Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Cheese

Achieving widespread US popularity, the ‘panino’ or Italian sandwich is known, more commonly, in English by its plural form ‘panini’. The difference between a panini and a regular sandwich is that it’s grilled, has ridges and the sandwich ingredients melt or fuse together, giving delicious flavor and texture to the filling. Panini sandwiches do not need additional butter or oil for grilling and a panini does not need to be turned over, the press does the work.

Panini are easy to make and can be made with any variety of food desired. Served with a salad or soup, a panini can make a complete, fast and healthy meal, eaten any time of the day.

The Panini Grill

A panini grill is very much like a waffle iron, where heat is applied from the top and bottom to cook both sides evenly. Unlike a waffle iron, the panini grill has a larger hinge to accommodate thick bread or flat buns. A panini grill usually has ridges on the top and bottom grilling surface and this creates the signature grilling lines.

If you do not have a panini maker, a George Foreman Grill will make a great panini, but make sure the grill is heated prior to using.

On the stove: Preheat a skillet with butter or oil to medium low. Add your sandwich, then press a heavy pan on top to weigh it down. Cook until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Here is how to make your own panini:

There is no one traditional type of bread used for panini, but generally the most popular are ciabatta, focaccia and sourdough. The most important requirement is that your bread be sliced thick enough so that the sandwich can be grilled.

You can use whatever filling you’d like, but here are some suggestions:

  • Italian cold cuts, peppers, mozzarella cheese, anchovies
  • Chicken, cheese, spinach
  • Cooked bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese
  • Leftover turkey or chicken, mayonnaise, cranberry sauce, Monterey-jack cheese
  • Sliced ham, provolone cheese, tomatoes, Dijon mustard
  • Sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese
  • Grilled vegetables (red pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, onions) cheese
  • Brush one side of the bread with fig jam or jam of choice. Fill with sliced apple and manchego cheese.
  • Dijon mustard, shredded gruyere cheese, sliced roast beef, caramelized onions

Basic Directions:

Slice or use pre-sliced cheese.

Spread bread with condiments, if using.

Lay cheese on one bread slice.

Slice any other ingredients and place on top of the cheese.

Cover with another slice of bread spread with coniment of choice.

Place onto a preheated panini grill. Grill for 2 to 4 minutes.

Open the panini maker and check to see if the ridges are well-formed, the cheese is melted properly and the bread is toasted.

Remove the sandwich from the panini machine and cut in half.

Here are some panini for you to make. After that – use your ceativity.

Turkey Breast with Roasted Peppers and Mozzarella 

Makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted peppers
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella, sliced

Directions

In a large saucepan, bring 8 cups water to a gentle simmer. Generously salt water. Add thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and black pepper. Add turkey and simmer until breast registers 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat and let turkey cool in liquid. Store turkey in liquid, covered and refrigerated, until ready to use.

Preheat a panini press according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Remove turkey breast from poaching liquid and thinly slice; divide evenly among 4 slices of bread. Top with peppers, basil leaves and mozzarella.

Sandwich with remaining 4 slices of bread and place on the panini press. Close the lid and apply slight pressure; cook until bread is golden and cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes. If bread is sticking to the press, continue to cook and bread will unstick itself. If press is generating more heat from the bottom, flip the sandwich halfway through cooking.

Remove sandwich from press and cut in half before serving.

Steak and Cheese Panini

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb flank steak
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large vidalia onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 6 focaccia rolls or bread
  • 12 slices white cheddar cheese

Directions:

Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper on both sides. Place in a sealable plastic bag. Add garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Seal bag. Shake until ingredients are evenly distributed. Place in the refrigerator for a 1/2 hour.

Preheat a panini grill.

In a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the marinade from the bag with the steak. Add steak to the pan and saute until medium rare, 5-7 minutes per side. Remove steak from pan and let rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes.

Add onions to the pan with any remaining marinade. Saute until onions are soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes.

Cut the steak into thin slices across the grain. Put 5 to 7 thin slices of steak on each roll. Top each sandwich with onions and cheddar cheese.

Place the sandwich in the panini press and cook until the cheese melts.

Serves 6

Everything or Anything Panini

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 pound thinly sliced deli ham
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 8 garlic-flavored sandwich pickle slices
  • 8 slices Italian bread (1/2 inch thick)

Directions:

In a large skillet, saute onions in oil until softened. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until deep golden brown.

Layer the cheese, ham, tomato, pickles and caramelized onions on four bread slices; top with remaining bread.

Cook on a panini maker for 3-4 minutes or until bread is browned and cheese is melted. Yield: 4 servings.

Chicken Pesto Panini

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 focaccia bread, quartered
  • 1/2 cup prepared basil pesto
  • 1 cup sliced cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onion
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Directions::

Preheat a panini grill.

Slice each quarter of focaccia bread in half horizontally. Spread each half with pesto. Layer bottom halves with equal amounts chicken, bell pepper, onion and cheese. Top with remaining focaccia halves, forming four sandwiches.

Grill paninis 5 minues in the preheated grill,or until focaccia bread is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Tuna Melt Panini

4 Servings

 Ingredients:

  • Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ciabatta rolls, split
  • Dijon mustard for spreading
  • Eight 1/4-inch-thick slices of Swiss or cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
  • Sixteen 1/8-inch-thick lengthwise slices of kosher dill pickles

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix the tuna with the onion, olive oil, vinegar, basil and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a panini press.

Spread the cut sides of the rolls with mustard and top each roll half with two slices of cheese. Spread the tuna mixture on top of the cheese and cover with the pickles. Close the sandwiches.

Add the sandwiches to the press and grill until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.

Red Pepper, Egg and Provolone Panini

2 servings

In the south of Italy, egg and bell pepper sandwiches are a classic. For variety, add some sautéed or grilled red onion slices.

Ingredients:

  • 4 (1/2-inch thick) Sicilian-style sesame semolina bread or Italian bread of choice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and sliced
  • 2 ounces sharp Provolone cheese, sliced
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, sliced

Directions:

Preheat panini grill or stovetop griddle pan.

In a small bowl, beat eggs, oregano, salt and pepper with a fork. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Add egg mixture. Cook, lifting the edges with a fork, 2 to 3 minutes or until set.

Divide eggs, peppers and cheeses between 2 slices of bread. Top with remaining bread slices

Place on panini grill and cover. Grill 5 minutes until golden and cheese starts to melt.

And For Dessert

Chocolate Panini

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices challah or whole wheat bread or bread of choice
  • 2 ounces Nutella

Directions:

Form 2 sandwiches with the bread and Nutella

Transfer to a hot panini press and cook until the bread is golden and the chocolate has melted, 2 to 3 minutes.

(Alternatively, cook the sandwiches in a hot grill pan, turning once and pressing down frequently.)

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When the weather is warm, the last thing you feel like doing is heating up the oven or spending an hour at the stove to cook dinner. Believe it or not, pasta can actually be the perfect entree for hot-weather nights—just skip the creamy sauces and heavy toppings. Instead, toss your favorite noodles together with seasonal veggies, olive oil and a bit of grilled or sauteed meat.

If you think all carbs are created equal, think again. The truth is, pasta is and has long been a healthy carbohydrate and a central component of the Mediterranean diet, considered one of the best lifestyle diets for maintaining a healthy weight.

How did pasta get such a bad rap? The primary reason is a simple misconception — that pasta is akin to bread made from white flour. In fact, Italian pasta is made from durum, a wholly different species from bread wheat, in that, it contains a third fewer chromosomes. Durum is an older species and a hybrid of wild grasses while modern bread wheat is processed grain.

The second reason why pasta gets criticized is what we tend to do to it: over-process it and top it with too much salt and fat. This is what has turned inherently healthy pasta into something far less desirable.

Why is pasta healthy ? It has a low glycemic index (GI) — a modern concept of how fast glucose, a sugar from carbohydrates, is absorbed into the bloodstream. The GI runs from zero to 100 and foods with a higher index number tend to spike the blood with sugar. This taxes the organs — in particular the pancreas, and can lead to diabetes and obesity.

Pasta is remarkably low on the glycemic index. Pasta is anywhere from 25 to 45, depending on the type. That’s in the range of many fruits and (non-starchy) vegetables. Compare this with two staples of the American diet: white bread, with a GI of about 75; and potatoes (not sweet), with a GI of about 80. (Mashed potatoes come in at 90.) Did you have corn flakes for breakfast? They have a GI of 80, as do many breakfast cereals.

What gives Italian pasta its low GI ranking is semolina flour. Semolina is comprised of large, crystal-like yellow particles and its naturally strong gluten content prevents starch from leaching out quickly. This in turn leads to slower digestion, slower release of sugar into the blood and a greater feeling of satiation.

Researchers in the United States found that eating salad with pasta combined to produce a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Those results were published in February, 2012 in the journal, Appetite and in the journal, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, from January, 2013, where researchers in India suggested that bringing more pasta into their country, supplemented with iron and other nutrients, could combat nutritional diseases and undernourishment.

The following recipes will fill you up without weighing you down or making you sluggish. Don’t forget the salad!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Canned clams make this recipe a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1-pound) package Italian brand Linguine
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, drained and reserve the liquid
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook linguine al dente. Drain.

In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add garlic and saute‚ until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add clam juice, wine, salt and pepper.

Bring to a low boil and simmer until liquids are slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and fresh chopped parsley. Stir.

Add the hot cooked pasta to the clam sauce in the saucepan and saute together on medium-heat for two minutes. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • 1 whole star anise pod
  • 1 whole clove
  • 4 cups yellow cherry tomatoes (if they are available, otherwise regular cherry tomatoes are fine)
  • 2 teaspoons Sherry
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 ounces Italian brand spaghetti

Directions:

Cut tomatoes in half. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft but not brown, 6–8 minutes. Add garlic, basil, thyme and tarragon sprigs, star anise, and clove, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and Sherry. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes release their juices and a sauce forms, 10–15 minutes. Discard thyme, tarragon and basil sprigs, star anise, and clove. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to the sauce in skillet. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pasta, Red Beans and Broccoli Toss

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried Italian brand medium shell pasta
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1-15 ounce can red kidney beans, drained, reserving 1/4 cup of liquid
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup snipped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package instructions, adding broccoli the last 3 minutes; drain.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium; cook about 5 minutes or until onion is tender.

Increase heat to high; add pasta, broccoli, beans, chicken broth, reserved bean liquid and crushed red pepper to the pan. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cheese and parsley. Cook and stir until cheese is melted. Serve in individual pasta bowls.

Spaghetti With Quick Meat Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces Italian brand spaghetti (3/4 of a box)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 26-ounce container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add the beef, salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce slightly thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir well and heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Italian Pasta with Tuna

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried Italian brand orecchiette or other short pasta
  • 15 ounces cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 7 ounces canned tuna, in olive oil, large chunks broken up
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the orecchiette according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

In a medium skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in the garlic and beans. Saute for a minute. Add the scallions, sage, capers, lemon juice and tuna. Stir gently and add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste for seasoning and adding salt and pepper, if necessary. Pour into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Mix and garnish with sage leaves before serving. This dish is also tasty at room temperature.


Enjoying a meal together on a weeknight is a goal for many families. But adults often find themselves pressed for time on weeknights and that time crunch can make it difficult to enjoy a home cooked meal.

Time is not the only thing getting in the way of family meals: school activities, long commutes or late hours at the office, etc., can make it difficult for a family to sit down together. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse notes that family dinners are one of the most effective ways for parents to engage in the lives of their children. Studies have also shown that families who eat together tend to eat healthier, as parents can effectively monitor their kids’ diets, including whether or not their youngsters are getting enough fruits and vegetables, when they are dining together.

While it may not be feasible for parents and kids to scale back their busy schedules, there are steps parents can take to make weeknight meal preparation quicker. By shortening the time it takes to make meals on weeknights, families might be able to sit down to dinner together more often.

* Plan ahead. The most effective way to make more time for family meals is to plan ahead. Planning meals on the fly encourages everyone to fend for themselves, making it difficult for families to enjoy nutritious meals they can eat together. Plan for the coming week’s meals on the weekend, when you can survey your pantry and make a trip to the grocery store, if needed. Planning ahead also allows you to prepare certain parts of a meal in advance, which will save you time on busy weeknights.

* Make cold meals. Dinner does not have be served hot and cold meals often take less time to prepare. Consider serving salad or sandwiches on those nights when you are especially pressed for time. When serving sandwiches, serve them on whole grain bread to add nutritional value to the meal.

* Turn breakfast into dinner. There are no laws regarding what qualifies as dinner and what does not, so families without much time on their hands on a weeknight can turn breakfast into dinner. Eggs are both quick and easy to prepare and they can be served alongside toast and grapefruit. When making omelets for dinner, add some spinach or another vegetable to make the meal more nutritious.

* Lean on seafood more often. Seafood can be healthy and delicious, but that’s not the only reason it’s an ally to time strapped families. Seafood doesn’t take much time to cook, even dishes that take more time than simpler dishes, like sauteed shrimp, will still take less than 30 minutes to complete. That’s significantly less time than meals where beef, pork or poultry is the main entree.

* Leftovers aren’t just for lunch. Leftovers are often relegated to lunch, but extras from a meal cooked over the weekend can be used as a quick go to meal on a hectic weeknight. If the family enjoyed the meal the first time around, there’s no reason they won’t enjoy it again.

*Have a collection of quick recipes you can fall back on. See recipes below for a place to start.

*To save on time, take a closer look at your family’s favorite recipes and consider what can be made ahead — whether in the stages of slicing and dicing, or cooking a step in advance, or making smart choices by stocking your freezer or pantry with useful ingredients. The combination of helpful hands and a few simple organizational shortcuts will shift your dinners from hectic to manageable.

*Many recipes can be prepared through certain stages and refrigerated. Dishes with multiple components like a sauce or topping, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish, can often be partially made, reserving the final stages of assembly and cooking for the last minute to ensure freshness. The majority of casseroles can be made completely in advance and refrigerated in their baking dishes.

*Keep a stock of canned beans, grains and dried pastas in your pantry and fill the freezer with boxes of pre-cut or partially cooked vegetables, like frozen spinach or chopped broccoli. Look for items with packages that have short lists of ingredients and ones that you recognize, keeping preservatives and additives low.

Even families with hectic schedules can employ a few tricks to make dining together more convenient.

Grilled Eggplant and Tomatoes with Parmesan Crumbs

I like to grill Italian sausage, prior to putting the eggplant on the grill, to round out this delicious Italian meal.

Servings: 10

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 pounds eggplant, sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 10 tomatoes, sliced 1 inch thick

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Spread the bread crumbs on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil; toss well. Bake for 8 minutes, until the bread crumbs are crisp and golden brown.

Transfer the bread crumbs to a medium bowl and toss with the basil and cheese.

Light a grill. Brush the eggplant slices with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until charred and tender, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the eggplant to a platter, fanning them out.

Brush the tomatoes with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until charred and hot, about 1 minute per side.

Arrange the tomato slices over the eggplant and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top and serve right away.

Grilled Salmon with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives

Preserved lemons are a Middle Eastern ingredient made from lemons that have been cured in lemon juice and salt. Look for them at specialty-food shops. Serve the salmon with broccoli rabe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 of a preserved lemon, pulp discarded and peel minced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • One 2-pound, center-cut salmon fillet with skin
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 8 large green olives, such as Cerignola, halved and pitted

Directions:

Light a grill or heat a grill pan. In a bowl, mix the preserved lemon with the shallot, parsley and 1 tablespoon each of the oil and lemon juice. Using a knife, make 1-inch-deep slits in the salmon skin, 1 inch apart. Rub the preserved lemon mixture into the slits. Rub the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil all over the salmon, then drizzle the fish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice; season with salt and white pepper.

Grill the salmon, skin side down, over moderate heat until the skin is lightly charred and crisp, 5 minutes. Turn the salmon and grill until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a platter, skin side up. Scatter the olives over the fish. Cut the salmon crosswise into 6 pieces and serve.

MAKE AHEAD The seasoned salmon can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

Quick Chickpea and Summer Vegetable Stew

This light, simple stew is a great way to use a bounty of fresh summer vegetables in an easy one-pan meal. Serve with good Italian bread.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, cut into coins
  • 1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into coins
  • 1 small yellow squash, cut into coins
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 bunch (6 oz.) thin asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-in. pieces
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add carrots and cook until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in broth, chickpeas, squashes, corn, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes, then stir in tomatoes and asparagus and cook until squashes are tender but not mushy, about 3 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil.

Hanger Steak with Garlic Onion Sauce

Serve slices of steak with a fresh green salad and your favorite summer vegetable.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 hanger steaks (1 1/2 lbs. total)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Directions:

Sprinkle steaks with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add steaks and cook, turning once, until medium-rare, 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; tent with foil.

Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Add green onions and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour in broth, wine and vinegar and cook, stirring to release browned bits, until reduced by two-thirds. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter. Season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and serve with sliced steak.

Chicken Cheesesteaks

Cheesy sandwiches get a kick from a bit of cayenne. If you prefer an even more robust flavor, spread the rolls with a mixture of Dijon mustard and chili paste instead of butter. Serve with pickles and sliced fresh vegetables, such as carrot and celery sticks.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 boned, skinned chicken breast halves ( total 1 lb.) sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup sliced onion
  • 1 cup sliced green bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 4 submarine or French bread rolls, split
  • 4 romaine lettuce leaves
  • 1 cup shredded jack cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, onion, bell pepper and seasonings and cook until chicken is browned and no longer pink inside, 6 minutes.

Spread 1/2 teaspoon butter inside each roll and toast rolls, opened up, in the oven on a baking sheet for about 4 minutes. Lay 1 lettuce leaf in each roll. Sprinkle cheese over lettuce, then divide chicken mixture among rolls.

 

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Oregano (Origano in Italian) is probably the herb most commonly associated with Italy in the United States, however, it is not the mostly commonly used herb in Italian cuisine (that distinction would probably go to parsley or basil). With its pungent flavor, oregano gained great popularity in the United States after WW II, when returning G.I.’s longed for the flavor of the pizza they had eaten in Italy. Additionally, the large American-Sicilian community in the United States contributed to making this herb very popular, but it would be quite unusual to see it in the regional cuisine of central and northern Italy.

Native to the Mediterranean, oregano is very closely related to marjoram. Oregano (like basil, sage, mint, rosemary, thyme and marjoram) belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family. The intensity of oregano varies tremendously, depending on a number of factors: the variety or genus, the soil, the climate and the season all have a great influence on the content of its essential oils – phenols carvacrol and thymol – which are what determine its flavor and intensity. Oregano sometimes can be so strong, it can actually numb your tongue. But other varieties grown in colder climates often have minimum aroma and flavor. The most commonly used variety in Italy is the “Sicilian Oregano” – spicy, sweet and fragrant, this variety is a hybrid made from sweet marjoram or wild marjoram and origanum onite. As with thyme and bay leaves, this herb is usually more flavorful in dried form than fresh.

Cut the small leaves from the woody stems with scissors, if you are using fresh oregano. Wash the leaves thoroughly before using them and blot dry with a paper towel. 

Wrap uncut stems in a damp paper towel, place inside a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Store dried oregano in an airtight container away from light and heat for up to 2 years. Faded color or dimished aroma or taste usually indicates that the herb is old and should be replaced.

Before adding the herb to your dish, take the leaves in your hands and roll them between your palms to crush them and release the natural oils. The flowers of the oregano plant can also be eaten in salads. They are purple or pink. They impart a slightly spicy flavor.

If you are creating a “bouquet garni,” wash the oregano with the leaves on the stems. Tie the oregano to thyme, basil, parsley, rosemary, tarragon and/or bay leaves with a string. Drop it in a stock mixture and allow it to simmer until all the flavors are imparted into the mixture.

Oregano is a key ingredient in pizza and numerous Sicilian and southern Italian preparations for pasta – such as Bucatini con sarde e melanzane (Bucatini pasta with sardines and eggplant) and Pasta al forno alla palermitana (baked pasta Palermo style), for vegetables, such as Patate con origano (potatoes with oregano) or Peperoni alla menta e origano (peppers with mint and oregano). Often used in Sicily and parts of southern Italy with grilled fish, oregano is also an important ingredient in Italian/American cuisine – most famously – in marinara sauces.

Cooking Suggestions:

  • Oregano pairs very well with tomatoes and other Mediterranean herbs, such as basil. Add the oregano toward the end of the cooking process to help maximize its natural flavor.
  • Experiment by adding 1 teaspoon of fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano to your pasta or pizza sauces.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano or 1 teaspoon of fresh oregano to a vinaigrette for salad.
  • Make a marinade or sauce with other ingredients that pair well with oregano. These include olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, onion, parsley and thyme. They make an excellent marinade for lamb, beef or chicken.
  • Substitute oregano in place of marjoram or thyme, if you lack those ingredients. Marjoram is a type of oregano and thyme has a similar flavor, so they can be used to create the same culinary effect. Marjoram, however, tends to have a more subtle flavor.
  • Add oregano after you saute or cook broccoli, zucchini, onion, eggplant or cauliflower. You may also want to add it to stewed or baked dishes with these vegetables. 
  • Create an appetizer by covering crostini, or toasted bread, with a thin layer of provolone cheese. Sprinkle fresh, chopped oregano leaves on top of the cheese and place on the grill or in a broiler for 5 minutes.
  • Add a small amount of oregano along with basil and other herbs to steamed seafood dishes, such as mussels and clams. It can also be used in a marinade and to flavor to other seafood dishes, but you should use it in small amounts because of its somewhat strong taste.
  • When cooking with dried oregano, avoid sprinkling it directly from its container into a hot or steaming pot. The steam can hasten the loss of the remaining flavor and aroma in the herb. Taste and smell the herb before adding it to your dish. Older herbs will have lost some flavor, so you may need to use more in the recipe.

Some Recipes to Use Your Oregano 

Creamy Yogurt Oregano Dip

This would make a great sauce for lamb chops, falafel, hamburgers or a cracker/vegetable appetizer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plain low fat Greek yogurt or strained yogurt (see note below)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (or two green onions)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated (I used a microplane or you can use a garlic press
  • 2 quick dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate to develop flavors, at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

Strained Yogurt: Set a large strainer over a 4-cup measuring cup. Line the strainer with a whitempaper towel. Add yogurt to strainer and cover with pastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator until yogurt is thick (about 1 cup liquid will drain from yogurt), at least 2 hours or overnight.

Olive Bread with Oregano

This bread goes very well with a bowl of soup.

12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, (or olives of choice) chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Set aside.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl; make a well in the center of the mixture. Combine buttermilk, butter and egg whites, stirring with a whisk. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in onion, olives and oregano.

Spread batter into an 8×4 inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

 

Roasted Baby Eggplant

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 baby or small, thin eggplants (about 3 pounds)
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 12 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 8 ounces Feta cheese, sliced for serving
  • Olives for garnish

Directions:

Heat oven to 450°F. Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, cutting only about 3/4 of the way through so the eggplant halves remain attached at the top. Arrange the eggplants in a baking dish at least 2 inches deep, such as a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Thinly slice 1 lemon. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 2 lemons. Insert the lemon slices into the slit in each eggplant, then press some garlic and oregano into each slit. Season with the salt and pepper. Drizzle the eggplants with the lemon juice and oil. Cover with foil and roast, basting frequently with the juices in the dish, until the eggplants are very soft, about 40 minutes.

Remove foil and roast for 5 more minutes. Transfer to individual plates and top with the pan juices, olives and Feta.

Red Peppers Stuffed with Feta, Orzo, Lemon & Oregano

Yields 4 peppers.

Cooking the peppers uncovered gives them a delicious, roasted flavor. Serve them with a little of the pan juices spooned over the top. A red pepper is practically ready-made for stuffing. Just trim away ribs and shake out seeds. Look for pretty peppers with relatively flat bottoms so they stay upright as they bake.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into large dice
  • 2 1/2 oz. kale, washed and torn into bite-size pieces (2 cups lightly packed)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 2/3 cups cooked orzo, cooled (from 3/4 cup raw orzo)
  • Grated zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1/4 lb. feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon. chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 11/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 8 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 4 medium red bell peppers
  • 11/2 cups dry white wine or water

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet until moderately hot. Add the red onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the kale and cook, stirring often, until wilted and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the onion and kale with the cooked orzo, lemon zest, lemon juice, feta cheese, oregano, thyme, parsley and olives. Toss gently until combined and season with salt and pepper.

Slice off the top 1/2 inch of each pepper and reserve. With a paring knife, cut away the ribs and discard.

Turn the pepper upside down and pat it to get all the seeds to fall out. Divide the orzo filling among the peppers. Replace the top of each pepper.

Put the peppers in a medium baking dish and sprinkle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine in the pan. Bake until the peppers are very tender and slightly blackened on top, about 1-1/2 hours.

Grilled Shrimp with Lemon and Oregano

6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs jumbo shrimp in shell
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano (from 1 bunch)
  • 3 lemons, each cut into 6 wedges

Directions:

Snip through the shells of the shrimp along the middle of the back using kitchen shears, exposing the vein and but leaving the tail and adjoining segment of shell intact. Devein shrimp, leaving shells in place.

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with salt using a large heavy knife. Transfer to a blender along with lemon juice and pepper and blend until smooth. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream, blending until emulsified. Transfer dressing to a bowl and stir in chopped oregano.

Prepare grill for cooking over direct heat with medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas).

Toss shrimp with 1/4 cup ot the dressing in a large bowl and marinate no more than 15 minutes. (Texture of shrimp will change if marinated too long.)

Lightly brush lemon wedges with some of remaining dressing and grill, turning over once, until grill marks appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large platter.

Grill shrimp on lightly oiled grill rack (covered only if using a gas grill), turning over once, until just cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes total. Transfer shrimp as soon as they turn pink to the platter with the lemons.

Serve with remaining dressing.

Lemony Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Fresh Oregano

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 pound chiocciole or other small tube-shaped pasta
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, room temperature
  • 3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes (3 cups), quartered
  • 1/3 cup whole fresh oregano leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain.

Finely grate the zest of 1 lemon into a large bowl. Add cheese, tomatoes and oregano; toss to combine.

Squeeze 4 tablespoons juice from the lemons into a small bowl and whisk together lemon juice, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add pasta and lemon dressing to tomato mixture and mix well; adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.


Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate the herb with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated in India and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times. Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means “Sacred Basil,” and some of the many varieties of the plant were incorporated into Indian cooking centuries ago. From India, basil traveled not only to Europe and Africa, but spread to other parts of Asia as well, most notably to Thailand. Today, there are at least a dozen varieties grown for culinary use.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum bacilicum) and, its close relative, basilico genovese are the only varieties used in Italian cooking. Its flavor has been described as spicy and peppery, with a hint of clove and mint – but of course this doesn’t come close to capturing its unique essence. Perhaps it’s more helpful to talk about what it pairs with best: olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme – and, of course, tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes seem to have been made for each other – as in the famous, insalata caprese – tomato mozzarella salad, as well as, tomato sauces. But, this herb also enhances other vegetables – such as zucchini and eggplant, to name just a few, and is widely used in many pasta dishes.

If you’re growing basil in your garden or on a window sill,  cut the basil leaves, often, from the top of each stem. The leaves grow back quickly and stronger. Basil preserves well in oil and can also be frozen. It is rich in antioxidants and, some claim , it has anticancer and antiviral properties. In Italy, basil is believed to help along the after-lunch nap that millions of Italians still enjoy on hot summer afternoons.

Basil is one herb in particular that really shines when it’s fresh. Just think of a homemade marinara sauce using fresh basil — would it be the same using dried? But beyond those familiar dishes we most associate with basil (tomato sauce, pizza, meatballs, pesto), the herb can actually work wonderfully well in many more dishes, including cocktails and desserts.

Basil is my favorite herb and I grow quite a bit of it every year – at least 4 containers worth, Naturally, I cannot let it go to waste. As a result I have become very creative in using this herb in any number of ways. I also freeze it for use in winter time tomato sauces. Not quite as good as the fresh leaves, but way better than dried.

Emerald Gimlet

1 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 3 big basil leaves
  • Ice Cubes
  • 1/2 ounce Lemon Simple Syrup
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces good Vodka

Lemon Simple Syrup:

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Mix the basil leaves with ice in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon simple syrup, lime juice and vodka. Shake and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a lime slice or a basil leaf.

To make lemon simple syrup: 

Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for one minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it rest until it cools to room temperature.

Add the lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon or disposable stirrer.

Transfer the lemon simple syrup to a sterilized glass bottle. Store the simple syrup in the refrigerator between uses.

 

Fresh Basil Vinaigrette

Fresh basil and a bit of garlic are whirled into a simple fresh basil vinaigrette for your next salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a blender or food processor, whirl the basil, oil, vinegar and garlic until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 cup.

Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad

Use only the freshest, sweetest corn for this recipe – corn that’s so tender and sweet you can eat it raw! This salad is wonderful as a side with any grilled meal or as part of any no-cook summer dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 ears sweet corn
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs basil

Directions:

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix oil, vinegar and salt. Add onion to the dressing. Set dressing aside.

Husk corn and cut off kernels. Core, seed and chop tomatoes. Cut basil into thin strips (chiffonade).

Toss corn and tomatoes with the dressing. Let marinate for a few hours at room temperature.

Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Chilled Summer Squash and Basil Soup

4 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds mixed summer squash
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lemon quarters for serving

Directions:

Roughly chop the squash, onion and garlic.

In a large saucepan heat oil; add squash and garlic. Cook vegetables gently to soften, partly covered, in the heated oil, stirring now and again.

Pour in 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 cups of the basil leaves, then blend together with an immulsion blender until smooth with tiny flecks of basil visible. Season to taste.

Allow to cool, then chill for four hours or overnight. The soup may be a little thick, but the basil ice and lemon juice addition will thin it.

Meanwhile, place the remaining basil leaves and the remaining stock in a shallow container. Push the basil into a single layer and freeze the mixture until set.

Break the ice into cubes and add pieces of the basil ice to each serving of soup. Garnish with lemon quarters.

 

Orange-Basil Grilled Mahi-Mahi

2 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound filleted Mahi-Mahi, skin on (or fish of choice)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons shredded basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steamed green beans, for serving

Directions:

Make the sauce by combining and mixing the ingredients together. Set aside.

Oil and lightly salt the fish. Place fish on a greased grill pan, skin side up, then slide the pan under a hot broiler until the skin is blistered.

Turn the fish over with a wide spatula and spoon on some of the sauce.

Cook for a minute or two. Lift fish onto plates (or shallow bowls) and pour over the rest of the sauce.

Serve with green beans.

Tip: Take care not to overcook the fish; – it must stay moist to be at its best.

Basil Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini stuffed with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil make a fresh summer side dish. For the nicest presentation, use long, relatively skinny zucchini.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium 2-inch-wide zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Trim both ends off the zucchini and cut each in half lengthwise. Cut a thin slice off the underside of each zucchini, so each half sits flat. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/4-inch shell. Finely chop the pulp; set aside.

Place the zucchini halves in a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and microwave on High until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. (Alternatively, steam in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a large skillet or pot.)

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add tomatoes, cheese, basil and the reserved zucchini pulp; toss to combine. Divide the filling among the zucchini. Serve.

 

Grilled Beef Braciole with Tomato-Basil Sauce

Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • 8 plum tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley leaves

For the beef:

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

3 (8-inch) pieces butcher’s twine, soaked in cold water

Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Directions:

Heat the grill to high and oil the grill grates.

For the sauce:

Cut the tomatoes in half, brush them with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the tomatoes on all sides until slightly charred and soft. Remove the tomatoes from the grill, chop and place in a serving bowl.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, onion, vinegar, basil and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Set aside while the beef cooks.

For the beef:

Place the steak on a flat surface.

Combine the cheese, basil and garlic in a small bowl. Brush the steak on the side facing up with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese mixture evenly over the steak, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides.

Starting with the long end, tightly roll the meat up like a jelly roll and tightly tie with the butcher’s twine on the ends and in the center. Brush the entire outside of the steak with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place on the grill, seam-side up and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-inch thick slices. Serve several slices per person topped with some of the tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

 

Green Apple and Basil Granita

8 Servings

Guests will welcome this refreshing granita after a heavy meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1,000-mg) tablet vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves

Equipment: cheesecloth

Directions:

Crush the vitamin C tablet in a large bowl with the back of a spoon. (Vitamin C will keep the basil bright and green.)

Line a sieve with a dampened triple-layer of cheesecloth and set it over the bowl with the vitamin C.

Puree apples with the water in a food processor (do not use a blender) until almost smooth, then pour into the cheesecloth lined sieve. (Do not clean processor bowl.)

Squeeze as much clear juice as possible through the cloth and discard solids remaining in the cheesecloth.

Puree basil with sugar until it is deep green, then add apple juice mixture and puree until combined.

Freeze mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish, scraping and stirring with a fork every 30 minutes, until frozen, at least 3 hours. (It will be too hard to scrape once fully frozen.)

Make ahead: Granita can be made 2 days ahead (cover once frozen). Let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes and re-scrape before serving in glass dishes.


A change in diet can be tough for kids. Gradual changes can be effective, though, such as switching from regular to whole-grain pasta in stages. First add 1/4 cup of the healthier noodle and each time gradually add more, until eventually they’re eating the entire dish whole-grain style. The key is making the changes over time and not making a big deal about them.

When your children see you eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they’ll follow your lead. Help your child develop healthy eating habits by setting an example. You’ll send a message that good health is important.

Find new ways to introduce healthy food. For example, try a small amount of broccoli mixed in with whole-grain macaroni and cheese. Sometimes cooking veggies in forms that kids are comfortable with can encourage them to try different vegetablesYou can add peas to pasta or even make a half cauliflower/half potato mash.

When your kids ask for candy and a soda, help them make better choices by stocking up on healthy snacks. 

Present new foods or healthy choices, but don’t force children to eat it. Ask what new foods they’re interested in trying and offer to make them. Get excited about their willingness to try them! Put a small portion of a new food on their plate and ask them to taste it. 

When everyone sits down together for meals, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Everyone develops good eating habits and the quality family time is an added bonus.

Food shouldn’t be a source of stress for your family. Get your kids to eat healthier by being creative and consistent. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference.

Involve your children in choosing and preparing meals. Take them to the grocery store to help shop. Children who are involved in cooking are more interested in eating what they’ve prepared.

Have them help put together a shopping list and give them fun, educational tasks. For example, you can tell them to count out six apples into a produce bag at the store.

They can rinse and chop vegetables, tear lettuce or stir the pot. My grandsons love putting the cheese on pizza dough.

Thinking about a weekly schedule may seem overwhelming, so start with two or three days at a time. Good dinners should be balanced with whole-grain bread, rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable and a lean protein or meat.

Make a game of reading food labels. Read books about food and explain where it comes from. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat.

Not So Healthy Food Choices

Hot Dogs

Since they’re filled with sodium, they zap water from kids’ bodies—and up children’s chances of dehydrating. Plus, they are loaded with saturated fat, which is a factor in causing heart disease, even for little people. Another reason to cut back on hot dogs: One study found that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month are significantly more likely to develop childhood leukemia.

Smart swap: Chicken apple sausages. They’re made with lean meat that’s lower in fat, calories and salt. The sausages also contain bits of real apple, which add a touch of sweetness that most kids love. There are now several healthy hot dog choices in the markets – just check the label for lower sodium and lower saturated fats. You will also want to avoid nitrates, such as the hot dogs made by Applegate. 

Pepperoni Pizza

One slice of pepperoni pizza packs nearly 300 calories and your little one may want seconds. This type of pizza includes lots of saturated fat and sodium, about 700 mg per piece. Kids need only 1,000 to 1,300 mg total per day.

Smart swap: Homemade veggie pizza on whole-grain crust. Besides being healthier, your child can pitch in with this cooking project, which wards off boredom. Just buy a premixed ball of whole-grain dough, low-sodium tomato or pizza sauce and vegetables your little one loves. You can also add skinless chicken breast, ham or lean hamburger for protein, which keeps kids fuller, longer and means less roaming around in the kitchen for a snack.

Ice Pops

Like soda, they come with empty calories that can cause weight gain. As refreshing as they might seem, they’re actually filled with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring and dyes.

Smart swap: Frozen fruit. Freeze cubes of watermelon. Watermelon has a high water content, so the result is a sweet treat that keeps kids hydrated. You can also freeze grapes (just don’t give them to children under four years old, as they can be a choking hazard), blueberries and orange slices are other tasty, nutritious options. Unsweetened fruit juice also makes great frozen pops.

Potato Chips

Not only can all of that sodium in chips cause dehydration, but it can also prompt kids to quench their thirst with sugary drinks. Plus, chips are high in fat.

Smart swap: Grilled corn. An ear of sweet corn on the cob is a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for kids year-round, but summer schedules mean kids get less of it and it’s necessary for optimum gastrointestinal health. How much fiber does your small fry need? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests: Children 1-3 years: 19 grams of fiber per day; Children 4-8 years: 25 grams of fiber per day; Boys 9-13 years: 31 grams of fiber per day; Girls 9-13 years: 26 grams of fiber per day. For a calcium boost on top of the fiber fix, roll an ear of grilled corn in a bit of shredded Cheddar or Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Drinks

What children drink can have a major effect on how many calories they consume and how much calcium they get to build strong bones. One research study found that every additional serving of a sugary drink a day increases a child’s risk for obesity by as much as 60%.

Smart swap: Water can’t be beat. Kids may be upping their liquid intake when they drink sugar-filled beverages, but they’re also consuming hundreds of extra empty calories. If your child finds H20 ho-hum, freeze berries into large ice cubes and float them in cups of water or add a splash of unsweetened fruit juice to their glass of ice water

Healthy Easy Kid Friendly Recipes

Snacks

Baked Mozzarella Bites

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 mozzarella bites and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

  • 3 (1-ounce) sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese

  • 3 tablespoons egg substitute

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce (homemade or store bought- check label for sodium and sugar content and choose lower levels.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup panko to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and place the panko in a shallow dish.

Cut mozzarella sticks into 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, dip cheese in egg substitute; dredge in panko. Place cheese on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is softened and thoroughly heated.

Pour the marinara sauce into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring after 30 seconds. Serve with mozzarella pieces.

Chocolate-Granola Apple Wedges

Serves 4 (serving size: 4 apple wedges)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup low-fat granola without raisins

  • 1 large apple, cut into 16 wedges

Directions:

Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds, or until chocolate melts.

Place granola in a shallow dish. Dip apple wedges, skin side up, in chocolate; allow excess chocolate to drip back into bowl.

Dredge wedges in granola. Place wedges, chocolate side up, on a large plate. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until set.

 

Main Entrees

Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 frozen whole-grain round waffles, toasted

  • 6 ounces thinly sliced, lower-sodium deli chicken breast or home cooked and sliced thin

  • 4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella or mild cheddar cheese

  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices ripe tomato

  • 4 Boston lettuce leaves

Directions:

Combine mayonnaise and the next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl.

Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over 4 waffles. Divide chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce evenly on the four coated waffles.

Top with remaining toasted waffles.

Individual Pizzas

Let your children assemble these pizzas.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough or homemade pizza dough

  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce

  • 4 individual mozzarella string cheeses

  • 8 black olive slices

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide pizza dough into four pieces. Stretch and roll out each piece into a 5-inch round.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce on each pizza round.

Peel string cheese into long, thin pieces and place on top of the the sauce,

Top each pizza with two black olive slices for the pizza eyes.

Or, let the children be creative and decorate the pizza as they wish.

Bake the pizzas for 12-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed ground beef is a healthier choice) or ground turkey

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seaoning

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 10 oz pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1 box large pasta shells

Directions:

Prepare Meat Sauce:

Brown beef in a large saucepan. Drain on paper towels to remove fat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and saute onion and garlic.

Add tomato paste and Italian seasoning; cook for one minute. Return beef to the pan and add crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper. Simmer 30-40 minutes until thickened.

Prepare Filling:

Saute 1/2 cup onions and 2 minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add spinach and cook two minutes. Put mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Combine cooled spinach mixture with mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.

Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente, drain and set aside on clean kitchen towels.

Spoon filling into shells and place in a greased 9×13 inch baking pan.

Top with meat sauce and remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.

 

Desserts

Frozen Pudding Pops

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant chocolate or chocolate fudge pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant banana cream, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla or white chocolate pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 16 Small plastic cups (3 oz. bathroom size)

  • 16 Wooden popsicle sticks

Directions:

Place sixteen 3-ounce disposable plastic drink cups in a 13×9 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Put the chocolate pudding mix into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons pudding into each cup. Cover cups with a piece of foil. Freeze for 1 hour.

Place desired second flavor pudding mix in another medium bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Remove pudding-filled cups from the freezer; uncover. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the second flavor of pudding over the frozen pudding in cups.

Recover each cup with the  foil. Make a small hole in the center of foil with the sharp knife. Push a wooden stick through the hole and into the top layer of pudding in the cup.

Put the baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until pudding pops are firm. Remove from freezer. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Remove pudding pops from the cups to serve. Makes 16 pops.

Mini S’Mores

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 whole graham cracker squares

  • 16 tiny marshmallows

  • 1 ½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  • 1 tablespoon white sprinkles

Directions:

Preheat the broiler. Using a serrated knife, cut each graham cracker into quarters (you will have 16 portions).

Place half of the crackers on a baking sheet and top each with a 2 tiny marshmallows. Broil 3 inches from the heat for just a few seconds until the marshmallows start to brown.

Remove and quickly top with remaining graham crackers. Dip one end into the melted chocolate, place on waxed paper and decorate the chocolate side with sprinkles.

Let stand until chocolate sets. Mini s’mores can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

*To melt chocolate, place chopped chocolate in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat until melted.

 


After the long wait for the first tomato to ripen, do you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a tomato deluge? You may have also grown too many tomatoes or found yourself carried away when purchasing at the farmers’ markets. Here are a few ways to enjoy all of your tomatoes to the maximum.

1. Eat tomatoes fresh or barely cooked.

Mid-summer is too hot for lengthy cooking and little preparation is needed for tomato consumption. Slice or chop some tomatoes and sprinkle on a little salt. Just slightly more work, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs and now you have a snack or side dish. Toss on some cheese — feta or bleu — and you can call it a salad. With further preparation, you could enjoy tabbouleh.

2. Preserve for later.

Canning tomatoes is the best place to start if you are interested in learning to can. Anyone with motivation can learn to can by carefully following the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing and Hydration. Most tomatoes and especially heirloom varieties tend to be high in acid and, therefore, resistant to spoilage. A favored method of preserving tomatoes is canning a not-too-thick tomato sauce that can be simmered further in soups or spaghetti sauces in the fall and winter.

Weather too hot for lengthy cooking sessions is also unsuitable for the boiling water of canning, so you might consider freezing a quart or two of sauce. I have also had good luck with freezing tomatoes whole in Ziploc bags or plastic containers to cook later on in the year.

3. Share your bounty.

The best thing about having too many tomatoes or any vegetable is that you can feel generous and share. Neighbors and co-workers seem especially appreciative of receiving extra produce. If you have a lot to share with those in need, be aware that Food Gatherers accepts produce donations.

The days of too many tomatoes pass quickly. What are your favorite ways to enjoy your tomato bounty?

Fresh Marinara Sauce

Yields about 2.5 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and diced (about 2 cups diced)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 12 cups peeled, seeded and chopped fresh ripe tomatoes (about 5 lbs)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly on medium heat until they start to caramelize. They should be evenly brown and soft.

Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer and cook on low, stirring occasionally for at least 2 hours, or longer depending on the water content of the tomatoes. The sauce should be thick with much of the water evaporated to concentrate the flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Freeze in 2 cup portions for use during the winter.

Tomato and Basil Spread

Makes 1-1/4 cups spread (10 servings).

Ingredients:

  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 -8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 -2 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • Miniature toasts and/or crackers/cut up vegetables

Directions:

Place chopped tomatoes on a paper towel to remove some of their liquid.

In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes, cream cheese, basil, garlic and pepper.

Stir in enough of the milk to make mixture of spreading consistency.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours. Serve with crackers and vegetables.

Crunchy Zucchini and Tomato

Broiling these lightly breaded vegetables gives them a crunchy yet tender texture, while keeping them healthy with only 54 calories per serving.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 4 slices
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large tomato, cut into 4 slices
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions:

Preheat broiler. Coat both sides of zucchini and tomato slices with olive oil. Sprinkle zucchini and tomato slices with Italian seasoning and pepper.

Place zucchini slices on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat about 8 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning once halfway through broiling.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, cheese and garlic.

Place tomato slices on broiler pan next to zucchini slices. Sprinkle tops of vegetable slices with bread crumb mixture. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes more or until topping is golden.

Fresh Tomato-Feta Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
  • 4 plum tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal, for sprinkling on pizza pan
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1 ounce pitted kalamata olives, halved (1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Let dough stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes.

Arrange tomato slices on a jelly-roll pan lined with paper towels; top with more paper towels. Let stand 30 minutes.

Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in the oven. Preheat oven to 500° F. (keep pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven as it preheats).

Combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oil and garlic carefully, so as not to break the tomatoes.

Press dough into a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal and pierce dough liberally with a fork.

Place pizza pan on stone and arrange tomato mixture on dough. Crumble cheese and sprinkle over the tomatoes.

Bake at 500° F. for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and cheese is lightly browned.

Remove from the oven; top with olives and basil. Brush outer crust with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil.

Cut into serving pieces.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Clams

4 servings (serving size: about 2 cups pasta with 4 clams

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups chopped tomato (about 4 large)
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces uncooked whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 littleneck clams

Directions:

Combine tomatoes, 1/3 cup chives, 1 tablespoon garlic, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes. Drain mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving liquid.

While the tomatoes stand, bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook the pasta for 10 minutes or until al dente and drain.

Heat butter, olive oil and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic in a large skillet over low heat; cook 3-4 minutes or until tender. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add reserved tomato liquid and bring to a boil and cook 6 minutes.

Add clams; cover and cook 4 minutes or until shells open. Remove clams from the pan to a pasta serving bowl as they open and discard any unopened shells.

Add drained pasta to the pan with the tomato mixture and cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Pour into the serving bowl with the cooked clams and top with the remaining chives.

Red Lentil-Rice Cakes with Fresh Tomato Sauce

6 servings- 12 cakes (serving size: 2 cakes and 1/2 cup sauce)

If you’re starting with leftover cooked rice, use about 1 1/2 cups.

Ingredients:

Sauce:

  • 3 cups finely chopped plum tomato (about 6 tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cakes:

  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

Directions:

To prepare sauce, combine the first 5 ingredients; set aside at room temperature.

To prepare cakes:

Bring 4 cups water and lentils to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Place lentils in a large bowl.

Combine remaining 1 cup water and rice in the same pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Cool 10 minutes. Add rice to lentils.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, fennel and garlic to the pan; saute 2 minutes or until tender. Cool 10 minutes. Add to the rice mixture.

Add mozzarella cheese and remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Cook cakes in two batches. Spoon rice mixture by 1/3-cupfuls into pan, spreading to form 6 (3-inch) circles; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Carefully turn cakes over; cook 5 minutes on other side. Remove cakes from the pan.

Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining rice mixture. Serve with tomato sauce and a green salad.

Oven-Baked Chicken With Fresh Mozzarella & Tomatoes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 (6 ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 8 slices fresh tomatoes or more if tomatoes are small
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a shallow dish, stir to mix well.

Dip chicken, one piece at a time, in the beaten egg and dredge in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing to adhere.

Place chicken in the prepared dish.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Turn the oven to Broil.

Top with tomato slices, vinegar and mozzarella cheese.

Broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes to warm the tomatoes and melt the cheese.

Sprinkle with basil and parsley.


Eggplant is a vegetable long prized for its beauty, as well as its unique taste and texture. Eggplants belong to the plant family commonly known as nightshades and are kin to the tomato, bell pepper and potato. Eggplants grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.

One of the most popular varieties of eggplant in North America looks like a pear-shaped egg, a characteristic from which its name is derived. The skin is glossy and deep purple in color, while the flesh is cream colored and spongy in consistency. Contained within the flesh are seeds arranged in a conical pattern.

In addition to this variety, eggplant is also available in a cornucopia of other colors including lavender, jade green, orange and yellow-white, as well as in sizes and shapes that range from that of a small tomato to a large zucchini.

While the different varieties do vary slightly in taste and texture, one can generally describe eggplant as having a pleasantly bitter taste and soft texture. In many recipes, eggplant fulfills the role of being a complementary ingredient that balances the surrounding flavors. Eggplant is low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and contains nutrients invaluable for good health.

eggplants range in all shapes and sizes/

Shahla Khan, a senior adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of North Florida, discusses myths and facts about this fruit.

Myth: Eggplant is a vegetable.

Fact: While it’s generally thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit. The eggplant, aubergine, melongene, brinjal or guinea squash is a plant of the family Solanaceae. Eggplant is grown for its usually egg-shaped fleshy fruit and is eaten as a cooked vegetable. Some even consider it a berry.

Myth: Consuming eggplant causes insanity and can be poisonous.

Fact: Because eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, people thought the purple bulb variety was associated with the mandrake plant and was poisonous and, if you ate it, you would go insane. Some people also thought nightshade vegetables were harmful because they confused them with “deadly nightshade,” an inedible weed that’s also part of the Solanaceae family. Historically, deadly nightshade has been associated with witchcraft. When ingested in large amounts, it’s believed to cause convulsions or even death. But that has nothing to do with eggplant.

Myth: Eggplant always has to be salted before cooking to remove its bitter taste.

Fact: The raw fruit can have a somewhat bitter taste. Salting and then rinsing the sliced fruit may soften and remove some of the bitterness. Some varieties of eggplant do not need this treatment, because they are far less bitter. The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and the salting process may reduce the amount of oil absorbed.

Myth: Eggplant contains some unhealthful compounds.

Fact: The health benefits of this nightshade fruit far outweigh any risks. Eggplants contain many nutrients that are invaluable to health. Potassium, manganese, copper, vitamins B1, B3 and B6, folate, magnesium and tryptophan, to mention just a few. In addition to those nutrients, eggplants are low in sodium, fat and cholesterol and one cup of cooked eggplant has about 30 calories. Eggplants also contain phytochemicals that enhance health.

Myth: When purchasing eggplant, the bigger the better.

Fact: Smaller, immature eggplants are best. Their seeds will be softer and they are less likely to be bitter. Eggplants are very perishable and get bitter with age. They should have firm, taut, smooth and shiny skins. Once the skin starts to wrinkle or you feel and see soft brown spots, the quality of the eggplant has lessened. Large, oversize eggplants may be tough, seedy and bitter.

Source: University of North Florida’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics.

How to Select and Store

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.

The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.

Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it, as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.

Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf in the refrigerator.

If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since it will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.

Tips for Preparing Eggplant

When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife as carbon steel will react with its phytonutrients and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends.

Most eggplants can be eaten either with or without their skin. However, the larger ones and those that are white in color generally have tough skins that may not be palatable. To remove the skin, you can peel it before cutting or if you are baking it, you can scoop out the flesh once it is cooked.

To tenderize the flesh’s texture and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can sweat the eggplant by salting it. After cutting the eggplant into the desired size and shape, sprinkle it with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. This process will pull out some of its water content and make it less permeable to absorbing any oil used in cooking.

Rinsing the eggplant after “sweating” will remove most of the salt.

Eggplant can be baked, grilled, roasted in the oven or steamed. If baking it whole, pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to make small holes for the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 177 degrees Celsius) for 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon size. You can test it by gently inserting a knife or fork to see if it passes through easily.

Appetizer Course

Eggplant Picadillo

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped fine
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 large eggplants, peeled and diced in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 – 16 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup sliced drained pimiento-stuffed green olives (5-ounce jar)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 small bunch parsley, stems discarded and leaves chopped

Directions:

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and bay leaves; saute until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant cubes; saute until cooked, about 4 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients, except parsley. Simmer until picadillo thickens, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in parsley. Discard bay leaves. Serve with toasted pita or corn chips.

Lunch Course

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

Servings: 4

This grilled-vegetable version of Eggplant Parmesan is much lighter than the fried kind.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and sliced crosswise, 1/4 inch thick 
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing vegetables
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped green olives
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped oil packed Calabrian chiles or other hot chiles
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded basil, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450°F. and heat a grill pan.

Brush the eggplant and tomato slices with olive oil and season lightly with salt.

Grill the eggplant in batches over moderately high heat, turning once, until softened and lightly charred, about 4 minutes.

Grill the tomatoes, turning once, until lightly charred but still intact, about 2 minutes. (This step can be done early in the day)

In a bowl, combine the olives, chilies and shredded basil.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  In the center, arrange half of the eggplant in a 9-inch square, overlapping the slices slightly. Top with half of the grilled tomatoes, olive mixture and cheese.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Let stand for 10 minutes. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread.

Salad Course 

Pan-grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad

6 servings

Serve at room temperature to allow the flavors to merge.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggplants, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 4 small zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Mint leaves, to garnish

Directions:

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with 2 teaspoons salt and let stand in a colander for 30 minutes.

Mix together the oil, vinegar and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat a ridged grill pan over high heat.

Brush the zucchini with a little of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the zucchini, turning once, about 3 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a large bowl.

Rinse the eggplants and pat dry with paper towels. Brush the eggplants with olive oil and cook for about 5 minutes, turning once. Transfer to the bowl with the zucchini, add the dressing and mix.

Stir in the mint leaves. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Side Dish

Broiled Eggplant with Pesto

 Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • Large bunch of basil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 lemon, to serve

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half, through the stalk. Using a small, sharp knife make a crisscross pattern across the cut surfaces to a depth of about 3/4 inch.

Brush with a little of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. The flesh should be very soft.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet, then remove from the skillet and cool.

Process the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste into a paste in a food processor. Add enough of the remaining olive oil to produce a loose-textured puree.

Mix in the cheese and spread the pesto over the scored surfaces of the eggplant. Broil until golden and bubbling. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

Dinner Course

Stuffed Eggplant

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 1 onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced small (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 ¼ cups grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 small plum tomatoes, chopped

Directions:

Cut the eggplant in half and scoop out the center, leaving enough flesh inside the skin, so that it holds its shape when baked.

Chop the eggplant that has been scooped out of the inside.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over low heat and saute the eggplant until very soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to a mixing bowl.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and saute the onion, pepper and garlic until tender. Add to the eggplant in the mixing bowl.

Salt and pepper the beef. Add the beef to the pan and saute until all of its liquid is evaporated and the beef begins to brown slightly. Add to the vegetables in the mixing bowl.

Mix together the cooked eggplant, vegetables, beef, herbs, 1 cup of the cheese, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the egg and season with salt and pepper.

Fill the scooped-out eggplant halves with this mixture, dividing it evenly between the two halves.

Top with the chopped tomatoes, the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the remaining 1/4 cup bread crumbs.  

Place in an oiled baking dish and bake for 50 minutes.

Let cool briefly; cut each half in two and serve.


Italian immigrants entered the Great Plains first as missionaries (Fra Marco da Nizza, 1495-1558 and Eusebio Francisco Kino, 1645-1711 were two) and later as adventurers ( Count Leonetto Cipriani, 1816-1888 and Italian American Charles Siringo, 1855-1928, for example). Since Italy was not a unified country until the Risorgimento (1860-70), early travelers were either in the service of Spain or France or were individual agents. In the mid-1800s the combination of economic and political conditions encouraged some Italians, like the officers and enlisted men in General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry Regiment, to find adventure on the Plains. After 1869 the transcontinental rail line brought Italian journalists and tourists to the Great Plains; their letters and published travel memoirs provided information about the people, geography and potential jobs for countrymen back home.

Giovanni Martini U.S. Army

Carlo De Rudio U.S. Army

History tells us that on June 25th and 26th, 1876 the U.S. 7th Cavalry had a date with destiny at the Little Big Horn River. On the 25th of June both Carlo De Rudio and Giovanni Martini were among the roughly 500 U.S. Troopers under Colonel Custer’s direct command. In all, the 7th had between six and twelve troopers of Italian birth in June of 1876.

Interestingly, the majority of Custer’s troopers of Italian descent served in the same unit. Part of the American military experience going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency was that Italians were considered highly skilled in the arts, especially the musical arts. As a result, it was common to find men of Italian descent in the military with duties that included being in the unit’s military band. This was true under Custer’s command with the majority of the members of the regimental band being of Italian descent. In fact the band director’s last name was Lombardi and he was identified as having been born in Naples, Italy.

Italian emigration began increased in the late 1880s, when political and economic upheaval coincided with natural disasters. A rapid rise in Italy’s population increased pressure on the land, which in many areas had been farmed to the point of exhaustion; years of poor rainfall contributed to famines and poverty; and in 1887 a devastating outbreak of malaria left 21,000 dead. Leaving one’s village in search of work in other parts of Europe was not uncommon in Italy. Between 1886 and 1890, however, there was a significant increase in emigration from Italy and by 1890 immigration to America surpassed movement to other parts of Europe.

All across the Great Plains, Italians worked together to help newly arrived immigrants find jobs and places to live. Small boarding houses provided familiar food, language and a comforting family atmosphere. Churches and schools were quickly established, as were mutual aid societies, such as the Dante Alighieri Society and the Christopher Columbus Society. The societies also served as sites for labor union meetings in mining regions.

“Little Italy” neighborhoods developed in urban areas such as Omaha, Edmonton and Sheridan. Italian-English newspapers were published in Omaha and Edmonton. Many Italians who decided to remain in the Plains, gradually worked up from their initial menial jobs to own shops, farms or businesses and, then, became active in local politics. In both Canada and the United States, immigration legislation in the 1920s and early 1930s, combined with Benito Mussolini’s efforts to reduce emigration, dramatically reduced the flow of Italian immigrants, although the movement was never eliminated entirely. By the late twentieth century, Italian immigrants were no longer laborers looking for manual work or skilled workers arriving with families, but were university students and professionals searching for educational and career opportunities that were difficult to find in Italy.

According to the 1910 census data, in the states of the Great Plains, Colorado had the largest total population of Italians (14,375). In Montana 2,568 made the Plains their home. In Nebraska 66 percent of the state’s 3,799 Italian immigrants lived in the city of Omaha and another 14 percent in Lincoln, with the remainder scattered throughout the state. Seventy-five percent of the 3,517 Italian immigrants in Kansas lived in that state’s southeastern coal-mining district. In Oklahoma, 72 percent of the state’s total Italian immigrant population (2,564) lived in the Great Plains and in Wyoming 1,086 of the statewide total (1,962) were in the Plains. In South Dakota the 1,158 Italians lived mainly on land along the rail lines and in North Dakota 1,262 Italian immigrants were recorded in 1910 census.

View of Downtown Denver 1879

Denver’s “Little Italy” had its roots in the Highlands neighborhood of North Denver. Italian miners, railroad workers and farmers helped to develop Colorado in the late 19th century and northern Italians were well represented in the state.

In the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, the area in Denver between Broadway and Zuni Streets and 46th and 32nd Avenues was known as “Little Italy”.  It was an area of Italian grocery stores and bakeries, community bread ovens, churches and schools – an area where a new wave of immigrants from all over Italy moved to and where they were comfortable and socially secure in a new country.

The area along the South Platte River, sandwiched between the growing downtown and the hills to the west, was known as “The Bottoms”.  Here many of the first Italian immigrants settled. There was also farmland along the South Platte, where they could grow cash crops of vegetables that were then sold in small, neighborhood shops and from push carts and horse-drawn wagons thoughout the neighborhoods of Denver. Later it became an area of railroad yards, industries and warehouses.

These two areas – “Little Italy” and “The Bottoms” – have undergone drastic change since those days of the first Italian immigrants. Today “Little Italy” is still a residential area interspersed with small businesses. But the demographics are most different, as the neighborhood is re-populated with a new wave of residents – young (20-30 year olds) singles and couples often with young children. “The Bottoms” is no longer an area of truck farms and warehouses, instead parks and high rise apartment buildings have been built there.

The Italian immigrants who settled in Utah faced a different environment. Their numbers were relatively small, yet they settled in four major areas and contributed to the life and labor that characterizes Utah history. These immigrants, almost all of them confined to mining and railroad centers, brought with them language, religion, beliefs, customs and products of cultural distinctiveness. The first noticeable number of foreign-born Italians in Utah appeared in 1870 and totaled seventy-four. These early immigrants, Protestant Vaudois of the Waldensian persuasion from northwest Italy, were the result of Mormon missionary activity in Italy from 1849 to 1861. Almost all settled in the fertile areas of Ogden, where they began to farm.

The first Italian laborers, predominantly from the North, began arriving in Utah in the late 1890s in response to the opening of the Carbon County coalfields. The development and expansion of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad into Utah in the 1880s was a catalyst to the state’s coal mining industry. Four major camps emerged: Clear Creek (1882), Winter Quarters (1882), Castle Gate (1888), and Sunnyside (1900) Many of these early laborers were lured to Utah by agents representing coal companies.

Upon their arrival in the Carbon County coalfields, the Italian immigrants settled in two of the four main camps, Castle Gate or Sunnyside. The coal companies (Pleasant Valley Coal and Utah Fuel) furnished a few of the workers with company-owned houses on company-owned property and compelled the laborers to trade at the company-owned stores. Trading at company stores was inevitable, since miners were issued scrip instead of currency. The company town became a prominent feature of western mining life and the immigrants who lived in them were subjected to difficult living conditions. For example, the rent charged by Utah Fuel Company depended on the number of rooms in a house. In one boxcar on company property a cloth curtain was used to divide it into two quarters. When company inspectors approached, a family member would take down the partition, so as not to be charged for two rooms instead of one.

In describing the camp at Sunnyside, a resident has written: “many put up tents in the southern part of the canyon and this section became known as “Rag Town” by local town residents. Company-owned houses were hastily erected framed structures, not plastered inside, but in 1915 the company began a program of building better homes and modernizing the camp.

Italian family in Utah

The mining and railroad opportunities in Salt Lake County also attracted Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. As early as 1880 there were thirty-five Italian laborers living in the mining camp in Bingham, mostly Piedmontese. Bingham was a bustling community of many diverse nationalities, described as “a town of 22 saloons and 600 sporting girls.” Like Carbon County, Bingham was susceptible to labor strife. The Utah Copper Company in 1903 became the major employer in Bingham Canyon.

By 1900, 102 of the 170 Italians who resided in the county lived in Salt Lake. Immigrants were employed by the Union Pacific and the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroads; but Italians also owned saloons, grocery stores and tailor shops. The lack of a mining town atmosphere with its potentially explosive character, differentiated Salt Lake City from other Italian immigrant localities. In Salt Lake, Italians took part in celebrations and parades that promoted good will between the Italian and non-Italian communities.

Life in Utah was a new experience, but Italian immigrants were able to maintain continuity with the past, while at the same time adjust to the new environment. Alexander DeConde, a resident, aptly described the situation as “it was mezzo amara, mezzo dolce (“half bitter, half sweet”).”

Carl L. Stranges immigrated to the United States, from Italy, in the 1880s at twenty years of age. After his arrival in the United States, he moved to Grand Junction, Colorado and resided there until shortly before his death in 1942. Carl Stranges opened his grocery store in the southwestern portion of the downtown area, often referred to as “Little Italy”, due to the concentration of Italian residents and Italian-owned businesses in the area. Three other grocery stores and an icehouse were located within a two-block area of the Stranges store. Carl Stranges owned and managed the grocery until shortly before his death in 1942. He willed the store to his niece and her husband who continued to operate the store until 1963. Since that time, a variety of businesses under several ownerships have used the building.

 Italian Food On the Great Plains

Antipasti of Grilled Octopus, basil pesto, tomato jam and Sicilian olive oil at Luca D’Italia.

Slices of 12-hour braised beef on a crusty baguette topped with melted taleggio cheese, caramelized onions, arugula and a red-wine sauce.  

Italian Sausage Soup with Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1- 32 oz can chicken broth
  • 1- 15 1/2 oz can kidney beans (rinse and drain them)
  • 1- 14 1/2 oz can undrained diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely crushed rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 6 oz bag baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup bowtie pasta, uncooked
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the Italian sausage and cook for about three minutes, stirring often.

Add in the onion andcook for another three minutes or until the onions become tender and the sausage browns.

Add the chicken broth to the saucepan ,as well as, the tomatoes and the red kidney beans.

Stir the soup while you add the oregano, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil.

Once it boils, reduce to low heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Finally, stir in the pasta and the spinach and turn the heat back up to medium-high. Let it boil.

Once it boils, reduce to low heat again, and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender. If you used fresh tortellini, you don’t have to let the soup simmer as long.

Serve this hearty winter soup with some garlic bread and garnish the soup with cheese.

Braised Short Ribs

Serve with Mashed Potatoes.

Ingredients:

6 bone-in short ribs (about 6 pounds)

Seasoning for short ribs:

  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 bunch fresh thyme picked clean
  • 1/2 bunch fresh rosemary picked clean and chopped
  • Flour to lightly coat the short ribs
  • Olive oil (to brown the short ribs)

Coarsely chop all the following vegetables and garlic in the food processor

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped large
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 2 peeled carrots cut in chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Braising liquid

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups Merlot
  • 2 cups beef stock (homemade or low sodium purchased)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Water to replenish evaporation during the cooking process

Fresh chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Directions:

Dry the short ribs of any excess moisture with a paper towel. Season each short rib generously with salt, fresh cracked black pepper, rosemary and thyme. Coat a roasting pan (that will fit all the meat and processed vegetables) with olive oil and bring to a high heat on the stove.

Lightly coat the seasoned short ribs with flour, add them to the pan and brown very well on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Do not stuff the pan with short ribs or they won’t brown. Better to browm them in separate batches, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

When the short ribs are browned on all sides, remove them from the pan. Leave the fat in the pan to saute the vegetables, add a drizzle of olive oil, reheat and add the chopped vegetables.

Season vegetables with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Cook the vegetables until they begin to caramelize. There will be a natural glaze of browned vegetable and meat juices on the bottom of the pan.

De-glaze

Add the Merlot and chopped tomatoes, along with the bay leaf and bring to a simmer scraping the bottom to assure all the caramelized juices are returned into the braising liquid.

Add 2 cups of beef stock.

Cover the roasting pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically while cooking and add water, if needed, to keep the liquid level just under the top of the short ribs.

Halfway during cooking turn the short ribs over to allow foe even cooking and tenderness.

During the last 20 minutes remove the cover, so the short ribs can caramelize. Garnish with fresh chopped Italian Parsley

Buffalo Cacciatore with Polenta

Serves 6 to 10

Ingredients:

  • 3 lb. buffalo roast cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, plus juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix all dry spices together and rub on the meat.

Over medium high heat, heat oil in a Dutch Oven and brown the meat. You may need to do this in two batches.

Place browned meat in a dish and set aside.

Add onion and garlic to the pan and saute for 4 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with wine; then add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil.

Return meat to the pan, cover and place in the preheated oven. Braise for 1 1/2 hours. Check for tenderness and continue braising until tender.

Prepare polenta as directed on package.

Spoon polenta on serving platter and top with Buffalo Cacciatore.

Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)

34 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Water
  • 1 ¾ cups finely ground, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Strega or Galliano liqueur
  • 1/3 cup coffee, at room temperature

Directions:

Heat oven to 325°F. Coat 2 parchment-lined baking sheets with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together baking powder and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water until dissolved, about 20 seconds.

Combine ground and chopped almonds, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, oil and salt in a large bowl.

With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the baking powder mixture, liqueur and coffee to form a wet dough.

Divide the dough into 1-oz. portions. Using your hands, roll dough portions into balls and transfer to prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1-inch apart.

Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and let cool to firm before serving.


Lamb is a favorite meat for grilling around much of the world, but not so much in the U.S. Lamb has had a tough road, here. The history of lamb in the U.S. dates back to the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom kept flocks of sheep. In the 19th century, immigrants from Greece, Spain and elsewhere brought their sheep farming traditions with them to the western U.S. During the industry’s height in the 1940’s and 50’s, some 55 million sheep grazed on U.S. grasses. Most of them were raised not for their meat, but for their wool. As synthetic fabrics took over, those numbers dropped, and by 2012 only 5.3 million sheep remained, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We lost a lot of producers,” says Angelo Theos, a third-generation Colorado sheep rancher whose grandfather came from Greece. Add to that a perception of lamb as strong-flavored and gamy, which dates back to World War II, when soldiers were fed government-issued canned mutton (adult sheep). Competition from Australia and New Zealand, which account for 50 percent of lamb consumption in the U.S., has also taken its toll.

Sirloin Chops from the Leg

“Americans eat less than a pound of lamb per person per year, compared with 54 pounds of beef”, says Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. Forty percent have never even tried it. “This disconnect exists”, Wortman says, “despite the fact that many of us have roots in parts of the world in which lamb is a staple—Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latin America, the Middle East and Spain, to name a few. The thought of Easter dinner without lamb is, for many, as inconceivable as Thanksgiving without turkey.” “Even so,” Wortman says, “many consumers are put off by lamb’s price (it is generally more expensive than beef, pork or chicken) and are intimidated by the thought of cooking it. They aren’t familiar with everyday, less-expensive cuts such as shank or sausages or shoulder chops. It’s just not on their radar.” The board also has started a “shepherd-to-chefs” campaign that connects local lamb producers with high-profile chefs in an effort to tap the growing awareness for local and sustainable food. In spite of the challenges, many ranchers and farmers remain optimistic. The number of small producers is actually on the rise, with many now keeping “farm flocks” of a few dozen to a few hundred sheep. In eastern states such as Tennessee, some farmers have replaced tobacco with sheep. And demand from chefs and new immigrants from lamb-centric cultures is changing the face of the business. Source: American lamb Board.

Chef Marjorie 1

Chef Marjorie Meeks-Bradley of Ripple, in Washington, D.C., prepares a signature dish of lamb tartare. “We sell out of it every night,” she says./AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

See Related articles below for sources of grass-fed lamb.

The rich, full flavor of lamb benefits from smoke and fire more so than other meats. Grilling mellows and softens the flavor of lamb, so that even folks who think they don’t like it become converts. The first step in cooking lamb is to select the right cut. This requires careful examination of the label and possibly a short conversation with the butcher. Loin, rib or sirloin cuts are tender and are perfect for grilling. Shoulder or leg cuts need a marinade to make them tender. The meat you choose should have light red, finely textured meat with smooth, white fat. Dark red cuts of lamb are usually older and less tender. Marbling is not as important with lamb as it is with beef, but the fat on the lamb should be evenly distributed. Also, lamb chops should be an inch thick for best grilling. The second thing you need to do is select your flavors. Lamb is excellent seasoned with garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, fennel, lemon and mustard. Any rub, marinade or sauce made with these ingredients will enhance the flavor of your lamb cuts. Begin with a thin coating of olive oil and then a light sprinkling of seasonings, but you don’t need to go overboard. You don’t want to cover the flavor of the meat; you only want to add to it.

Lamb chops should be grilled on a covered grill over a medium-high heat. Ideally, you should grill them to medium rare or medium. Keep a close eye on them and remove the meat from the grill when you reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees F. And as always, let the meat rest for a few minutes before you serve it; five minutes is usually good. 

For safety, the USDA recommends cooking ground lamb mixtures like burgers and meatloaf to a minimum internal temperature of 160 °F. However, whole muscle meats such as roasts, steaks and chops are safe to eat at 145 °F (medium rare) or cooked further to 160 °F (medium), if you prefer. Use a meat thermometer for accuracy. Lamb is now leaner than ever. While this is certainly good news for health, leaner meat requires special attention to the cooking time and temperature to prevent overcooking and toughness.

The basic major cuts (primal) of lamb are shoulder, rack, shank, breast, loin and leg. Ideally, packages of lamb should be labeled with the primal cut as well as the retail name of the product, such as “shoulder roast” or “loin chop.” Primal cuts explain which part of the animal a piece of meat originally came from, which can be helpful when deciding how to prepare the meat. For example, a tough cut like the shank should be braised for more than an hour, while tender cuts like rib chops (from the rack) or loin chops can be quickly grilled or broiled. For groups of 6 or fewer, consider individual rib chops or smaller loin roasts. And for everyday meals, there are a wide variety of delicious, reasonably priced cuts such as the blade and arm chops (from the shoulder) or sirloin chops (from the leg).

Lamb Loin Chops

Lamb loin chops grill to perfection over direct heat in a matter of minutes. Just be sure to trim excess fat before grilling to avoid flare-ups.

To grill lamb loin chops:                   

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Brush lamb chops with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and any herbs of your choosing.

Place chops on preheated oiled grill grates.

Grill lamb chops, covered, over medium heat about 8-9 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into chops registers 145 degrees F for medium-rare to 160 degrees F for medium, turning once. Don’t overcook the lamb chops or they will dry out.

 

Lamb Kabobs

Lamb kabobs are one of the most popular methods of preparing lamb worldwide. Lamb kabobs are made from well-trimmed boneless leg of lamb. For an even easier method, you can buy lamb precut for kabobs.

To grill lamb kabobs:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Cut lamb into 1-1/4-inch pieces with large chef’s knife.

lf using bamboo skewers, soak in cold water 10 to 15 minutes first to prevent burning.

Alternately thread lamb and other ingredients onto skewers.

Place kabobs on preheated oiled grill grates.

Grill kabobs, covered, over medium-hot heat 5-6 minutes.

Turn; continue to grill, covered, 5 to 7 minutes for medium or until desired doneness is reached.

Lamb Burgers

Like other ground meat, ground lamb should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F for food safety reasons.

To grill lamb burgers:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Shape seasoned ground lamb into patties, about 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter.

Shape patties on a cutting board or cookie sheet so you can easily carry them right to the grill.

Brush one side of the patties with oil; place on preheated grill, oil side down. Brush other sides with oil.

Grill burgers, covered, over medium-hot heat 8 to 10 minutes for medium or until desired doneness is reached, turning halfway through grilling time.

 

Leg of Lamb

Grilling a butterflied, boneless leg of lamb is quite simple. A whole bone-in leg of lamb is delicious, grilled, too, but it takes longer because it must be cooked over indirect heat. Leg of lamb is often sold in two pieces — the sirloin or center-cut portion and the shank portion (the part with the bone sticking out).

To grill leg of lamb:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Season butterflied boneless leg of lamb on both sides.

Insert meat thermometer into center of thickest part of lamb.

Place lamb on preheated oiled grill grates.

Grill lamb, covered, over medium heat 35 to 40 minutes or until thermometer registers 145-160 degrees F or until desired doneness is reached, turning every 10 minutes.

Transfer lamb to carving board; tent with foil. Let stand 10 minutes before carving. Slice leg of lamb thinly across the grain.

Lamb Sausage

Place thawed sausage over a medium to low fire and cook slowly for 20 or 30 minutes, turning as needed. The internal temperature should reach 160 ºF (insert the thermometer into the link from the end to get an accurate reading). Slowly cooking the meat insures that the inside is cooked without burning the outside.

All Purpose Marinade For Lamb

This is enough marinade for 1 1/2 lbs. of lamb.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Stir together honey, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper and transfer to a sealable plastic bag. Add lamb, then seal bag, pressing out excess air and turning to distribute marinade.

Marinate lamb in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, 1 hour. Bring lamb to room temperature before cooking. 

Be sure to brush the meat with olive oil before grilling. You can also add your favorite minced herbs to the meat before grilling.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Roasted Summer Squash

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped shallots
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 3 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3/4 pound)
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3/4 pound)
  • 6 (5-ounce) lamb loin chops, trimmed (about 1 inch thick)
  • Olive oil

Directions:

To make parsley sauce:

Place garlic, parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, shallots, oregano, sherry vinegar, lemon juice and red pepper in a food processor; process 1 minute or until almost smooth. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; pulse 2 times. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450° F. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Combine squash, zucchini and remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl; toss well. Arrange squash and zucchini in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Bake for 16 minutes or until tender, turning after 8 minutes. Alternately, you can wrap the squash in heavy duty foil and roast on the grill with the meat.

Lightly brush lamb with olive oil. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Place lamb on grill rack coated with oil; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

Place grilled lamb and squash on a serving plate and top with the parsley sauce.

Grilled Lamb Brochettes with Lemon Marinade

This lamb is best if you can marinate it overnight. If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 20 to 30 minutes before threading with lamb.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Grated peel from 1 lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds boned leg of lamb, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Lemon wedges

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix olive oil, lemon peel, lemon juice, 1/4 cup dill, garlic, salt and pepper. Add lamb and mix to coat thoroughly. Cover and chill overnight.

Thread cubes of lamb onto 7 or 8 skewers.

Lay skewers over a solid bed of medium-hot coals or medium-high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 3 to 4 seconds); close lid on the gas grill. Cook, turning skewers as needed, until lamb is browned on all sides but still pink in the center (medium-rare), 5 to 6 minutes, or just barely pink in the center (medium), 6 to 7 minutes.

Transfer skewers to a platter. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon chopped dill and serve with lemon wedges for a final squeeze of juice. Brochettes are delicious with an Arugula Salad topped with Parmesan cheese strips.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Grape Sauce

Grilled eggplant slices are are a great side dish for this recipe. They won’t take any longer to cook than the lamb chops.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 frenched lamb chops (ones with meat trimmed from bones; 1 1/2 lbs.)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 of a spicy green chile, roughly chopped
  • 3 tomatoes (12 oz.), quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups seedless red grapes, divided
  • Eggplant Slices, about ¼ inch thick
  • Olive oil

Directions:

Heat a grill to high (450° to 550°). Rub lamb with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Set aside.

Pulse chile, tomatoes, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and half the grapes in a food processor until smooth. Pour mixture into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Add remaining grapes; cook 2 minutes. Set aside.

If grilling eggplant. brush slices with olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and grill on one side of the grill, while you cook the lamb chops on the other side.

Grill chops, turning once, 5 minutes total for medium-rare. Plate lamb and eggplant and pour sauce over both. Serve with rice, if desired.

Grilled Leg of Lamb with Feta Sauce

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

One 5 1/2- to 6-pound butterflied leg of lamb

Yogurt Sauce:

  • 3 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, ground
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse the mint with the parsley, garlic and coriander until finely chopped. Add lemon juice and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Stir into yogurt.

Spread the lamb on a cutting board and, using a paring knife, poke the meat all over on both sides. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper and coat with 1 cup of the yogurt sauce and transfer to a glass dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Meanwhile, stir the feta cheese into the remaining yogurt sauce, cover and refrigerate.

Before grilling, bring the marinated lamb to room temperature (about 1 hour).

Light a grill and oil the grates. Grill the lamb over a medium-high fire, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 125° (150° in the thinnest part).

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the lamb and serve with the feta yogurt sauce.

Mini Lamb Burgers with Cucumber Sauce

 Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. lean ground lamb (grass-fed, if possible)
  • 1/2 minced onion (1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped, (1 teaspoon dried)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 pieces pita bread (6 inches)
  • Lettuce, Kalamata olives and 2 sliced tomatoes

Directions:

Heat grill to high and oil grill grates.

Squeeze cucumber in a paper towel to remove some of the moisture.

Make Cucumber Sauce:

In a medium bowl, combine cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make Burgers:

In a medium bowl, use a fork to gently combine lamb, onion, parsley and oregano; season with salt and pepper. Gently form mixture into 16 small patties, about 3/4 inch thick.

Grill until medium-rare, 3 minutes per side.

To serve, warm pitas on the grill turning occasionally. Cut pitas in half. Fill with lettuce, burgers, tomato and sauce. Serve with Kalamata olives on the side.



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on the road with Animalcouriers

pet transport through Europe and beyond

jittery cook

recipes worth sharing

soulofspice

delicious nourishing energizing spice

pattytmitchell

site for Patricia Mitchell, author

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