Overeating or overindulging – especially over a few days – can make you feel sluggish. Eating and preparing all your meals and snacks at home for the next few weeks will help you get back to healthy eating.
Making meals at home gives you the freedom to add in lots of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains without added salt or fat that can be found in restaurant meals.
In addition to cooking meals at home, use cooking techniques and methods that are lower calorie or lower fat. Cooking in a lot of oil or butter or using higher fat, higher calorie ingredients may only perpetuate your overindulgence.
To make home cooking easier, go to the grocery store and stock up on your favorite healthy foods. Try to purchase: lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Healthy choices will be in your refrigerator or pantry when you need them.
Here are some healthy and lower calorie dinners to help you get started.
Pork Cutlets in Mustard Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 thin boneless pork chops, 4-5 ounces each
- 3 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
- One 14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 pound small potatoes about 1 inch in diameter
- 1 pound Japanese eggplant or zucchini, cut into 2 x 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound baby carrots
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place broth, smashed garlic and potatoes in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.
Add eggplant or zucchini, carrots and the salt and pepper. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the vegetables are tender.
Coat a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, combine mustard, dill, minced garlic and olive oil.
Place pork chops in the prepared baking dish and spread tops with an equal amount of mustard and dill mixture. Sprinkle bread crumbs over each chop.
Bake for 15 minutes or until an internal temperature registers 145 degrees in the center of the pork. Place the baking dish under the broiler for 1 minute until the crumbs are brown.
Serve pork with the vegetables.
Roasted Cod with Salsa
Choose any fruit in season or the kind of fruit you like.
- 2 nectarines
- 2 peaches
- 2 plums
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1 large green or yellow bell pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 1/4 pounds cod
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup brown rice or whole wheat couscous
Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Pit nectarines, peaches and plums; dice and place in medium-size bowl. Add onion, bell pepper, lemon juice, parsley, oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Gently stir; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
In a small bowl combine the lemon zest, black pepper, thyme and oregano.
Cook the brown rice or couscous following package directions. Stir in half the lemon zest mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and set aside.
Place cod in the prepared baking dish and season with the remaining half of the lemon zest mixture and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
Place brown rice or couscous on a serving plate, top with the cod and fruit salsa.
Pasta with Sausage and Peas
- 12 ounces penne or small shell pasta, uncooked
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 links fully cooked Italian chicken sausage, sliced on the diagonal
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add pasta and cook al dente. Drain.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook 3 minutes, turning a few times, until browned. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic. Cook 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and salt and cook 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, peas and browned sausage. Heat through.
Place cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add sausage mixture and half the Parmesan. Toss to combine. Top with remaining Parmesan and serve.
Root Vegetable Chili
Corn muffins would go quite well with this dinner.
- 1 lb lean ground turkey, optional
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and diced
- 1 rutabaga, peeled and diced
- 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
- Two 14 1/2 ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- One 15 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- One 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 scallions, chopped
- Lime wedges for garnish
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ground turkey, if using, and cook until brown. Omit this step if you want a vegetarian meal.
Add butternut squash, parsnips, rutabaga and carrots. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add green pepper, tomatoes, chili powder, oregano and cumin. Simmer on medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and heat through. Stir in the scallions. Serve lime wedges on the side.
Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms
Friday night can still be pizza night.
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes
- 6 ounces sliced Portobello mushrooms
- 4 large scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
- One pound pizza dough, at room temperature
- 6 ounces mozzarella or provolone cheese, diced
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat a large rimmed baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Place tomatoes, mushrooms and scallions in the prepared baking pan and toss with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and toss the vegetables with the basil and oregano.
Stretch the pizza dough out on a rectangular baking sheet. Spoon the vegetable mixture over the top. Bake for 10 minutes and remove the pan from the oven.
Scatter the diced cheese over the pizza and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more or until the pizza is crispy. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
Risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish, rich in flavor, of which any of a hundred different ingredients can be added to it. Risotto is not only versatile, but easy to make.
Rice was first introduced into Italy and Spain by the Arabs during the Middle Ages. The humidity of the Mediterranean was found to be perfect for growing shorter-grained rice. The popularity of rice grew throughout Italy and then the outside world discovered it.
It was in Milan where the rice met its future destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries where rice was a staple. The technique for making risotto probably evolved from trying to cook the rice as porridge—boiling it in milk, water or broth until soft. A fourteenth-century manuscript known as the “Libro per cuoco” by an anonymous Venetian contains the recipe, “rixo in bona manera” or rice cooked in sweet milk.
Antonio Nebbia in “Cuoco Maceratese” introduces a revolutionary method where he suggests letting the rice soak in cold water for two hours, then frying the rice in a little butter and adding cabbage broth.
A more complete preparation appears in the early 19th century, in the anonymous “Cuoco Moderno”, printed in Milan in 1809, where the recipe “Yellow Rice in a Pan” says to cook the rice in a sauté of butter, cervellata (an Italian pork sausage), marrow, onion and gradually adding hot broth in whicj saffron had been dissolved.
And finally” the” classic recipe as described by Felice Luraschi, a celebrated chef from Milan, in his “Nuovo cuoco milanese economico” manuscript of 1829, a recipe titled “Risotto alla Milanese”.
Today the dish is served extensively, almost unchanged, in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. Ingredients as varied as scallops, lobster, truffles, veal, mushrooms, squid ink, snails, asparagus, duck, sausage, pumpkin and almost anything else you can think of are paired with this classic dish.
All rice is a member of the grass family. What makes Risotto special is it’s high amount of starch. This starch is what makes Risotto “creamy” without any cream. Risotto rice is a round medium- or short- grain white rice with the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma and Vialone Nano. They all have slightly different properties. For example, Carnaroli is less likely than Vialone Nano to get overcooked, but the latter, being smaller, cooks faster and absorbs condiments better. Other varieties like Roma, Baldo, Ribe and Originario may be used but will not have the creaminess of the traditional dish. These varieties are considered better for soups and other non-risotto rice dishes and for making sweet rice desserts. Rice designations of Superfino, Semifino and Fino refer to the size and shape (specifically the length and the narrowness) of the grains, and not the quality.
Basic Technique for Making Risotto
Risotto recipes recommended not washing the rice prior to cooking as that will make it lose its starch which is an essential ingredient of the dish. The rice and vegetables are toasted lightly in butter. Herbs, spices and a little wine are added. The rice is cooked gradually over a low flame and broth is added to the rice and stirred until absorbed. More broth is added in several steps until the rice is tender.
Popular Italian Risottos
• Risotto alla Milanese – is cooked in beef stock and beef bone marrow with lard in Italy. Cheese and saffron are added. This dish is popularly served with osso buco (a dish consisting of braised veal shanks).
• Risotto al barolo – is made with borlotti beans and sausage meat and is cooked with red wine.
• Risotto al nero de seppia (black risotto) – is a specialty from Veneto and is made with cuttlefish.
This is probably the best tasting risotto I have ever made, with much of the credit going to the Meyer lemons from my tree. You may recall that we planted the tree last April and it has rewarded us with about 20 large lemons in its first year.
Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil and Grilled Shrimp
- 6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
- 1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 1/4 cup julienned basil leaves
- 18 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- A pinch of kosher salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons julienned basil leaves
For the risotto:
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot. Melt the butter in a second large saucepan. Add the onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until glossy, about 1 minute.
Add the wine to the rice and simmer over moderate heat until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it’s tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes total. The best way to see if the rice is cooked, is to taste it. Risotto should be creamy and thick. It’s best al dente, which means it should be fully cooked, yet still retain some firmness when you chew it. If it is mushy, it has cooked too long.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese, the lemon zest and juice, the salt and pepper and the basil. Mix well but gently.
For the grilled shrimp:
Mix the shrimp with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until cooking time.
Heat a stovetop grill until very hot. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side.
Spoon the risotto into individual bowls, top each with grilled shrimp and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.
Some days are so busy that there doesn’t seem to be much time left at the end of the day to prepare dinner. If you keep the ingredients for some quick cooking recipes on hand, you will be able to put a healthy meal on the table without a lot of preparation or long cooking times. So much better for the family than fast food. Stock your pantry with quick cooking rice, couscous, thin spaghetti and orzo. Broths and canned tomatoes are very useful, as are dried seasonings. Keep packages of thin chicken cutlets, lean ground beef, salmon and pizza dough in the freezer and you have the ingredients for an easy meal.
Chicken Cutlets in Lemon Sauce
Serve with Zucchini and Quick Cooking Brown Rice. This is an easy meal for two and the recipe can easily be doubled.
- Two 6 ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Salt and fresh pepper
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a bowl and the beaten in another bowl.
Heat the oil and one tablespoon of butter in a large non stick pan over medium heat.
Lightly flour chicken, then dip in the egg and add to the hot pan. Saute chicken 2-3 minutes on each side. When cooked, transfer onto a plate.
Place the chicken broth in the bowl with the remaining flour and whisk. Add to the pan along with the lemon juice, parsley and remaining butter and simmer on low heat for about 2 minutes so it reduces slightly and thickens. Turn off the heat. Return the chicken to the pan to combine with the sauce and serve.
Salmon & Broccoli with Herb Sauce
- Two 8-oz thick-cut boneless, skinless wild salmon fillets
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus additional, to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup clam broth or fish stock, divided
- 1 leek, thinly sliced crosswise, white and pale green parts only
- 1 head broccoli, cut into thin spears
- Juice of 1 lemon, divided
- 6 oz plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- Sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season with pepper. In a large ovenproof sauté pan with a cover, heat oil on medium-high. Add salmon and sear for 3 minutes per side, until lightly golden. Transfer salmon to a plate and keep warm.
Reduce the heat to medium and add 1/4 cup clam broth to the pan. Add leek and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until liquid evaporates and leeks soften. Add remaining 3/4 cup broth and broccoli; mix well.
Return salmon to center of the pan, nestling the fish between leeks and broccoli. Drizzle half of the lemon juice over salmon; cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes, until salmon and broccoli are tender. Remove pan from the oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer salmon and vegetables to a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pan juices.
Prepare lemon-herb sauce:
In a small bowl, combine yogurt, tarragon, mint, remaining half of lemon juice and reserved 1/2 cup pan juices; mix well. (Add more lemon juice or pan juices as needed to reach desired consistency.) Season with salt and additional pepper.
To serve, cut the salmon fillets in half and plate each with lemon-herb sauce and leek-broccoli mixture.
Spaghetti with Italian Sausage & Spinach
- 2 links fresh Italian sausage (about 8 oz), casings removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 8 oz thin spaghetti
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper (chili) flakes, or to taste
- 6 oz spinach leaves (about 6 packed cups)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
Mist a large pot or saucepan with olive oil cooking spray and heat to medium-high. Add sausage and cook, stirring and crumbling with a spatula, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
To the same pot, add 2 cups water and the milk and bring to a boil on medium-high. (TIP: Watch carefully and stir from time to time, as milk has a tendency to boil over.)
Add spaghetti and pepper flakes. When the liquid returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring frequently, until the spaghetti is just short of al dente, 11 to 14 minutes.
Stir in spinach and simmer, uncovered, until spinach is wilted, most of the liquid is absorbed and the spaghetti is al dente, 2 to 4 minutes.
Add lemon zest, black pepper and sausage and stir until heated through, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Divide among plates and top evenly with cheese.
Beef Kebabs with Tahini Sauce
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons tahini paste
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 8 oz lean ground sirloin
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons very finely minced white onion
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt-free garlic and herb seasoning blend
- 1/2 cup couscous
- 1/4 cup packed chopped fresh parsley
- 1 large Roma tomato, cut into 8 wedges
Two 12-inch skewers (If using wooden skewers, soak in warm water for at least 20 minutes before using.)
Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange an ovenproof wire rack over the top. Mist rack with cooking spray.
(NOTE: If you don’t have an ovenproof wire rack, simply bake your kebabs directly on a baking sheet.)
Prepare tahini sauce:
In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lemon juice and tahini until well combined. (If the tahini is hard or lumpy, microwave for 20 to 30 seconds, or until smooth.) Set aside while the kebabs cook.
Arrange an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the top heat source and preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange an ovenproof wire rack over the top. Mist rack with cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Stir in seasoning blend, remaining black pepper, salt and couscous. Cover and remove from the heat. Let sit, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in parsley
Arrange an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the top heat source and preheat the broiler to high.
In a large bowl combine sirloin, garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, ¼ teaspoon each black pepper, salt and cayenne. Stir gently until thoroughly combined.
Divide mixture into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a narrow, oblong 2- to 3-inch-long patty. Mold 2 patties around 1 skewer about 1 inch apart (see photo). Repeat with remaining 2 patties and skewer.
Transfer to the prepared rack and broil until tops are lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and broil until lightly browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 more minutes.
Divide couscous between two serving plates and top each serving with 1 beef skewer. Serve with tahini sauce and tomato wedges, dividing evenly.
Quick Tomato Soup
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- One 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
- One 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and thyme cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
Stir in canned tomatoes and broth; bring to a low boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Puree the soup in the pot using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
Stir in half-and-half, salt and pepper. Serve with the wrap or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Spinach and Feta Cheese Wraps
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons.prepared basil pesto
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups chopped fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
- 2 (2 oz.) whole-wheat flat breads
- 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and thinly sliced
In a 10-inch skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Beat eggs and pesto together with a fork in a medium bowl. Pour into the skillet. As eggs start to set, lift the edges with a spatula, allowing uncooked eggs to flow to the bottom of the skillet. Cook until the eggs are set but still moist. Sprinkle with feta; cover the pan and heat 1 minute longer. Cut omelet in half.
Immediately, place half of the omelet on one flat bread. Top with half the spinach leaves and half the roasted red peppers and roll up tightly. Wrap in parchment and let rest about 10 minutes so the vegetables can warm up. Repeat with the second flat bread and the remaining ingredients. Serve with a bowl of soup.
Como is a province in the northern part of the Lombardy region of Italy that borders Switzerland. Its proximity to Lake Como and to the Alps has made Como a popular tourist destination and the area contains numerous works of art, churches, gardens, museums, theaters, parks and palaces. Como’s climate is humid and subtropical. Winters are not long, but foggy, damp and chilly with occasional periods of frost; spring and autumn are pleasant while summer can be quite oppressive and hot.
The most famous area within the province is Bellagio, a historic town surrounded by ancient city walls with narrow roads that run through the hills. The town’s ancient origins are visible in its Romanesque Cathedral dedicated to San Giacomo, the interior of which seems unchanged from the 12th Century. Another interesting town is Laglio that lies near the “Bear Cave” (buco dell’orso), where fossils of prehistoric bears and other remains found in the cave are displayed in the Town Hall. The annual Medieval Palio takes place at the beginning of September and is a knightly jousting contest between various province districts that is reenacted in the town of Cernobbio.
Lake Como (Lago di Como in Italian) is located in this province and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. The lake is shaped like the letter “Y” and has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times. Many famous people have or have had homes on the lake’s shores. The lake’s deep-blue waters, set against the foothills of the Alps, makes for a stunning view.
The Cuisine of Como Province
Lake Como’s cuisine is shaped by the three geographic areas that make up the Como area – the lake, the mountains with their valleys and the hills of Brianza (the area between Milan and Como). The province’s cuisine is closely tied to its primary natural resource, the lake, that provides an abundance of freshwater fish. Lavarello , a popular local lake fish, is usually served fried with a squeeze of lemon. Misultitt (a type of Shad) is usually dried and preserved with bay leaves in special tin containers. Another traditional dish is Risotto al Pesce Persico (European Perch filet Risotto), a fish grown in Lake Como, that is prepared with white wine, onion and butter.
Polenta is popular especially in the mountain valleys. In this area, it is common to make polenta by mixing corn flour and buckwheat flour together. It is usually served with meat, game, cheese or fish.
South of Como, the food becomes more Milanese. Popular in this region are polenta e osei (polenta served with poultry), cassoela (a stew with pork ribs and cabbage), cotechino sausage with beans and many different kinds of salami and cheese.
As far as traditional sweets and cakes are concerned, in Lake Como, you can find fritters often filled with apple and, Resca de Comm, a panettone made with raisins, citron, pine nuts and anise, that is baked in a cylindrical tube.
Among the red and white wines produced in the province are Rosso di Bellagio and Vespertò di Canzo. The best liqueurs are made by the Piona friars using local herbs.
Pizzoccheri is one of Lake Como’s typical winter pasta dishes. It usually consists of flat short tagliatelle noodles, made from buckwheat flour that is common in the area of Valtellina in Northern Italy (on the east shore of Lake Como). The buckwheat flour gives the noodles a grayish color and they are easy to make at home. However, most supermarkets now sell boxes of dried pizzoccheri, which has helped to spread the word of this delicious recipe throughout the country and, of course, cuts down on preparation time.
The noodles are served with a mixture of greens and diced potatoes and dressed with butter, sautéed garlic, sage and Swiss Casera and Parmesan cheeses (or grana padano). There are several variations to the recipe, including substituting the cabbage with Swiss chard, spinach or green beans depending on what you have on hand. The amount of butter can also be altered to your own preference although the original recipe states that the pizzoccheri should be practically drowning in the sage and garlic-infused butter. Vatellina Casera cheese can be difficult to find outside of Lombardy, so a good alternative is Italian Fontina, which is more widely available.
For the pasta:
- 2 cups (200 grams) fine buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) plain flour
- About 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water
- Pinch salt
For the pizzoccheri:
- 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) savoy cabbage
- 4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) potatoes (2 to 3 small potatoes)
- 1/3 cup (70 grams) unsalted butter
- 8-10 sage leaves
- 4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) Valtellina Casera DOP or Bitto (Gruyere or Fontina can be substituted), thinly sliced or shaved
- 2 ounces (about 60 grams) Grana Padano, grated
- 1 clove of garlic
- Freshly ground pepper
For the pasta:
Combine the two flours in a bowl and gradually add the water, mixing until well incorporated. Work the dough for a few minutes. It should be smooth and compact, but not dry or crumbly and it shouldn’t stick to your hands. If it’s dry, add a little more water until it becomes smooth. Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out with a rolling-pin to a thickness of 2-3 millimeters (1/10 of an inch). With a sharp knife, cut the dough into large strips about 7-8 cm (2.5 to 3 inches) wide then cut these into short pasta strips about ¼ inch thick. (If you have a pasta machine, I would use it)
For the pizzoccheri:
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and chop roughly.
Boil a large saucepan of salted water, cook the potatoes for 20 minutes and then add the cabbage and pasta and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Melt the butter in a separate pan and saute the garlic and sage.
Drain the potatoes, cabbage and pasta and layer in a dish with the melted butter, slices of cheese and black pepper.
Serve with Grana Padano cheese.
Risotto with Perch Fillets
This recipe is the national dish of Lake Como and one that is used in most of the area’s restaurants. Perch is one of the most valuable species of freshwater fish because of its tender and delicate meat and the fish can be found in all the lakes of Northern Italy.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups risotto rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese
- 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable stock)
- 4 perch fillets (per person) – about 18 total
- Flour for coating
- Butter or oil for frying
In a heavy saucepan, heat the 4 tablespoons butter until it melts.
Add the chopped onion and cook until tender. Add the rice and mix it well. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates. Add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly until all the liquid is absorbed.
When the rice is just about tender, add the salt, pepper and Parmigiano cheese.
Dredge the fillets in the flour and cook in a hot skillet in butter or oil, turning them over once, until each side is golden brown.
Spoon the rice onto a serving dish and top with the fish fillets.
Parmesan Barley Soup
Barley is a healthy high-fiber, high-protein whole grain containing numerous health benefits. When cooked, barley has a chewy texture and nutty flavor, similar to brown rice. Although soup is the most popular way to eat barley, you can use it like any other grain, such as couscous or rice. Hulless barley is unprocessed and takes longer to cook than pearl or pearled barley, which is more common. Quick cooking barley is just as healthy and takes only 10 minutes to cook. Try adding a handful of quick cooking barley to a simmering pot of soup.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 carrot, diced
- 2 ribs celery, sliced thin
- 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup barley
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 Parmesan rinds
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- 2 tablespoons milk or cream
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Pre-soak the barley in water to cover for one hour. Drain well and set aside.
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil for a minute or two, then add the diced carrots and celery. Reduce the heat and cook for another two to three minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the red wine vinegar, stirring to coat the vegetables well.
Reduce heat to medium low and add the barley and vegetable broth, stirring to combine.
Heat for ten minutes, then add the Parmesan rinds and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until the barley is almost cooked.
Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese, milk, white wine and season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat another five minutes or until the barley is fully cooked.
Remove the Parmesan rinds and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
Lake Como’s sweets are mainly cakes, tarts and pies that are eaten for breakfast and afternoon snacks. Among them you can find the cutizza, a homemade focaccia made of flour, milk, sugar and lemon peel. The cutizza is a sweet bread known as the poor man’s cake because it uses only a small amount of flour. This is a very old and rustic recipe.
- ½ lb white flour
- 6-7 oz whole milk
- Oil for frying
- 3 eggs
- Lemon rind
- Vanilla sugar
Break the eggs in a bowl, add the flour and mix well. Add the grated lemon and milk and mix until smooth. Add the smaller amount of milk at first and then more, if needed, to make a smooth dough.
Heat enough oil in a frying pan to just cover the bottom and pour in the mixture. Cook on one side and then turn over to cook the other side. Sprinkle with sugar and serve warm.
Variation: add some chopped apple to the mixture before cooking.
The cutizza can be eaten as a snack or as a dessert accompanied by a glass of Moscato.
Beans are a great source of fiber, antioxidants and protein. Many people choose the simplicity of canned beans over cooking dried beans. However, canned beans are more expensive per serving and often have other added ingredients. Cooking dried beans is not difficult. Here is some basic information.
Soaking the Beans
Always sort through beans to remove tiny stones or debris
Rinse well with water before adding beans to a large bowl
Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches
Beans will be fully hydrated within 4 hours, but can soak for up to 24 hours
In hot weather, refrigerate beans while they soak
Quick Soak Technique
Combine beans and water in a pot and heat to boiling
Cook for 3 minutes
Remove from the heat, cover tightly, and set aside for an hour
Dry beans should always be cooked in soft water or they will be tough
You can add a pinch of baking soda to the pot if you have hard water
Adding salt to beans at the beginning of cooking toughens the skins and increases cooking time
Dry beans have a shelf life of one year
Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place
Always store leftover beans in their cooking liquid and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months
Dried Bean Guide
1/3 cup dry beans = 1 cup cooked beans
1/2 cup dry beans = 1 1/2 cups cooked beans
2/3 cup dry beans = 2 cup cooked beans
1 cup dry beans = 3 cups cooked beans
Basic Recipe for Cooking Dried Beans
- 1 pound dried beans
- Pinch baking soda
- 1 carrot, cut in half
- 1 celery stalk, cut in half
- 1/2 onion, cut in half
- 1 sprig rosemary or 1 bay leaf
The night before serving, rinse the beans, picking out any bad ones and place in a large bowl. Cover with water, add a pinch of baking soda and let soak at least 12 hours.
The next day, drain well. Place the beans in a heavy stock pot with the vegetables and rosemary and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender.
Check them after 30 and 45 minutes because they may be done, depending on how fresh the beans are.
Remove the vegetables and rosemary sprig. Refrigerate until ready to use the beans. Drain and use the beans in the recipes below.
Clams and White Beans
- 2 cups cooked white beans
- 2 tablespoons cubed pancetta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 white or yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 pounds clams
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly grated black pepper
In a large frying pan, add the pancetta and the olive oil and cook on medium heat until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate, reserving the fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.
Add the oregano, crumbling it with your hands to release the flavors, and then add the clams.
Continue cooking the clams, shaking and tossing them, until they all open. Discard any clams that do not open. Add the wine and beans, stir and return the pancetta to the pan. Heat until the beans are hot. Test for seasoning and add salt if needed.
In each bowl, ladle a portion of beans, some of the clams and their sauce, and a sprinkling of parsley. Serve with plenty of freshly grated black pepper.
Large White Beans with Vinaigrette
These giant beans and vegetables go well together. Serve with sandwiches, over greens or as part of an antipasto platter.
- 1/2 pound dried gigante beans or lima beans
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 2 cups)
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped pepperoncini
Place beans in a large bowl and cover with 2 inches cold water. Let soak overnight.
Drain beans and place in a large sauce pot. Cover with 4 inches water and add the onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. Drain well.
Steam cauliflower and carrots until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt and chili flakes. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in oil until blended. Add beans, pepperoncini and vegetables, mix well and let marinate at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.
Sautéed Spinach with Cannellini Beans
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
- 1 1/2 pounds spinach, trimmed and roughly chopped, (or escarole, curly endive, mustard greens, kale or broccoli rabe)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cans no-salt-added cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained or 4 cups dried beans as cooked above
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the broth to the skillet and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. Add beans and simmer until hot throughout, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add greens (in batches, if needed) and cook, tossing often, until wilted and bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with the cheese as a garnish.
Tomato Soup with Beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or canned Italian chopped tomatoes with juice
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 cups pinto, cannellini, kidney or black beans, canned and drained, or cooked, as directed above
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the chopped onion and cook on medium heat until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more.
Add the tomatoes and broth. Cook about 20 minutes
Stir in the brown sugar. Add half of the beans to the mixture. Use an immersion blender to blend the beans into the soup. Add the rest of the beans and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until hot.
Beef and Bean Burger
My favorite steak seasoning is Penzey’s Chicago Steak Seasoning that contains salt, Tellicherry black pepper, sugar, garlic, onion, lemon zest, citric acid and natural hickory smoke flavor. You will need to add salt to the recipe below if your favorite steak seasoning does not have it.
- 1/2 cup home cooked or canned (black or pinto) beans, rinsed and drained well
- 3/4 lb lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
- Olive oil for brushing on the burgers
- 1 teaspoon steak seasoning
- 4 thin slices Cheddar cheese
- 4 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
- Thinly sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion and lettuce leaves
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium. Oil the grill grates.
Place the beans on a cutting board and mash with the back of a fork or large spoon until smooth, but still a bit chunky. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the beef, bread crumbs and steak seasoning; mix until well combined.
Divide the beef mixture evenly and shape into 4 patties, each a bit larger in diameter than the hamburger buns. Create a small dimple in the center of the burger patty by pressing down with your fingers.
Brush both sides of the burgers lightly with olive oil.
Place the patties on the grill and cook until no longer pink inside and an instant-read thermometer registers about 160°F, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Place cheese slices on top of the patties one minutes before they are done. Transfer the burgers to the toasted buns. Serve with tomatoes, sliced onion and lettuce leaves.
The province of Caserta is in the Campania region of Italy located 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Naples. It is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial area. The Roccamonfina Regional Park is the location of an extinct volcano whose eruptions shaped this region long ago. It is an ideal habitat for the chestnut forests, vineyards and olive groves that are found in the area.
Festivals and fairs that marry both the sacred and the pagan recall the history, culture and traditions of Caserta Province – in particular, the Sagra delle Pallottole, a food festival held every year in San Leucio. The event features a historic procession in which participants wear traditional clothing and the local women prepare and serve potato croquettes. Exhibits, events, concerts and the famous float parade all enliven the streets in celebration of one of the most colorful times of the year, Carnevale.
The cuisine of Caserta is made of simple recipes using local products.
Buffalo mozzarella is produced with craftsmanship in this province. It is often made into different shapes: round, braided, knotted or small balls. The water buffalo milk is also used to make butter and other cheeses such as, burrino, burrata, smoked provola and fresh or dried ricotta. Salaprese is a sheep’s milk cheese that is not matured but eaten right after having absorbed the salt. It tastes fresh and sweet, with a strong hint of sheep’s milk.
Local farms supply meat used to prepare cold cuts such as capicollo, prosciutto di Monte, pancetta tesa and the filet, Vairano Patenora. The province is also famous for its salsiccia, a sausage seasoned in special terra-cotta vases.
The Campanella artichoke, porcini mushroom, the many varieties of apple, the golden plum and the chestnut are all delicacies that distinguish the local cuisine.
Desserts consist of honey and walnut biscuits; pigne are glazed sweets and a pastry called serpentone that is stuffed with honey and walnuts.
The wine list is long as well and includes Asprinio di Aversa, Falerno del Massico and Galluccio, all labeled DOC.
Culinary Specialties of Caserta
Mozzarella di Bufala Salad
- Buffalo mozzarella (1 large ball for every 2 servings)
- All purpose flour
- Salt & pepper
- 2 eggs
- Olive oil for frying
- Mixed salad greens
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small chili pepper
- Handful of basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
Make the sauce first.
Grill the red pepper, turning it often until it starts to char evenly on all sides. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, cut open the pepper and clean out the seeds and any pulp. Cut the flesh into smaller pieces and place in a food processor along with the oil, chili pepper, garlic, basil, salt and mascarpone. Process until smooth. Taste and correct for salt. Place in the refrigerator to thicken while you prepare the other ingredients. Remove the sauce about 5 minutes before serving and give it a good stir.
Tip: You can make the sauce in advance to save time. It will keep for a few days. If you want a thicker sauce, leave out the olive oil.
Prep the mozzarella.
Set out a plate for flour and another for the breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Drain the mozzarella and slice each ball in half. Gently pat both sides of the slices dry with a paper towel. Dredge each piece of cheese in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure to cover the cheese entirely; set aside on waxed paper. Repeat until all the cheese is breaded. Depending on how many cheeses you are using, you may need more breading ingredients.
You can serve all the cheese on one platter with the salad or as individually plated servings. Arrange the salad greens accordingly.
Heat the olive oil. You want at least an inch of cooking oil, so use a small pan and fry the cheese in batches. Gently slide the slices into the oil. They are ready to turn over after about 3 minutes, or when the bottom has turned golden brown and firm. Gently turn them and cook for another 3 minutes. When golden and crunchy on all sides, transfer the cheese to paper towels to drain and lightly salt them.
Let them cool slightly, but be sure to serve them warm-hot. You can also slice them in half. Drizzle the pepper cream sauce directly over the cheese and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Linguine with Colatura di Alici and Erbe di Campo
- 1 lb (500 gr) linguine
- 1 ½ lbs (700 gr) wild greens or broccoli rabe
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon colatura di alici (Italian anchovy sauce)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
Wash and clean the broccoli rabe and cut them into 2-inch pieces; set aside.
In a large pan, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until lightly golden, add the broccoli and season with salt. Cook over medium heat until the broccoli is tender, then remove the pan from the heat.
Place a pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the broccoli. Toss the mixture over low heat, add the colatura and chili; toss again to coat the pasta evenly.
Add a couple of ladles of pasta cooking water to create a creamier sauce. Serve hot.
Salt Cod Baked in Spicy Tomato Sauce
- 2 pounds (900 g) thick salt cod fillets
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (chili)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cans (each 12 ounces; 340 g) Italian plum tomatoes, pureed
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- Vegetable oil for frying
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Salt cod must be soaked overnight before cooking to remove the salt. Place it in a bowl with cold water to cover and soak for 24 hours, changing the water three or four times.
If you’re in a hurry, try the quick-soak method. Rinse the cod under cold running water for 15 minutes. Place it in a pan with cold water to cover and gradually bring to a boil. Drain the fish and rinse in cold water. Repeat the boiling and rinsing process two or three times.
Cut the cod into 4 x 1 1/2-inch (10 X 4-cm) pieces, then pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until golden. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the hot pepper flakes and parsley. Stir, then replace the skillet on the stove. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and oregano. Simmer 5 minutes and set aside. Remove and discard the garlic.
Heat the vegetable oil in another skillet over moderate heat. When a cube of bread browns in about 1 minute, the oil is ready for frying. Flour the cod fillets lightly and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Arrange the cod fillets in a bake-and-serve dish and cover with the tomato sauce. Bake for 20 minutes.
Limoncello Sorbet Cups
- 2 cups water
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup limoncello
- Lemon zest from two lemons
- 1 pinch salt
- Lemon cups (1 hollowed out lemon per serving)
Bring the water and sugar just to a boil in a sauce pan, stirring frequently, until you have a thick, clear syrup. Turn off the heat and let cool.
Transfer the syrup to a bowl and add the lemon juice, lemon zest, limoncello and salt. Stir well and transfer to a ceramic baking dish or plastic container, cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.
Check the sorbet periodically and move it around with a fork. When ready, scrape the sorbet with a fork; then use an ice cream scoop to serve.
To make the lemon cups:
Slice ¾ of an inch off the stem side of the lemons. Using a paring knife and teaspoon, carefully cut and scoop out the lemon pulp. Do this over a bowl so you can save the juice. Slice about ¼ inch from the bottom of the lemons, so they will stand.
Freeze the cups along with the sorbet. When the sorbet is ready, fill the cups and place them back in the freezer until serving. You can make a batch of several sorbet cups in advance.