Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Italian Cuisine

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Mix and match the recipes below according to your taste. These meals can easily come together, if you have pizza dough in the freezer or pick it up from your supermarket. Keep vegetables in the freezer for a quick put together soup recipe. Supermarkets, today, carry diced onion, celery and peppers that make it easy to make soup in a short amount of time. Mushrooms are also available pre-sliced. Fresh refrigerated pasta is great for soup and cooks very quickly. It is easy to make substitutions, if you don’t have the exact ingredients listed in the recipes below.

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MUSHROOM SOUP

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2  (14-ounce) cans beef broth
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

Heat a large soup pan on high heat and add the oil, onions and garlic; cover and cook 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms; cover and cook 5 minutes.

Combine in a large bowl, onion powder, seasoned salt, pepper and thyme, Whisking continuously, add beef broth, sherry and milk to the spice mixture.

Slowly whisk broth mixture into the mushroom mixture in the soup pan. Simmer uncovered 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mix flour and water in a small bowl to form a creamy paste. Add 3/4 cup of hot broth from the soup pot in 1/4-cup increments, stirring after each addition, to make a thin paste.

Add to the soup, slowly while whisking continuously. Simmer uncovered 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve.

souppizza2

SAUSAGE AND PEPPER PIZZA

Ingredients

  • 1 lb homemade or store-bought pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 small green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup homemade or store-bought pizza sauce
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Remove dough from the refrigerator and let stand one hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Heat a large sauté pan on medium-high and add oil and sausage. Brown 5–6 minutes, stirring to crumble sausage, or until no pink remains. Let stand 2–3 minutes to cool.

Prepare crust. Flour hands lightly and pat dough evenly into lightly greased  pizza pan. (Or turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to desired thinness.)

Top crust with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, peppers, onions and sausage. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake 18–25 minutes (depending on thickness of pizza) or until crust is golden, cheese is melted and toppings are thoroughly heated. Let stand 5 minutes. Slice and serve.

souppizza3

TOMATO GNOCCHI FLORENTINE SOUP

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes

  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (4 oz)
  • 2 ½ cups canned crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 (14-oz) can vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (16-oz) package gnocchi pasta

Directions

Cut tomatoes in half; remove seeds and chop coarsely.

Chop spinach coarsely; set aside.

Combine crushed tomatoes, broth and butter in large saucepan; bring to a boil on medium-high. Stir in fresh chopped tomatoes, dill weed, salt and pepper; return to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium; cook and stir 12-15 minutes or until tomatoes are softened.

Puree soup using a stick blender. Stir in gnocchi and spinach; cook 3 more minutes or until spinach wilts. Serve.

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CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI PIZZA

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli florets, (or frozen florets, defrosted)
  • 2 cups roasted chicken (10 oz)
  • 1 lb homemade or store-bought pizza dough
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Olive oil cooking spray for the pan

Directions

Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand one hour.

Place oven rack in the center of oven and preheat to 425ºF.

Cut broccoli into bite-size pieces. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces.

Prepare crust. Flour hands lightly and pat dough evenly into lightly greased  pizza pan. (Or turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to desired thinness.)

Mix the ricotta with the basil, oregano and garlic salt and spread it evenly over the crust to within 1/2 inch of edge.

Evenly distribute the chicken and broccoli over the ricotta.

Sprinkle both cheeses evenly over pizza;

Bake 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Slice and serve.

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POTATO EDAMAME SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-oz) bag frozen shelled edamame
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 (32-oz) box reduced-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Thaw edamame in a colander under cool running water just until the beans separate.

Melt butter in large saucepan on medium-high. Add onions, potatoes and garlic; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until onions begin to soften.

Stir in Italian seasoning, salt and chicken broth, then cover; cook, stirring occasionally 10 minutes.

Stir in edamame, then cover; cook 10-15 more minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Mash lightly to thicken the soup a little. Serve.

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BURGER PIZZA

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 8 large slices Swiss cheese, broken into large pieces
  • 12 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb fresh pizza dough
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 packet dry beef bouillon
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand one hour  Preheat oven to 400°F.

Heat a large sauté pan on medium-high and place 1 tablespoon oil in the pan. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes or until tender. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

Place remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the saute pan and add the onions; cook and stir 5-6 minutes or until soft and golden. Add meat to the pan; brown 4-5 minutes, stirring to crumble the meat until no pink remains. Add the bouillon, Worcestershire and 1/2 cup water; simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cooked mushrooms.

Flour hands lightly and pat dough evenly into a lightly greased pizza pan. (Or turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to desired thinness.)

Spread ricotta evenly over the dough and spread the meat/mushroom mixture over the ricotta. Place pieces of cheese evenly on top of the meat mixture. Bake 18-25 minutes (depending on thickness of pizza) or until thoroughly heated. Let stand 5 minutes; slice and serve.

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CORN CHEDDAR CHOWDER

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup of each: diced onions, diced red/green peppers and diced celery
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons seafood seasoning blend
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen corn
  • 2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions

Heat a large saucepan on high and place bacon in the saucepan. Cook until crisp, stirring frequently.

Add onions, peppers and celery and cook until softened. Add seafood seasoning and black pepper.

Stir corn and hash brown potatoes into the bacon vegetable mixture.. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisk flour, water, milk and broth in a bowl or large measuring cup until smooth.

Add flour mixture slowly to the chowder, whisking continuously. Reduce heat to low and cover; simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cheese, stir until melted and serve with additional cheese, if desired.

souppizza8

SEAFOOD PIZZA

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon basil pesto sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Italian Fontina or Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup roasted red peppers
  • 6 ounces crab meat
  • 8 ounces cooked shrimp
  • 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 6 fresh basil leaves

Directions

Preheat oven 450°F. Spread pizza dough on a greased pizza pan.

Combine ricotta and pesto in a small bowl until blended and spread evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the Italian seasoning and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.

Dice roasted red peppers. Cut crab meat into bite-size pieces.

Arrange shrimp, crab, peppers and mushrooms evenly over pizza. Top with remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese and 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning.

Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.

Slice basil leaves into very thin strips. Sprinkle over pizza and let stand 5 minutes before cutting.

souppizza9

TORTELLINI SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 14 ounces water (1 can)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced Italian tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup each of diced onions, carrots and celery
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated three-cheese tortellini
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions

Heat a large saucepan and add sausage and garlic. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until brown and no pink remains. Add diced vegetables, italian seasoning and cook until softened.

Stir in chicken broth, water, tomatoes and chili. Cover and bring to boil. Once soup boils, reduce heat to low. Simmer 7-10 minutes. Increase heat to high and add tortellini to boiling soup; cover and cook 5 minutes. Serve with grated cheese.

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PIZZA BAGUETTE

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh spinach (loosely packed)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, sliced thinly
  • 1 Italian baguette
  • Olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons pesto sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sliced black olives, drained
  • 2 tablespoons roasted red peppers, drained and sliced thinly
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 8 teaspoons feta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Add spinach and water to a microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes.

Cut bread in half lengthwise, then into fourths and brush lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet.

Spread each with 1 teaspoon pesto sauce.

Top each piece of bread with ¼ of the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese, red pepper slices and olives.

Sprinkle each with seasoned salt and Italian seasoning.

Place in the oven and bake for 9-10 minutes.


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Valentine’s Day Traditions

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, US store shelves are stacked with candy hearts, chocolates and stuffed animals, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to their declare love. Some exchange wooden spoons and pressed flowers, while others hold a special holiday for the loveless to mourn their single lives over black noodles.

Italian Love Locks

Italian Love Locks

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Valentine’s Day is synonymous with love and Italians traditionally are considered to be lovers. Known in Italy as “La Festa Degli Innamorati,” Valentine’s Day is celebrated only between lovers and sweethearts. Young sweethearts in Italy profess their love for each other with a more recent tradition, attaching padlocks or “lucchetti” to bridges and railings and throwing away the key. The tradition of locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts began in Italy a little more than four years ago after the release of the best-selling book “Ho voglio di te” (I want you) by the Italian author, Federico Moccia. This was followed by the popular movie with the same name, starring Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti. In the story, young lovers tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio and inscribe their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River below. The action suggests that the couple will be together forever.

Although Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), the country has embraced February 14th with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.

With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers. It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France.

Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples in South Korea and variations of the holiday are celebrated monthly from February through April. The gift-giving starts on February 14th, when it’s up to women to woo their men with chocolates, candies and flowers. The tables turn on March 14th, a holiday known as White Day, when men not only shower their sweethearts with chocolates and flowers, but also with a special gift.

With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the February 14th celebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th. In addition to exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, they celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.

Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th. Women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers.

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Dinner For Two

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Risotto with Fresh Pear Sauce

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb (12 oz) Carnaroli rice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, heated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 oz Gorgonzola cheese

Pear Sauce

  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig marjoram, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 small to medium pears

Directions

To Make The Sauce:

Peel the pears and cut them into small pieces. Finely chop the garlic. Wash the marjoram and pull off the leaves.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the pear. Saute for a minute. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and marjoram. Cover with the broth and cook until the pears are soft.

Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pears cool, then puree the pan contents using a hand blender. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and keep the sauce warm until serving.

To Make The Risotto:

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the onion.

Cook slowly so that the onion doesn’t brown. Add the rice and toast it for a couple of minutes or until it becomes transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of ladlefuls of the hot broth to the rice. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add more broth.

The rice should take about 16 to 18 minutes to cook, depending on its quality. When al dente, remove the pot from the heat and add half the Gorgonzola and butter, cut into pieces. Stir and cover. Let rest for two minutes.

Then add the remaining Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir until creamy. Pour the pear sauce into the bottom of individual serving bowls and spoon the risotto on top.

Garnish with a sprig of marjoram and a grating or fresh black pepper.

valentinesday2

White Sea Bass with Orange-Fennel Relish

U.S. white sea bass is a sustainable choice–not to be confused with Chilean sea bass. Other good fish choices are Gulf of Mexico caught snapper or halibut or mahimahi.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½  teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • Half of a (12-ounce) fennel bulb
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange sections
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 1 ounce halved Castelvetrano (green) olives (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 (6-ounce) white sea bass fillets
  • 2 teaspoons butter

Directions

Combine the first 4 ingredients, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Remove fronds from the fennel bulb and chop them to measure 2 tablespoons. Remove and discard fennel stalks. Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise and save one half for another use. Discard the core. Thinly slice the fennel bulb half. Add sliced fennel, orange sections, onion and olives to the orange juice mixture; toss gently to coat. Stir in fennel fronds.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add butter to the pan; swirl until butter melts. Add fish and cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with relish.

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Cheddar Biscuits

Make the entire dozen and freeze the extras.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk; (up to 2/3 cup)

Garlic Butter

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and garlic powder. Whisk together to combine thoroughly. Add chunks of butter. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until it is coarse and pea-sized (doesn’t need to be fine).

Add oil, grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup milk. Stir together. Keep adding milk a bit at a time, just until the dough is moistened and no longer dry and powdery. (Shouldn’t be sticky, just moist enough to hold together).

Drop approximately 1/4 cup portions of the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet using an ice cream scoop or large spoon. Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden.

While biscuits are baking, melt 3 tablespoons butter is a small bowl in your microwave. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and the parsley.

When biscuits come out of the oven, use a brush to spread this garlic butter over the tops of all the biscuits. Use up all of the garlic butter. Serve warm.

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Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 pint Strawberries; hulled, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions

In the top of a double boiler (not directly over heat), sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup buttermilk; let stand to soften, about 5 minutes. Place water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a simmer.

In a separate small pan bring cream and 3 tablespoons sugar to a boil.

Add to the gelatin mixture in the top part of the double boiler and place the pan over the simmering water; whisk until gelatin dissolves, 5 minutes. Stir in remaining buttermilk thoroughly with a whisk.

Divide mixture into two dessert bowls. Cover; refrigerate until set, 4 hours.

Meanwhile, mix strawberries with Grand Marnier and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Let stand for about 1 hour. Top panna cotta with strawberries and juice collected in the bowl..

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"Tuscany Delights" painting by Lisa Lorenz.

“Tuscany Delights” painting by Lisa Lorenz.

Hey, come over here, kid, learn something. … You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh? … And a little bit o’ wine. An’ a little bit o’ sugar, and that’s my trick. (Michael learning to make gravy from The Godfather.)

For a crowd-pleasing reunion meal, serve this family style menu with plenty of garlic bread and red wine for a comforting Italian-American feast. All the dishes in this menu can be prepared several days ahead, except for the pasta, and heated before serving.

I have many memories of the Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses while I was growing up. The centerpiece was the rich tomato gravy. What gave it its distinction were the meats that were cooked in it: pork sausages, meatballs and my favorite, braciole. The dish is a lean cut of beef pounded thin, then spread with a layer of grated cheese, fresh herbs, bits of prosciutto, raisins and pine nuts, then rolled, tied, seared and simmered for hours in tomato sauce.

Sitting down together for a family meal has been in decline in America for decades. According to surveys, however, that’s beginning to change. This is good. Studies show that children who eat meals with their families are more likely to do well in school and more likely to have a healthier diet. In addition the treasured memories children develop are irreplaceable.

“Mangia! Mangia! (Eat! Eat!)” — as my grandmother would say.

Menu for 12-16

  • Braised Artichokes and Stuffed Cherry Peppers
  • Braciole and Pasta
  • Sautéed Greens and Garlic Bread
  • Dessert: Italian Cookies

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Italian American Garlic Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and mix with the garlic powder and parsley.

Using a basting brush, coat the bread generously with the butter mixture. Place the Italian bread on a medium baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes, until lightly toasted.

italianfeast1Braised Artichokes

This dish can be made ahead. Just reheat before serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 8 large artichokes, outer leaves trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 6 lemons, halved and juiced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Cut each of the artichokes in half; remove the toughest outer leaves, use a spoon to remove the choke and trim the bottom.

Heat oil in an 8 to 10-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add wine, artichokes, lemon juice and squeezed lemon halves, salt and 10 cups water; boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the artichokes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer artichokes to a serving platter, cut each half, in half, and keep warm.

Discard all but 2 cups of the cooking liquid; return the pan with the liquid to medium-high heat. Add butter; cook until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; spoon sauce over artichokes to serve.

italianfeast2

Tuna Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Make this appetizer a day or two before the party, so they can marinate.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz can Italian tuna in olive oil
  • 8 anchovies in olive oil
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 (32-oz.) jar red, hot cherry peppers, drained, rinsed, seeded and stemmed

Directions

Finely chop tuna and anchovies; mix with 1/3 cup of the olive oil, bread crumbs, capers, parsley and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Stuff each pepper with a little of the tuna mixture. Transfer to a covered dish and pour the remaining oil over the peppers. Chill for at least 8 hours to marinate.

italianfeast3

Braciole (Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce)

This entire dish, with the exception of the pasta, can be prepared well in advance and reheated.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces prosciutto, sliced thin and finely diced
  • 24 6″x 4″ slices boneless beef steak (top sirloin or round), pounded to 1/16″ thickness (about 3 lbs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 4 (28-oz.) cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes in juice, crushed 
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 lbs penne or rigatoni or pappardelle pasta

Directions

To make the filling:

Mix together raisins, 3/4 cup parsley, pine nuts, Parmesan, prosciutto and garlic in a bowl; set aside.

Place a slice of beef on a work surface perpendicular to you, season with salt and pepper and place about 1 tablespoon of filling on the bottom half; starting with the filled half, roll beef up around the filling into a tight cylinder. Secure roll with toothpicks or kitchen string and repeat with remaining beef and filling.

Heat oil in an 8-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the beef rolls and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add onion to pot, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring to scrape the bottom of pot, until almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili flakes, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves and return beef rolls to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered partially, gently stirring occasionally until meat is cooked through and tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the meat rolls from the sauce, remove toothpicks, transfer to serving platters and cover plates with foil. Keep warm.

Continue cooking sauce until thickened, while you cook the pasta.

Pour some of the sauce over the meat rolls and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Mix some of the remaining sauce with the pasta. Serve extra sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with the braciole and pasta.

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Sautéed Greens and Red Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium heads escarole (or greens of choice), cored, washed and roughly chopped
  • 3 whole roasted red peppers from a jar, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400° F

Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add escarole; cook until wilted, about 8 minutes. You may have to wait until some of the leaves wilt before adding more.

Stir in peppers; season with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a baking dish. Spread breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top; transfer skillet to the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 12 minutes.

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Pine-nut (Pignoli) Italian Cookies  

Makes about 48 cookies

Use only almond paste, not marzipan or canned almond filling.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (8-ounce) almond paste, cut in small pieces
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 4 egg whites, from 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel
  • 2 cups pine nuts (pignoli)

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In an electric mixer bowl, beat almond paste, sugar, egg whites and lemon peel until smooth.

Drop by heaping teaspoons, 1 inch apart, on the prepared cookie sheets. Sprinkle with pine nuts to cover, then press them gently to adhere.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until tops feel firm and dry when lightly pressed. Cool completely on cookie sheet on a wire rack.

Store airtight at room temperature. (Cookies are best eaten within 2 weeks. They freeze very well.)

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Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups finely ground almonds, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mini 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 the oven to 325F. Grease 2 parchment-lined baking sheets with the butter and set aside.

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


 

hotsandwiches

Winter is the time of year when we crave warm, home-cooked food. We love getting cozy with a variety of winter comfort food recipes, from mashed potatoes and gratins to mac n’ cheese.

Comforting or not, though, those classics are typically loaded with butter, milk, heavy cream and refined carbohydrates, piling on pounds that can stick around long past the winter thaw. But you don’t have to give up on comfort food just yet.

Hot and hearty sandwiches are the best of all worlds on chilly days: filling, warming and easy to eat. They can be delicious, yet healthy. Whether you grab a bite as you’re rushing around or fix yourself a dinner plate, the following Italian sandwich recipes will give you comfort.

hotsandwiches5

Tuna 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
  • Eight 1/4-inch-thick slices of Mozzarella or Fontina cheese (6 ounces)
  • Sliced bread and butter pickles, optional
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Directions

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

Heat a panini press or griddle.

Spread the cut sides of the rolls with mustard and top each roll half with a slice of cheese. Spread the tuna mixture on the bottoms and add a few pickles slices, if desired.

Close the sandwiches and spread the outsides of the rolls with the butter.

Place the sandwiches in the press and cook over moderate heat until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.

hotsandwiches1

 

Grilled Chicken, Tomato and Onion Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces pitted mixed olives (1 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/3 inch thick slices
  • 1 Vidalia onion (or any sweet onion), cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 4 crusty rolls, such as ciabatta, sourdough or hero, split horizontally
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2  pounds thin chicken cutlets
  • Directions

Heat a stove top grill pan.

In a mini food processor, pulse the pitted olives with the crushed garlic and oregano until chopped. Add the 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse until finely chopped. Season with pepper.

Brush the, chicken, tomatoes, onion and cut sides of the rolls with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Grill the tomatoes and onion over high heat until they are softened and lightly charred, about 2 minutes for the tomatoes and 6 minutes for the onion. Transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper. Grill the bread until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes Remove to a plate.

Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper and grill them, turning occasionally, until they are lightly browned in spots and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes.

Cut the chicken cutlets to fit the toasted rolls and top with the sliced tomatoes, sliced onion and olive relish. Close the sandwiches, cut them in half and serve.

"Party Primer" August 09

Sausage-and-Pepper Heros

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 pound red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 Italian chicken sausages, about 5 ounces each
  • 3 long hero rolls, split lengthwise

Directions

Heat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Heat a large skillet and add the oil, bell peppers, onion, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are softened and just beginning to brown, 6 minutes. Place the vegetables in a heatproof bowl, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven while you cook the sausages.

Prick the sausages with a knife and cook over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until no trace of pink remains, about 10 minutes.

Add the sausages to the vegetables and keep warm.

Brush the rolls with oil and toast under the broiler. Fill the rolls with the sausages and peppers, cut each one in half and serve.

hotsandwiches3

Eggplant Parm Sandwiches

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • One 28-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing the baking pan
  • Salt
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2-pounds of eggplant, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 12 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 4 long hero rolls, cut in half and split lengthwise

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes with their juices, garlic and the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the sauce with salt. Set aside.

Brush 2 baking sheets with olive oil.

Put the eggs and bread crumbs in 2 separate shallow bowls. Working with 1 slice of eggplant at a time, dip the slice in the egg, letting any excess drip back into the bowl, then coat with the bread crumbs. Place the slice of eggplant on one of the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. You may need a third baking sheet.

Bake the eggplant slices until lightly brown, about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Lightly oil a 10-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with a single layer of eggplant. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the eggplant. Top with a few mozzarella slices and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the parmesan. Tear one-third of the basil leaves and place over the cheese.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients for a total of 4 layers, ending with a layer of eggplant and a thick layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top.

Wrap the entire pan in foil and set it on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake the eggplant for about 1 hour, until heated through.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°. Remove the foil from the top of the pan and bake for about 10 minutes longer, until lightly browned on top.

Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before unmolding.

Cut wedges of eggplant to fit the rolls and serve.

FOOD WINE PULLED PORK SANDWICH POMPANELLA FENNEL SALAD

Pepper Pork and Fennel Sandwiches

Aleppo chili pepper comes from Syrian town of Aleppo, just east of the Turkish border. These red chilies are also known in the Mediterranean region as halaby peppers. Moderately hot, the crushed, dried peppers are celebrated for their rich, fruity flavor that’s sometimes described as a cross between cumin and cayenne. It has a moderate heat level with a hint of a vinegar, salty taste. Aleppo pepper offers a nice variation from your usual crushed red pepper flakes.

6 servings

Ingredients

Pork

  • 3 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Sandwiches

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large fennel bulb—trimmed, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 4 cups (packed) arugula
  • 6 toasted ciabatta rolls, split, for serving

Directions

Make 6 cuts in the pork, 1 inch apart, cutting most of the way through the meat. Rub the pork all over with the salt. Rub the pork with the garlic and then with the Aleppo pepper, covering the meat completely. Wrap the pork in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Set the pork in a baking dish just large enough to hold it and add 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pork with parchment paper and then cover tightly with foil. Bake for about 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Pour all but 1/4 cup of the roasting juices into a bowl and reserve. Drizzle the pork with the vinegar, cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest, covered in the pan, for 10 minutes. Remove the pork to a cutting board.

Combine the pan juices with the reserved juices in a microwave safe bowl.

In a large bowl, stir the olive oil with the lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper. Add the fennel and arugula and toss.

Brush the rolls with oil and toast under the broiler.

Discard any fat and gristle from the pork. Reheat the juices in the microwave or in a pan.

Shred the meat and toss with the hot pan juices.

Pile the meat on the rolls, top with the fennel salad and serve.


91547ffd-a909-450a-861a-d9047277c5a6

I find if I wash, chop and dry Romaine lettuce in the salad spinner it keeps wonderfully for 5 days or so in zip lock bags with a few paper towel. This can make the weeknight meal prep shorter. Just add tomatoes, cucumber, onion and dressing and you don’t have to lug out the salad spinner midweek!

Roasted vegetables keep well when make ahead and stored in sealed container in the refrigerator.

Most foods can be prepped ahead of time. Chop onions, garlic, ginger, green onions, asparagus, etc on the weekend to use during the week. You can even chop fresh tomatoes and keep them in a covered container. I’ve never heard that you can’t pre chop cucumbers and carrots and I do it all the time. I have a container that I fill up with carrot and celery sticks, sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes. We can easily grab some veggies to munch on or to use for a fast salad.

I happen to like roast chicken, but you could easily roast a turkey breast or a beef roast or a pork shoulder to use during the week in place of my chicken.

Next weekend make a big pot of spaghetti sauce and use it for lasagna and chicken parmesan. These are just a few ideas to give you a head start.

Menu For The Week

Sunday – Mediterranean Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Olives and Spinach

Monday – Tuscan Beef Stew; Italian Bread

Tuesday – Spinach Chicken Salad; Italian Bread

Wednesday – Italian Pork Roast with Fennel and Onions; Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan

Thursday – Pasta with Beef Stew; Roasted Broccoli Salad

Friday - Italian Grilled Pork Panini; Coleslaw; Pickles

Recipes for the Week

On Sunday cook the chicken and pork in the oven and the beef stew on top of the stove. Prep ingredients for Tuesday’s salad and make the dressing. Cut up the broccoli for roasting on Wednesday.

Italian Seasoning

I use this seasoning often in my recipes. You can buy it in the store or make your own. My recipe can be found in a post here

Tuscan Vinaigrette_Gimme Some Oven_Recipes_1007x545

Italian Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Mix vinegar, Italian seasoning, sugar and sea salt in a small bowl with a wire whisk. Gradually add oil, whisking until well blended. Cover.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Whisk dressing before drizzling over salad greens.

chicken

Mediterranean Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Olives and Spinach

Serve this dinner on Sunday

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning , divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 1 large red onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 12 Yukon gold potatoes, each cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarse grind
  • 12 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled and divided

Directions

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Mix 2 tablespoons of the dried seasoning with the butter. Rub 3/4 of butter mixture under the chicken skin (breasts and legs) and remaining mixture on the outside of the chicken. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the Italian seasoning over the outside of the chicken.

Stuff 3 lemon halves inside the chicken cavity. Place chicken in large roasting pan.

Mix potatoes, oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon dried seasoning. Arrange potatoes around the chicken in the roasting pan.

Roast 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from oven to a platter. Let stand 10 minutes.

Transfer vegetables to large skillet. Add olives, salt and pepper; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes on low heat. Add spinach; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until leaves just begin to wilt. Remove from the heat.

Set aside half of the mixture in a covered bowl for Wednesday’s dinner and refrigerate the dish.

Gently stir in 2 oz feta and juice of 1/2 lemon into the remaining vegetable mixture in the skillet. Reserve the remaining 2 oz feta for Wednesday’s dinner.

Remove the vegetables to large platter. Carve enough chicken needed for dinner and serve with the vegetables.

Dice the remaining chicken and reserve half for Wednesday’s dinner and the other half for chicken salad for lunch.

beef

Tuscan Beef Stew

Serve half the stew with some great bread and a salad using the vinaigrette and prepped salad ingredients for Monday’s dinner.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds cubed chuck roast
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup carrot, sliced into ½ ­inch chunks
  • 1 onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained

Directions

Heat oil in a 5 ­quart Dutch oven on medium ­high heat. Add beef in batches; cook until browned on all sides. Return all of the beef to Dutch oven. Sprinkle with flour; mix well. Stir in carrots, onion, tomatoes, stock and Italian Seasoning. Mix until well blended.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium­ low; cover and simmer 1 hour or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in beans. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.

Serve half the recipe for dinner and reserve the remaining stew for Thursday’s dinner.

Spinach Chicken Salad

Serve this on Tuesday.
Place the reserved spinach, olive, potato mixture in a shallow salad bowl. Add reserved feta cheese and drizzle with a little of the Italian vinaigrette. Add diced chicken and mix. Heat up the leftover bread from Monday’s dinner and serve additional vinaigrette on the side.

pork

Italian Pork Roast with Fennel and Onions

Serve this pork dinner on Wednesday.

Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless pork tenderloins or 1 pork loin roast, trimmed (about 2 to 2 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning , divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs, tops and cores removed, and bulbs cut into 1/4­inch thick slices
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4 ­inch thick slices
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Place pork roast in 6­ quart shallow Dutch oven.

Mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of the dried Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon of the oil, lemon peel, fennel seed and sea salt in small bowl. Rub evenly over the pork. Toss fennel, onion, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining 1/2 tablespoon dried seasoning in large bowl. Place vegetable mixture around the pork.

Roast 40-45 minutes or until thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork reaches 145°F, stirring vegetables occasionally. Transfer pork to a cutting board. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing. Then, layer in a shallow casserole dish (9×13).

Place Dutch oven with vegetables on medium­ low heat. Stir in stock and lemon juice. Simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Pour over the pork slices in the casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate until Wednesday.

Use some of the leftovers to make Italian Pork Panini sandwiches for Friday.

broccoli

Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan

Place the pork dish in the oven to heat while the broccoli roasts on Wednesday.

Ingredients

  • 1 large head of broccoli (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 1/2-inch florets, stems peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

On a large baking sheet, toss the broccoli florets and stems with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the broccoli in the oven for about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until browned and tender. Serve half for dinner with the 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

Add some of the Italian vinaigrette to the remaining broccoli and refrigerate to serve with Thursday’s dinner.

Pappardelle with Beef Stew

Serve this dinner on Thursday.

Cook 8 oz pappardelle pasta (wide noodles) in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking heat remaining beef stew.

Serve over noodles and garnish with grated Parmesan. Serve with reserved broccoli salad.

italian-grilled-pork-panini-12100005rca-ss

Grilled Pork Panini

Serve with pickles and coleslaw on Friday.

Ingredients

  • Leftover pork slices and vegetables
  • 8 slices Italian bread
  • 1/2 cup store-bought or homemade basil pesto
  • 4 one ounce slices provolone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for brushing

Directions

Spread 1 tablespoon pesto on each slice of bread. Top four slices of bread with pork slices, fennel, onion and cheese; top each sandwich with remaining bread.

Lightly brush the outer surface of the sandwiches with olive oil; grill in a medium-hot skillet or in a sandwich press until toasted on each side.

Easy Coleslaw

You can make this the night before.

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 ounce) bag coleslaw mix
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients except coleslaw mix in a large bowl and combine well.

Add the coleslaw, mix and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend.


christmasdinner2

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities lasting from December 24th through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of Natale. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and, it is around the table or a tavola, that Italian families come together. As we all know, these holidays can sometimes be anything but serene; nonetheless, Natale allows parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over festive food and drink.

Natale is one of the few occasions of the year in which family traditions are revered above all else; skills, memories and team work all come together to create very elaborate banquets and fabulous dishes. What will be eaten during the festa is a kind of ritual; very often each single course is prepared in the same way it has been for generations. Days are spent in the kitchen—everyone pitching in—with lots of long, languorous hours between meals, spent relaxing and digesting and chatting—the long-awaited family conversations punctuated by the sound of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts being cracked open and the shells tossed into the fireplace.

Antipasto

christmasdinner4

The first course is often preceded by a classic antipasto with slices of cured meat, garnished with olives, cheese and, of course, hearty bread.

First Course

christmas dinner3

Classic Lasagna

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 cans (28 oz. each) Italian tomatoes
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Lasagna

  • 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage, cooked and drained
  • 4 cups Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan Cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese

For Classic Tomato Sauce:

Drain tomatoes, reserve juice. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside. In a large saucepan, cook carrot and onion in olive oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add reserved juice, tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine tomato sauce and cooked beef or sausage.

In a separate medium bowl, combine Ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Pour 3/4 cup tomato mixture in the bottom of 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Layer one-third of the noodles, half the Ricotta mixture, one-third of the remaining tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella cheese in the baking pan. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles, tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes; uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Second Course

christmasdinner5

Italian Roast Chicken with Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 20 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic
  • 5 potatoes (1 ½ lb), peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Directions

Season chicken with 1/2 each of the salt and pepper; set aside. Finely chop 4 of the sage leaves; set aside.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; saute garlic cloves and remaining whole sage leaves until garlic is lightly browned, 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, set sage aside for garnish. Remove garlic and set aside. Brown chicken, in batches, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add potatoes to the pan; sauté until browned, about 7 minutes. Pour off fat. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add wine, remaining salt and pepper, garlic cloves and chopped sage; bring to boil.

Place pan in the oven preheated to in 425°F (220°C) and roast, basting 2 or 3 times, until the sauce is thickened and juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with reserved fried sage leaves.

Italian Tossed Green Salad with Olive Oil Vinaigrette

christmasdinner3

Dessert

christmas dinner1

Struffoli

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • The zest of half a lemon, grated
  • The zest of half an orange, grated
  • 1 pinch salt

For the struffoli:

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Colored sprinkles
  • 4 candied cherries, halved

Directions

Combine the ingredients for the dough, knead it well and let rest for at least an hour, covered. It does take a while for the dough to absorb the eggs.

Pluck off a piece, roll it out under your fingers to form a snake about as thin as your pinkie and cut the dough into quarter-inch long pieces. Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown and drain them on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining dough.

In another pot, preferably round-bottomed, put the honey, sugar and water in it. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow. At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate. Using your fingers shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle or in a dome shape, dipping your hands frequently into cold water so you don’t burn yourself.

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and arrange the cherry halves evenly. Struffoli will keep a week or more, if covered, and the dessert improves with age.


italian-sweet-bread

Recipes updated and reblogged from December 2013.

Italian Breakfast Sweet Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm milk (70° to 80°)
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast                                                                                                                       
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Sugar for topping

Directions

Place the first seven ingredients in large mixer bowl with paddle attachment and mix until combined.

Switch to the dough hook and knead dough until smooth and elastic.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and divide in half. Shape each portion into a ball; flatten slightly.

Place each ball of dough in a greased 9-inch round baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Beat egg and water; brush over the dough and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake at 350°F  for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each).

SCHIACCIATA CON ZIBIBBO (ITALIAN SWEET BREAD WITH RAISINS)

Double the ingredients to make two loaves and put one in the freezer.                                                                                                                                                                            

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm (105 to 115 degree) water
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 egg
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in warm water in a large bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Stir in raisins, sugar, oil, orange peel, egg and enough flour to make a soft dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Shape into a round, slightly flat loaf about 9 inches in diameter. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover; let rise 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until bread is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet; cool on wire rack. 1 loaf.

Italian Braided Sweet Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water ( 110 degrees F)
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 egg

Directions

Mix yeast and warm water and let sit so that the yeast can react. The yeast should begin to foam.

Mix dry ingredients together.

In a small saucepan, heat milk, butter and egg. Be careful not to let the egg cook and become solid.

Mix yeast/water with dry ingredients in large bowl of the mixer with a paddle attachment. When thoroughly incorporated, mix in milk/egg mixture until a dough is formed.

Switch to the dough hook and knead dough, then cover and let rise about 20 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size. (Times vary depending on warmth of environment.)

Punch down the dough and divide in half to make 2 smaller loaves. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid the ropes together and tuck in the ends.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover and let double in size. Bake bread at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes.

Optional Step:

Rum Syrup:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon dark rum

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and the water over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes more. Remove pan from heat and stir in rum. Let cool to room temperature.

Brush all over bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let bread cool before slicing.

Rustic Raisin Walnut Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

Directions

In a large electric mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, stir together honey and 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water. Add yeast and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water.

Stir in the whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and salt. Mix until well combined. Keep adding the rest of the white flour until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. 

Be sure not to add too much flour.

Switch to the dough hook and knead 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. 

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Punch the dough down and place it on a floured board. Gently knead the raisins and walnuts into the dough. Shape (round, long, square,) into 1 large loaf and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.

Using a spray bottle, spray loaf with water. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on rack before slicing.

Ricotta Crumb Cake (Italian Breakfast Cake)                                                                                                              

Crust:

  • 2/3 cup toasted almonds, ground
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions for the Crust:

Mix the almonds, flour, baking powder and brown sugar in a bowl. Using a pastry blender cut in the cold butter with the dry ingredients. Pour the egg and vanilla over the butter mixture and toss together just until moistened. Spoon half of the crumb mixture into a 10 inch springform pan and set the other half aside.

Filling:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 3 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Directions for the Filling:

Put 1/3 cup sugar and the almonds in the processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to grind the almonds into small pieces. Do not ground too fine.

In a bowl mix together the ricotta, rum and 3/4 cup sugar until blended. Stir in almond/sugar mixture. Spoon ricotta mixture over crumb crust in the springform pan.

Spoon remaining crumb mixture over the ricotta filling and pat down to make top flat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes, Let cool and sprinkle top with powdered sugar.

Sweet Bread from Valtellina (Bisciola)                                                                                               

Makes 1 (8-inch) oval loaf

Ingredient

  • 1 tablespoon grappa or rum
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • 15 dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roughly chopped

Directions

Heat oven to 350º F with oven rack placed on the middle shelf. In a small bowl combine raisins, grappa or rum and water; set aside.

Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then roughly chop.

In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until just warm, then remove from the heat. Transfer warm milk to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the milk. Let mixture stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, all-purpose flour, rye flour and salt. With mixer at medium-low speed, add half of the flour mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix until well blended, then add remaining flour mixture and butter. Reduce speed to low and mix 5 minutes more.

Drain raisins; discard liquid. Add raisins, hazelnuts, figs, walnuts and pine nuts to the dough; mix on low until just incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead dough to form a stiff, wet dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On prepared baking sheet, form dough into a 8-inch-long oval loaf. Cover loaf with a lightly dampened clean dishtowel and let rest, in a draft-free place, 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350º F. with oven rack in the middle.

Brush dough with beaten egg, then bake, rotating pan once halfway through, until bread is deep golden, about 30 minutes. Let bread cool completely on pan on wire rack.



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