stand artichoke upside down on a rack to drain.

Steaming Method:
Place prepared artichoke on a rack above 1- to 2-inches of boiling water. Cover and steam approximately 25 to 45 minutes, depending on size, or until a petal near the center pulls out easily.

baby-artichokes-at-market

Baby Artichokes

Baby artichokes are not a separate variety but merely smaller versions of larger artichokes. Their size comes from their location on the artichoke plant. They are picked from the lower parts of the artichoke plant where the plant fronds protect them from sun, in effect stunting their growth.
Small artichokes, which are being shipped fresh more frequently today, make a savory appetizer, salad or vegetable accompaniment when marinated, either whole or cut lengthwise in halves. They are also delicious in poultry, beef, pork or lamb stews.

Baby artichokes are sold in plastic bags or containers or loose. Their size can vary from walnut to jumbo egg size. Size is no indication of age. (Some babies are bigger than other babies!) Choose baby artichokes that are firm and heavy for their size. Most do not have a fuzzy choke.
Bend back lower, outer petals of artichokes until they snap off easily near base. Continue doing this until you reach a point where the leaves are half green (at the top) and half yellow (at the bottom).

Using a sharp stainless steel knife, cut off top third of artichokes or just below the green tips of the petals. Pare all remaining dark green areas from bases. Cut off stems.
Halve or quarter as desired. If center petals are purple or pink remove center petals and fuzzy centers. Dip or rub all surfaces with lemon juice.

Cooking Artichokes

Preparing fresh artichokes for cooking can be intimidating. Luckily, preserved versions of this spring vegetable are just as delicious. Here are a few ways to use artichokes, whether fresh, jarred or frozen.

Whole. Steaming whole artichokes to serve with butter or mayonnaise mixed with capers, lemon and smoked paprika. Or, stuff them with your favorite stuffing mix.
Sauteed. When cooked, the leaves on trimmed fresh artichokes fan out and get crisp.
Grilled. Boil trimmed artichokes until tender, then finish them on the grill to give them a smoky flavor.
Pasta sauce. Simmer oil-packed artichokes in cream, then puree for a luxurious pasta sauce.
Bread pudding. Layer marinated artichokes with sourdough cubes and cheese, then cover with eggs and milk and bake for a savory brunch dish.
Dip. Instead of the usual cream cheese base, use Greek yogurt and silken tofu in a healthy version of creamy artichoke dip.
Involtini. Roll up marinated artichoke hearts with celery leaves in smoked salmon for a super healthy hors d’oeuvres.
Pizza. Marinate frozen artichoke hearts in herbed olive oil and add them to a white pizza or a pizza with the works.

artichokes and potatoes

Sautéed Artichokes and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 8 artichokes (they should be firm and feel solid)
  • Juice of a half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 pounds baby potatoes 
  • A bunch parsley, minced
  • Pepper to taste

Directions

If the potatoes are young and thin skinned, wash and rub them with a rough cloth. Otherwise, peel them and cut in half.

Trim the tough outer leaves off the artichokes, cut the tops off (perpendicular to the length of the artichoke) and cut them into eighths, putting the slices into water acidulated with lemon juice to keep them from turning black.

When you have finished cutting them up, pat them dry and sauté them in a large skillet with a cover with the oil, garlic, salt and minced parsley. Begin over a low heat, covered, and after a little while uncover them and turn them often so they cook well on all sides, browning and almost coming apart. Remove the artichokes with a slotted spoon to another bowl and set aside.

Add the potatoes with a half cup of water to the skillet. Let them cook gently at first, covering the pot so that they soften, and then raise the heat and uncover them to brown them.
Once the potatoes have browned, add the artichokes together with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for about ten minutes over a very low flame.

GrilledBabyArtichokes

Grilled Baby Artichokes

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Lemon Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
  • 12 baby artichokes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare the Lemon Vinaigrette; set aside until ready to use.

Bend back lower, outer petals of the artichokes until they snap off easily near the base. Continue doing this until you reach a point where the leaves are half green (at the top) and half yellow (at the bottom). Using a sharp stainless steel knife, cut off top third of artichokes or just below the green tips of the petals. Pare all remaining dark green areas from bases. Cut off stems.

In a large saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add prepared baby artichokes and cook approximately 7 to 10 minutes or until you can easily pierce them with a fork, but they still offer some resistance. Drain and immediately and immerse in cold water to stop the cooking.

When cool, cut the baby artichokes in half lengthwise, sprinkle them with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare an outdoor grill. Place the artichokes cut side down on oiled grill grates, cover with the grill lid, and cook over a medium-hot fire, for about 5 minutes, or until the cut sides are well browned. Remove the artichokes to a bowl and pour the Lemon Vinaigrette over the grilled artichokes and toss.

This can be served right away, but it is much better to let them sit for an hour or so in the vinaigrette for the flavors to mingle. They will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 3 days. .
Makes 4 servings.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pitted black olives
  • Freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Directions

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, olives and pepper. Whisk together well.

artichoke pizza

Artichoke Cheese Pizzas

This is one of our favorite pizzas. Since I use convenient frozen artichoke hearts, this recipe can be made any time of the year.

Ingredients

  • One 9 ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, drained, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
  • Salt
  • Cornmeal, for dusting
  • One homemade or store-bought pizza dough
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a large skillet, combine the artichoke hearts with the olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic and thyme leaves. Season with salt. Cook until the artichokes are soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Dust a pizza pan with cornmeal and stretch dough to fit the pan.

Spread the ricotta cheese over the dough and sprinkle the fontina and mozzarella cheese over the ricotta.

Distribute the cooked artichoke hearts and sauce over the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and place the pizza to the oven.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the edges are browned. Serve hot.

artichoke stuffed

Stuffed Artichokes

This is my favorite way to stuff artichokes.

Ingredients

For 2-double ingredients for 4

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 medium artichokes
  • 1 1/4 cups plain panko crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, reserve the stems
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 minced garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 tablespoon capers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Half small onion sliced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a bowl with water and squeeze juice from the lemon into the water and reserve the lemon shell. Cut off the artichoke stems, peel them with a vegetable peeler, rub them all over with lemon shell (this prevents browning) and drop them into the lemon water.

Use a heavy, sharp stainless steel knife to cut the top 1 1/2 inches off an artichoke. Pull out pale inner leaves from center. At the bottom, where leaves were, is a furry bed, the choke. Use a spoon to scoop out the choke.

Next, using kitchen shears or a pair of scissors, trim pointy ends from outer leaves of artichoke. As you work, rub the lemon shell over cut parts of artichoke. When you are finished trimming, drop the artichoke into the bowl of lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.

To prepare stuffing:

In a large bowl combine the panko crumbs, Parmesan, chopped parsley, rosemary, half the garlic, capers, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss.

In a small roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the artichokes, scatter onion slices, artichoke stems, parsley sprigs and remaining garlic.

Holding artichokes over the stuffing bowl, stuff each choke cavity and in between the leaves with the bread crumb mixture.

Stand stuffed artichokes upright in the baking dish and generously drizzle olive oil over the center of each artichoke.

Fill the baking dish with water until it reaches 1/4 of the way up the artichokes. Add wine and remaining salt to the water. Cover pan with foil and poke several holes in the foil.

Bake artichokes for about 1 1/2 hours, or until tender; when done, a knife should be easily inserted into the artichoke and a leaf should be easily pulled out.

fish

Halibut with Braised Artichokes, Fennel and Lemon

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons
  • 1 9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
  • 1 medium onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, halved crosswise, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips 
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed or ground
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for coating fish
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 halibut fillets or any white firm fish (each about 6 ounces and 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

Squeeze juice from 1 lemon; cut the remaining lemon crosswise into very thin slices.

Put onion, fennel, artichokes, coriander, reserved lemon juice and lemon slices, 3/4 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large saute pan.

Cover pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until artichokes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Set aside.

Combine flour with remaining salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Dredge fish in flour.

In the same pan heat the remaining tablespoon oil over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add fillets. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook fillets, without moving them, until the bottoms are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Carefully turn the fish and cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily, 2 to 3 minutes more. Return artichoke mixture to the pan and warm a minute or two.

To serve: spoon 1/2 cup of the artichoke mixture onto each serving plate and top with a fish fillet. Garnish with basil.

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Giuseppe_Verdi00

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest Italian composers of all time. Giuseppe Verdi was responsible for some of the best operas, which are still widely known and revered today: La Traviata, Aida and Rigoletto, to name just a few. Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture.

Verdi was born to Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and Luigia Uttini in Le Roncole, a village in the province of Parma (Emilia-Romagna region) in Northern Italy. When he was still a child, Verdi’s parents moved from Le Roncole to a nearby village, Busseto, where the future composer’s education was greatly facilitated by visits to the large library belonging to the local Jesuit school. It was in Busseto that he was given his first lessons in composition. Verdi went to Milan when he was twenty to continue his studies. He took private lessons in music and voice while attending operatic performances and concerts. Eventually, he decided to pursue a career in theater composition.

After his studies, Verdi returned to Busseto, where he became the town music master and gave his first public performance at the home of Antonio Barezzi, a local merchant and music lover who had long supported Verdi’s musical ambitions. Because he loved Verdi’s music, Barezzi invited Verdi to be his daughter Margherita’s music teacher and the two soon fell deeply in love. They were married in May 1836 and Margherita gave birth to two children. Unfortunately, both died in infancy while Verdi was working on his first opera and, shortly afterwards, Margherita died of encephalitis at the age of 26. Verdi adored his wife and children and was devastated by their deaths.

His first opera, Oberto, performed at La Scala in November 1839, was successful and La Scala’s impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli, offered Verdi a contract for three more works.
It was while he was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, that Verdi’s wife died. The opera was a failure and he fell into despair, vowing to give up musical composition forever. However, Merelli persuaded him to write Nabucco and its opening performance in March 1842 made Verdi famous. It follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco. The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known piece from the opera is the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”.

A period of hard work – producing 14 operas – followed in the next fifteen years. These included I Lombardi in 1843, Ernani in 1844 and, for some, the most original and important opera that Verdi wrote, Macbeth (1847). It was Verdi’s first attempt to write an opera without a love story, breaking a basic convention of 19th-century Italian opera.

Nabucco

Nabucco

Sometime in the mid-1840s, Verdi “formed a lasting attachment to the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who was to become his lifelong companion”. Their cohabitation before marriage was regarded as scandalous in some of the places they lived and eventually Verdi and Giuseppina married. In 1848, Verdi bought an estate two miles from Busseto. Initially, his parents lived there, but after his mother’s death in 1851, he made the Villa Verdi at Sant’Agata his home, which it remained until his death.

Rigoletto

Rigoletto

During this time, Verdi created one of his greatest masterpieces, Rigoletto, which premiered in Venice in 1851. Based on a play by Victor Hugo (Le roi s’amuse), the opera quickly became a great success. There followed the second and third of the three major operas of Verdi’s “middle period”: in 1853 Il trovatore was produced in Rome and La traviata in Venice. The latter was based on Alexandre Dumas’ play, The Lady of the Camellias, and became the most popular of all of Verdi’s operas worldwide. You can listen to the drinking song, “Brindisi” from La Traviata, in the video below performed by two of my favorite opera singers, Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti.

In 1869, Verdi was asked to compose a section for a requiem mass in memory of Gioachino Rossini, as part of a collection of sections composed by other Italian contemporaries of Rossini. The requiem was compiled and completed, but was cancelled at the last minute. Five years later, Verdi reworked his “Libera Me” section of the Rossini Requiem and made it a part of his Requiem Mass, honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who had died in 1873. The complete Requiem was first performed at the cathedral in Milan in May 1874.

Verdi’s grand opera, Aida, is sometimes thought to have been commissioned for the celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and there had been a plan to inaugurate an opera house as part of the canal opening festivities, but Verdi turned down an invitation to write an “ode” for the new opera house. In 1869, the organizers approached Verdi (this time with the idea of writing an opera), but he again turned them down. When they warned him that they would engage the services of Charles Gounod and Richard Wagner, Verdi began to show considerable interest and agreements were signed in June, 1870.

Aida

Aida

Teresa Stolz was associated with both Aida and the Requiem, as well as, a number of other Verdi roles. The role of Aida was written for her and she performed the opera at the European premiere in Milan in February 1872. She was also the soprano soloist in the first and in many later performances of the Requiem. After Giuseppina Strepponi’s death, Teresa Stolz became a close companion of Verdi until his death.

In 1879 the composer-poet Boito and the publisher Ricordi pleaded with Verdi to write another opera. He worked slowly on it, being occupied with revisions of earlier operas, and completed the opera seven years later. This opera, Othello, his most powerful and tragic work, a study in evil and jealousy, is notable for the increasing richness of detail in the orchestral writing. Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, whose libretto was also by Boito, was based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Part 1 with Victor Hugo’s translation. It was an international success and is famous for being one of the world’s best comic operas.

Othello

Othello

While staying at the Grand Hotel et de Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke on January 21, 1901. He gradually grew more feeble and died nearly a week later. Arturo Toscanini conducted a combined orchestra and choir composed of musicians from throughout Italy at Verdi’s funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.

Completing 25 operas throughout his career, Verdi continues to be regarded as one of the greatest composers in history. His works are noted for their emotional intensity, tuneful melodies and dramatic characterizations. He transformed the Italian opera, with its traditional staging, old-fashioned librettos and emphasis on vocal displays, into a unified musical and dramatic entity. As Verdi matured he played with the expectations of listeners, who expected scenes to unfold in familiar patterns. Instead, he would break off an aria and transition into a charged recitative or blur distinctions between forms and styles to make the music responsive to the dramatic moment and the text. The music of Verdi, one of Italy’s most outstanding composers, makes up some of classical music’s most timeless treasures and his operas are among those most frequently produced in the world today.

Busseto's Tribute to Verdi

Busseto’s Tribute to Verdi

Emilia Romagna

Verdi lived in Busetto in the heart of the Italian province of Parma, in Emilia-Romagna. When one thinks of luxurious Italian food, it is usually classic Emilia Romagna cuisine. The area is known for its flavorful produce dishes. Bright green asparagus is served with Parmigiano Reggiano and melted butter. The sweet chestnut, known as Marrone di Castel Rio, comes from Emilia Romagna, as do porcini mushrooms. Local shallots and olive oil pressed from local olives are prized for their quality. Pasta is a favorite food in the region. While polenta, rice and gnocchi were staples in Emilia Romagna cooking, fresh egg pasta is now more popular. Most areas consider tagliatelle their favorite shape and serve it with ragù. Recipes also include tortelli, or large pasta squares, filled with ricotta and greens and served with melted butter.

In addition to the Romagnola breed of cattle, rabbit, game birds and poultry are eaten. Wild duck and tomatoes are stewed with herbs, white wine and served with risotto. Cappone ripieno, or roasted capon, is stuffed with with a marsala flavored veal and ham filling. Other popular meats include pork, lamb and mutton. Proscuitto di Parma and fresh fruit are served together for a refreshing appetizer.

Emilia is well known for Parmigiano Reggiano, but the Grana Padano and Provonole Valpadana are also extremely high quality. Cheeses are used young, while sweet, or aged to develop a sharper flavor for grating. Ravaggiolo and squaquarone are also creamy piquant cheeses used in cooking. After so many rich dishes, it’s appropriate that many Emilia Romagna desserts are based on fresh fruit. Melons, stone fruits, berries and pears are most often served.

crostini di polenta with moules

Toasted Polenta with Mussels

You can use any seafood to top the polenta. The same combination may be successfully used in bruschetta or crostini recipes.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups polenta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb mussels, steamed and removed from the shell
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Olive oil for brushing

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Fresh basil
  • 1 – 26-28 can diced Italian tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper

For the green sauce:

  • 1 cup green parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Cook the polenta in salted water with the olive oil, in proportions according to package directions. You want a thick polenta, not thin. Pour the polenta into a loaf pan and leave it to set overnight; or for at least two hours.

The next day, cut the loaf into slices. Place the slices on a wooden board and brush with some olive oil. Next arrange the slices, oiled side down, on a greased oven rack. Brush the other side with olive oil.

Bake in 200°C/390°F oven until golden brown on top, for about 30 minutes. Then remove from the oven; let it cool.

Meanwhile prepare the mussels and sauces.

In a skillet heat the olive oil; add chopped garlic and the mussels. Then add the wine and let it cook until all liquids evaporate.

To cook the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan; add chopped onion and sauté until golden. Next add chopped garlic. Stir and sauté briefly, then add the canned tomatoes. Lower the heat and cook until the liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens.

Remove from heat and let the sauce cool slightly. Then place it in a food processor and blend with a small bunch of fresh basil, salt and pepper.

To make the green sauce:

Place all ingredients for the sauce in a food processor. Blend until fairly smooth.

Carefully remove the polenta slices from the rack and arrange on a serving platter. Top with the tomato sauce and green sauce. Then arrange the mussels on top. Serve warm.

tagliatelle

Tagliatelle with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces pancetta (Italian unsmoked cured bacon), chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 8 ounces bottled peeled roasted whole chestnuts, coarsely crumbled (1 1/2 cups)
  • 8 ounces dried flat egg pasta such as tagliatelle or fettuccine
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Cook pancetta in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, 1 tablespoon sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in chestnuts and remove from heat.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander and add to the pancetta mixture in the skillet. Add the reserved cooking water along withthe  cheese and butter and cook, tossing constantly, over high heat until pasta is well coated, about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley and remaining tablespoon sage.

parma pork

Pork Tenderloin Prosciutto Parma

Serve with broccoli rabe. Try to purchase authentic Italian Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano for this dish—even though it is more costly, the superior flavor is worth the expense.

10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pork tenderloins, (1-1 1/4 pounds each), trimmed
  • 4 thin slices Italian Parma ham, (Prosciutto di Parma), divided
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

Combine sage, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Butterfly the tenderloins, so they can be flattened, stuffed and rolled. To do that, make two long horizontal cuts, one on each side, dividing the tenderloin in thirds without cutting all the way through. Working with one tenderloin at a time, lay it on a cutting board. Holding the knife blade flat, so it’s parallel to the board, make a lengthwise cut into the side of the tenderloin one-third of the way down from the top, stopping short of the opposite edge so that the flaps remain attached. Rotate the tenderloin 180°. Still holding the knife parallel to the cutting board, make a lengthwise cut into the side opposite the original cut, starting two-thirds of the way down from the top of the tenderloin and taking care not to cut all the way through. Open up the 2 cuts so you have a large rectangle of meat. Use the heel of your hand to gently flatten the meat to about 1/2 inch thick.

Cover each butterflied tenderloin with 2 of the prosciutto slices, then spread 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano over the ham, leaving a 1-inch border. Starting with a long side, roll up each tenderloin so the stuffing is in a spiral pattern; then tie the roasts at 2-inch intervals with kitchen string.

Lightly brush the roasts all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, then rub with the reserved herb mixture. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the roasts, bending to fit if necessary, and cook, turning often, until the outsides are browned, 3 to 5 minutes total.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast, checking often, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. To serve, remove the string and cut the pork into 1-inch-thick slices.

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horseradishHorseradish is native to Eastern and Central Europe and possibly Western Asia. It has been grown for its roots for over 2,000 years. The Oxford Companion to Food notes that the first written mention of the root was probably in the 13th century, when a root with the description of horseradish was mentioned in a text describing medicinal cures. Its use as a condiment came later, based on the earliest known written documentation from the 15th century.

The English word “horseradish” has nothing to do with horses or radishes. The word “horse” formerly meant “coarse” or “rough.” “Radish” comes from the Latin “radix,” meaning “root.” Horseradish is not a type of radish, although they are in the same family.

In Slovenia and in the Italian regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto, horseradish (often grated and mixed with sour cream, vinegar, hard-boiled eggs or apples) is also a traditional Easter dish. Further west in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont, it is called “barbaforte (strong beard)” and is a traditional accompaniment to Bollito Misto; while in the Italian northeastern regions of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, it is still called “kren” or “cren”.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Horseradish is in the Brassica family, which includes broccoli, radishes, kohlrabi, cauliflower and kale. It is a perennial in most locations in the US and will spread rapidly in the garden from season to season, if not contained properly. Horseradish plants have large, deep green, spoon-shaped leaves (which are edible), large, deep-growing roots and very fragrant white flowers. The bulk of US horseradish cultivation is in southwestern Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi River (near St. Louis), where the root has been grown commercially for over 150 years. Cool weather helps give horseradish its pungency, so it is generally harvested from mid-fall right through to early spring.

Horseradish growers employ a wide range of herbicides, including glyphosate (aka RoundUp) to control both weeds and spreading horseradish plants (because horseradish spreads so easily. Other pesticides are used to control insect infestations and disease. If you are concerned about pesticide use in horseradish cultivation, look for organic horseradish at your local farmers’ market.

Horseradish roots are large, tapering to a point, with a dark brown peel and a creamy white interior. Horseradish’s bite comes from the release of compounds when the root is grated (without grating and exposure to air, horseradish roots really don’t smell like much of anything). Vinegar stops this chemical process, which is why most commercial horseradish preparations contain vinegar. For really hot horseradish, leave the grated root exposed to the air for a few minutes (longer than that, it starts to discolor and dry out). For milder horseradish, add vinegar right away.

What to look for:

Look for firm roots with no mushy or black spots. Avoid roots that are floppy or dried out. You can find horseradish root in the produce section of some grocery stores and at farmers’ markets.

horseradish_fresh_harvest

What to Do with It:

Grated horseradish root makes delicious sauces and condiments. It is perfect paired with beef, seafood and roasted vegetables. You can stir freshly grated root (or prepared horseradish) in to mustard for a spicy sauce or mix it with ketchup to make a cocktail sauce for seafood.

Horseradish root is generally not cooked, but grated and mixed with vinegar or other condiments to make sauces. Cooking grated horseradish greatly diminishes the flavor and pungency of the root, so add horseradish at the end of cooking, off the heat. Horseradish root can be used in a number of creative ways in the kitchen. The grated root is commonly mixed with dairy products (like cream, sour cream and crème fraiche) to tame its peppery bite. Also try stirring some horseradish into your next batch of vinaigrette, make a horseradish dip or fold some grated horseradish into mashed potatoes. Creamy horseradish sauce is commonly served with roast beef, but is equally good with salmon, scallops, roasted vegetables (especially potatoes and beets) and, of course, stirred into Bloody Mary mixes.

Some recipes call for fresh horseradish to be grated in a food processor (convenient if you have a large batch to grind), but a Microplane zester makes the best grated horseradish, if all you need is a tablespoon or two. Many recipes for grating your own horseradish recommend that you do so outdoors or in a very well ventilated place and wear gloves and eye protection. The volatile oils that are released from horseradish that is grated are very pungent.

Equivalents:

  • 1 1/2 pounds Horseradish root = 680 g = 2 3/4 cups grated
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh grated Horseradish = 2 tablespoons bottled
  • 1/2 cup grated horseradish = 3 oz / 7 g

A Few Facts:

  • An enzyme found in horseradish, called horseradish peroxidase, is widely used in biochemical research.
  • Horseradish is toxic to horses.
  • Don’t put your horseradish sauce in a silver serving dish: the grated root can tarnish the metal.
  • Horseradish is commonly used as one of the “bitter herbs” required at Passover Seder.

Storage

Uncut horseradish roots will keep for several weeks in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Cut horseradish should be used right away. Grated fresh horseradish, preserved in vinegar, will keep for several months in the refrigerator. Peeled and grated horseradish can be stored in sealed bags or containers in the freezer for a few months.

horseradish-sauce

How to make prepared horseradish for your recipes:

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh horseradish root
  • 8 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Peel and coarsely grate the fresh horseradish root. Combine grated horseradish, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and salt in a food processor; pulse 4 or 5 times or until the horseradish begins to break down. Add the remaining vinegar, a tablespoonful at a time, until the mixture forms a coarse paste. Transfer mixture to a jar and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

125-22_Horseradish_applesauce_250_

Apple Horseradish Sauce

In Trentino, Italy, cooked apples and fresh horseradish are served with roasted beef, chicken or pork dishes. Cream is added to the sauce to temper the sharpness of the horseradish.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds McIntosh or Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 5 ounce piece of fresh horseradish root
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

In a heavy 3 or 4-quart saucepan with a cover, place the apple chunks and toss with the lemon juice and salt. Cover the pan, and set it over medium-low heat. Cook the apples slowly for 15 minutes, stirring several times, as they soften. Remove the cover, raise the heat to bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until the juices are syrupy and the apples are very soft. Turn off the heat.

Peel the horseradish and grate it into fine shreds, until you have at least 1/2 cup, for a milder taste, or 1 cup, for a stronger taste.

With a potato masher, crush the apples into a chunky sauce. Stir in the grated horseradish and cream and pour into a serving bowl. Serve warm or cold.

beets

Roasted Beet Salad with Horseradish-Dill Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium beets, washed and trimmed
  • 1/4 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup low fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a Microplane grater (or chopped very fine)
  • 1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) freshly grated horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Lettuce for serving

Directions

To roast the beets:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets, two at a time, in aluminum foil. Place the beets on a baking pan and roast until tender. The amount of time will vary by the size and even variety of the beet; but start checking around 45 minutes, as it could take as long as 40-45 minutes more. Use the tip of a sharp knife to test; if the knife goes into the beets with little resistance, they are done.

For the horseradish-dill sauce:

Whisk together the sour cream, Greek yogurt, garlic, horseradish, lemon juice, cayenne and salt (to taste). Gently fold in the chopped dill. Cover and refrigerate while the beets are roasting to let the flavors blend.

When the beets are done, let cool slightly, then peel or rub the skins off with a paper towel. Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices, gently toss with the extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt, and arrange on a platter over lettuce. Drizzle with some of the horseradish-dill sauce. (Serve extra on the side.)

bakedclams_xl

Italian Baked Clams with Horseradish

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 12 littleneck or cherrystone clams, opened; top shell discarded
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 lemon, halved

Directions

Preheat the broiler in your oven. Place clams in their half shells on a baking pan; drizzle with olive oil and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine horseradish and panko crumbs; sprinkle over clams and lightly pat down. Squeeze the juice from 1 of the lemon halves over the clams and drizzle with olive oil.

Place clams under the broiler and cook until crumbs are light golden and bubbly, about 5-6 minutes. Drizzle clams with the white wine halfway through cooking.

Transfer clams to a serving plate..

Cut remaining lemon half into 4 wedges and serve with the clams.

horseradish beef

Italian Beef Sandwiches With Horseradish Sauce

Makes enough for 10 sandwiches

Ingredients

Beef

  • 2 1/2 – 3 lb boneless chuck roast
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, if cooking in the oven

Horseradish Sauce

  • 1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

Sandwich

  • 10 whole wheat rolls
  • 1 white onion, sliced thin
  • 10 slices provolone cheese or cheese of choice

Directions

For the beef cooked in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven.

Liberally sprinkle the entire roast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides until golden brown. Add the remaining beef ingredients and place the pot in the oven. Cook the roast, turning every 30 minutes, until very tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil. Once cooled a bit, shred the meat into smaller pieces for the sandwiches.

For the beef cooked in a slow cooker:

Place roast in slow cooker and add the remaining beef ingredients, except the oil, over the top of the meat.

Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours. Slice or shred the meat.

For the horseradish sauce:

Mix everything together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble the sandwiches:

Preheat the broiler. Toast the rolls.

Spread a little horseradish sauce on both sides of the toasted rolls.

Add a layer of beef, top with sliced onion and then a piece of provolone cheese.

Place under the broiler for a minute or two until the cheese is melted.

salmon

Horseradish Asiago Crusted Salmon

Serves 6

Ingredients

Salmon

  • 4 – 6 oz. skinless salmon fillets
  • 3/4 cup fresh shredded horseradish root
  • 3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter (melted)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 lime

Dijon Sauce

  • 1 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and ground white pepper to taste

Directions

For the Dijon sauce:

Mix the ingredients together and refrigerate until serving time.

For the salmon:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl combine grated horseradish, Asiago, melted butter and rosemary.

Brush each salmon fillet with olive oil and coat with the Asiago cheese mixture.

Place each fillet on a well-oiled baking pan and bake until golden brown (about 15 minutes)

Remove from the oven to a serving platter and drizzle with the Dijon sauce. Serve with fresh lime.

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005

San Sperate has a very ancient history. Recent archaeological excavations have dated the first settlements to the Bronze Age. Following the period of Punic rule in Sardinia, the villages in the San Sperate basin came under Carthaginian rule and four cemeteries from this period have been found. Roman occupation in 238 BC can be documented and the parish church dates to the XVI century. This small village in Sardinia, not far from Cagliari, is known for the “Paese Museo” (Museum Village) and its artistic features. It is a village of murals with more than 300 large wall paintings. Painting the walls of its houses was begun by a local artist, Pinuccio Sciola. In 1968, in the wake of a youth protest movement, Sciola had the idea of turning the village into an open-air “museum village”.  The idea was taken up by other artists such as Foiso Fois, Liliana Canu, Primo Pantoli, Giorgio Princivalle, Gaetano Brundu, Nando Pintus, Giovanni Thermes and Franco Putzolu. They came to San Sperate to add their own different styles and techniques. The result ranged from trompe l’oeil windows, balconies and lines of washing hung out to dry to historic scenes and copies of famous works of art.

Pino-Sciola-in-his-open-air-museum-CU

Pinuccio Sciola

Sciola is also Sardinia’s best known sculptor and there are examples of his work carved from the local stone. His stone sculptures are the living testimony of the art of San Sperate. Limestones and basalts are the materials mainly used by Sciola. He makes a “kind of wound” in each stone, so that the energy of the stone is taken out. His large sculptures resonate when rubbed by human hands or small rocks. However, you can’t image how amazing it is listening to Sciola’s stones, so instead of imagining, you can hear these stones in a documentary about this fascinating artist and his work by playing the video link below:

The murals depict how life was in San Sperate one hundred years ago. They are creations of a changing farming culture with themes of rural life (work in the fields and scenes from the village) in an urban space made more significant by the display of traditional implements, such as olive oil mills, wheat grinding mills, stone tubs, basins and by rows of orange and lemon trees. A Picasso-esque house wall of colorful images and a wall painted to resemble a space for hanging agricultural tools (painted so realistically with shadows that they look ready to be unhooked and used) are just two of the vivid images depicted in the town. There are also curiosities, like a house which appears to be wrapped in paper with a corner torn off or painted groups of people chatting in front of arcades or abstract patterns. Here are a few photos of the murals:

004 Living art gallery san_sperate (21) san_sperate (49) sansperate sansperate1 sansperate2 sansperate3 Sardinia_SanSperate_Murales2-736009

One artist from the Renaissance period, Piero della Francesca, must have been popular because there are several copies of his most famous paintings scattered throughout the village, including one next to a bakery that has an image of a single oven on its wall.

The murals covering the brick walls of the village houses brought this small village into the limelight, attracting Italian and foreign artists wishing to experiment with mural painting and other forms of art expression. This attraction also created a platform for local artists: in sculpture – Sergio Caddeo, Giuseppe Lasio, Gianfranco Pinna, Romano Porcu, Eva Schirru and Lucio Schirru; in painting –  Monica Corda, Erminluca Maccioni and Raffaele Muscas; in miniature art –  Ignazio Casti; in ceramics –  Giampaolo Mameli; in murals –  Angelo Pilloni and in street art –  Manu Invisible. (Source: Italy Magazine)

Sardinian Recipes

xSardinia

Sardinian food ranges from soups and stews, seafood, freshly baked breads, olives and wine to roasted lamb, sheep’s milk cheeses and pastries.

BEAN-FENNEL-AND-POTATOES-SOUPM-RECIPE

Bean, Fennel and Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 pound (300 g) fresh fava beans or dried cannellini beans
  • 2 fennel bulbs, fronds (feathery tops) only
  • 1/2 pound (250 g) potatoes
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) plum tomatoes or canned italian tomatoes
  • 1/3 pound (150 g) dry short pasta (ditalini)
  • A ham bone
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Sardo (in its absence use Pecorino Toscano or a mixture of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the fennel fronds, pat them dry and chop them. Save the fennel bulbs for another recipe. Peel and dice the potatoes. Blanch, peel, seed, chop and drain the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot, sauté the tomatoes for a minute and as soon as they begin to wilt add the beans, fennel, potatoes and ham. Add 2 1/2 quarts (2.5 l) of water, cover, and simmer for at least two hours.

Remove the ham bone and stir in the pasta. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked. Serve with grated pecorino on the side.bonelessleglamb

Sardinian Stuffed Leg of Lamb

Ingredients:

  • A boneless leg of lamb, weighing about 4 1/2 pounds (2 k)
  • 3/4 pound (110 g) Italian mild sausage, casing removed and crumbled
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) dry bread crumbs
  • 1 2/3 pounds (750 g) plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped — canned tomatoes will also work
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A large bunch parsley, minced
  • A medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butcher’s twine

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven large enough to contain the leg of lamb and sauté the minced garlic, parsley and onion until the onion is translucent. Remove the mixture from the saucepan to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the pan drippings behind. When the onion mixture has cooled, mix it with the sausage, eggs and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the inside of the leg of lamb. Roll the leg up tightly and tie it with twine.

Reheat the pan drippings in the saucepan and brown the meat, turning it to brown all sides. Add the tomatoes, crumbling them between your fingers, add enough water to reach part-way up the sides of the pot and simmer gently for an hour or until the meat is quite tender.

When the meat is done, remove it from the pot. Remove and discard the string, slice the meat and arrange the pieces on a warmed platter. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve at once.

ciambellone-ok

Saffron Ring Cake

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (300 g) ricotta
  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar, plus extra for the top of the cake
  • 3 eggs
  • The grated zest of an orange
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • A big pinch of saffron

Directions

Preheat the oven to 380 degrees F (190 C).

Squeeze the orange, warm the juice slightly and dissolve the saffron in it.

Mash the ricotta with the tines of a fork, mixing until it is creamy in texture and combine it with the sugar, grated orange and lemon zest, eggs and half the orange juice mixed with saffron. Mix well, fold in the flour and baking powder and then pour the batter into a floured ring mold baking pan.

Brush the surface of the cake with the remaining orange juice, sprinkle with sugar and bake until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, about 40 minutes, but check before then.

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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.

To My Readers:

I have added a feature called My Taste ( http://www.mytaste.com/) that will allow you to create cookbooks, save recipes and follow other users.  See the green box on the right. It is also linked to the following social site https://www.facebook.com/groups/437545196294432/

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